The Front Row with MARK NELKE Sept. 2, 2012 - Coeur d'Alene Press: Sports

The Front Row with MARK NELKE Sept. 2, 2012

Vandals must regroup - and fast

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Posted: Sunday, September 2, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:36 am, Fri Nov 16, 2012.

Last year the Idaho Vandals came in full of optimism in football - two years removed from their first bowl game in more than a decade, and coming off a season where they were one win away from being bowl eligible.

Then, in the season opener, they were smacked at home, losing 32-15 to Bowling Green. Idaho never really recovered, beating only one Football Bowl Subdivision team the rest of the way, and finishing 2-10.

This year, the optimism came in the form of a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback and a much more winnable Western Athletic Conference, which had lost most of the heavyweights of recent years.

But when the season opener rolled around last Thursday night, Idaho's new QB didn't play for undisclosed reasons, and the Vandals managed just a field goal in a 20-3 loss at home to nearby Eastern Washington of the lower-level Football Championship Subdivision.

NOW, LOSING to Eastern wasn't a surprise - the Eagles look like they could contend for the championship in the WAC, which Idaho plays in.

But only scoring three points, going 2 for 15 on third down and only mustering 10 first downs, was troubling. And the Vandals of last Thursday night looked like they might have trouble winning the Big Sky Conference, which Eastern plays in, and where Idaho might wind up returning to in football if the Vandals are unable to find another FBS conference to play in after what they hope is only a couple of years of playing as an independent in football beginning in 2013.

Now, maybe Idaho looks much different on offense once junior quarterback Dominique Blackman, a transfer from Old Dominion who hasn't played in a game since attending Los Angeles Harbor junior college in 2009, makes his first start as a Vandal.

Guess we'll find out this Saturday.

Senior Logan Bushnell made his first college start for Idaho against Eastern, and the Vandals played things close to the vest. Bushnell finished 8 of 21 for 104 yards, and was sacked twice.

Idaho rushed for 73 yards, averaging 2.6 yards per carry, with the longest run being 7 yards.

Idaho’s defense actually played pretty well, holding Eastern quarterback Kyle Padron to 13 of 33 for 260 yards and a touchdown. But while the Eagles were able to disrupt Bushnell, the Vandals couldn’t quite corral Padron, who was able to elude the rush long enough to dump the ball off to a nearby back, or throw the ball away to avoid a loss.

Heck, Eastern might be the area team that starts off 2-0, as it turns out. The Eagles return to the Palouse on Saturday to play Washington State. And though the Cougars figure to play better than they did in their first game under new coach Mike Leach, a 30-6 loss to BYU in Provo, Eastern also figures to play better, as Padron will have had one game under his belt as an Eagle.

ON SATURDAY, Idaho travels to Bowling Green, looking to avenge last year’s spanking at home. Last we checked, Bowling Green was giving Florida all it could handle at The Swamp, eventually losing 27-14.

“We’ll get back here and get to work, get our tails moving, and get ready to go play and go beat Bowling Green,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said after the EWU game.

Idaho’s next three games after that are at LSU, home vs. Wyoming and at North Carolina.

A couple of wins during that stretch could cure what ails the Vandals. But if not, the Vandals could be looking at an 0-5 start before opening WAC play at home vs. New Mexico State.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter at CdAPressSports.

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