The Idaho Vandals are set to play their first game in 462 days when they host the No. 12-ranked Eastern Washington Eagles in the Kibbie Dome on Saturday, February 27th. As the football program begins its third season back in the FCS, Idaho is carrying a level of expectations higher than previous seasons. The Vandals head into the first game ranked 23rd in the Athlon Sports Top 25 poll, and receiving votes in the STATS FCS poll.
The Vandals beat the then-ranked 11th Eagles 35-27 last season, after opening up a 28-0 halftime lead. The Eagles crossed midfield only once in the first half, but scored a touchdown on four of five second-half possessions. The Vandals averaged 4.7 yards per carry on its way to 227 rushing yards, while Mason Petrino completed 71 percent of his passes for 240 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT.
Last Season Stats to Know:
Eastern Washington was one of the top offenses in the FCS, finishing first in yards per game (524.8) and second in points per game (40.6). Idaho was 52nd in yards per game (393.5) and 67th in points per game (25.7), but was 11th in defensive touchdowns with three.
Graduate transfer Mike Beaudry steps in behind center after the graduation of former two-year starter Mason Petrino. Beaudry led Division II West Florida to the national championship game in 2017 (his last injury-free season), and in 2019 completed 64 percent of his passes for 503 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs in five games at FBS UConn. Freshman CJ Jordan will serve as Beaudry’s backup.
For the Eagles, senior star QB Eric Barriere returns to lead the offense. Barriere threw for 3712 yards with a 31-4 TD:INT ratio last year. He finished fifth in the voting for the 2019 Walter Payton Award and is the front-runner for the award this season.
Idaho’s Key Players:
Aundre Carter departs at the running back position, but sophomore Nick Romano returns to lead a deep group of backs featuring redshirt junior Roshaun Johnson (returning from injury) and redshirt senior Dylan Thigpen. Romano and Johnson have three 100-yard rushing games between them.
Jeff Cotton may be in the NFL, but Cutrell Haywood and Connor Whitney are back to lead a deep, yet unproven, group of pass-catchers. Junior Jermaine Jackson (given the #1 jersey this season) and sophomore Hayden Hatten are expected to be starting alongside Haywood at the wide receiver positions. Junior Logan Floyd headlines an offensive line featuring no seniors in the initial two-deep.
Defensively, Idaho returns almost all of its two-deep from last season, led primarily by the linebacking corps of Tre Walker, Christian Elliss, and Charles Akanno. Redshirt junior (and Washington State transfer) Fa’Avae Fa’Avae will start at the fourth linebacker position to round out what might be the best crew of linebackers in the entire FCS. Redshirt seniors Kayode Rufai and Rahsaan Crawford head a deep defensive line group, while seniors Tyrese Dedmon and Jalen Hoover return to lead the secondary.
Eastern Washington’s Key Players:
The Eagles have to replace seven starters on offense, including four offensive linemen, but WRs Andrew Boston, Johnny Edwards IV, and Talolo Limu-Jones return 1860 yards and 16 TDs of last year’s passing production. EWU is expected to use a committee of running backs to fill the 16 TDs and 1498 yards from scrimmage provided by the now-graduated Antoine Custer Jr.
Defensively, EWU returns six starters, headlined by linebacker Jack Sendelbach and safety Calin Criner (son of former Idaho defensive coordinator Mark Criner) returning as the second and third-leading tacklers. Former Vandal Ty Graham is expected to be a key contributor for the Eagles defense this season.
Sendelbach, Boston, and Edwards IV are not listed on the initial two-deep for this week’s matchup. Graham is listed as a starting linebacker.
Key to the Game:
All but one of Idaho’s wins in 2019 came after a first-quarter lead, so they must score fast and often to keep the high-powered Eastern Washington offense from building an insurmountable lead.
Producer Dallas: The first spring matchup between Eastern Washington and Idaho is likely to feature a lot of offense and less inconsistency than last season’s outing.
Idaho’s returners on defense make stops when it matters, and Beaudry brings new life to the offense, as the Vandals win 38-35.
Chris: Idaho 35-21
Brian: EWU 38-31
Alex: Idaho 28-24
Sean: Idaho 31-26