Big Damm Preview: Game 6 – Idaho vs. Northern Arizona 4/17/21

The final week of the spring season is upon us, and Idaho looks to finish with a .500 record by beating Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.

Last Game:
Idaho lost to Eastern Washington 38-31, after unveiling a new triple-option offense. Idaho led after three quarters but was unable to seal the deal, as EWU’s Dennis Merritt ran in two TDs in the fourth quarter.

Northern Arizona picked up their second win of the season in a 28-20 victory over Southern Utah.

Previous Matchup:
November 23rd, 2019 – Mason Petrino had a career day with 498 yards and 6 passing TDs in a 60-53 overtime victory that stands as Paul Petrino’s only road win since the Vandals rejoined the Big Sky Conference. Jeff Cotton had 18 receptions for 230 yards and two TDs.

Honestly, who even knows at this point. Idaho has trotted out three different starters and four quarterbacks overall. Last week, safety-turned-running back-turned-quarterback Zach Borisch turned in one of the most impressive rushing games from any Vandal across history, averaging 6.2 yards per carry for 205 yards and two TDs. Through the air, Borisch went 5 for 11 with 74 yards, a TD, and 2 INTs. Will we see Borisch leading the triple-option this week? Will we see the typical passing attack Idaho is known for, but with Borisch? Will Beaudry be out of concussion protocol and start instead? Will we see both QBs? Could Tre Walker play QB?

Northern Arizona will almost certainly be playing two quarterbacks this week, as they’ve dedicated at least one series per game to redshirt freshman backup Jeff Widener, who is 21 of 33 for 182 yards and two INTs. Keondre Wudtee will see the bulk of the snaps under center for the Lumberjacks, and is 67 of 114 on the season, with 830 yards, 3 TDs, and an INT. The two QBs have four rushing TDs between them.

Editor’s note: all conference-based statistics have been adjusted to remove Montana’s laughable spring game from counting. Montana, no one cares, no matter how many feel good points you scored or how warm and fuzzy you feel from your scrimmage.

Idaho’s Key Player’s/Statistics:
The first article where we aren’t going to mention how great of a game star receiver Hayden Hatten had, as the triple option attack limited him to just one reception for 16 yards. Hatten is now second in the Big Sky in receptions per game (7.2) and third in yards per game (95.6).

On the ground, Zach Borisch’s 205 yards and 2 TDs made (in this writer’s opinion) an incredible case to see more touches moving forward, regardless of his position in the future. Nick Romano leads the Big Sky in kick return average (27.1 yards per attempt) and is third in all-purpose yards per game (116.0).

Tre Walker, Christian Elliss, and Fa’Avae Fa’Avae are all among the top ten in the Big Sky Conference in tackles per game. Walker’s 13.5 lead the conference, followed by Elliss’s 10.0 in third, and Fa’Avae’s 8.2 in eighth.

Cade Coffey is second in the Big Sky in punting average (47.0 yards per punt) and second in kicker scoring with 7.5 points per game.

Northern Arizona’s Key Player’s/Statistics:
The Lumberjacks are not particularly outstanding in either phase of the game, ranking fifth in total offense, sixth in total defense, seventh in scoring offense, and sixth in scoring defense. However, they are first in the Big Sky with a +5 turnover margin, and along with the Vandals, are one of two teams to not lose a fumble this season.

Wudtee and Widener will be throwing to a deep stable of pass-catchers, with four receivers averaging more than three catches per game. Stacy Chukwumezie’s fourteen receptions for 233 yards and a TD pace the group.

On the ground, the Lumberjacks are led by the tandem of Draycen Hall and George Robinson, each averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Hall leads the tandem with 217 yards and a TD on the season, but Robinson received the bulk of the work last week, with 18 carries for 102 yards and a TD.

Defensive back Morgan Vest’s 9.8 tackles per game are good for fifth in the Big Sky, while defensive lineman Carson Taylor is tied for eighteenth (6.0). Carson’s two sacks in four games pace the Lumberjacks.

Punter DJ Arnson is third in the Big Sky Conference with an average of 42.4 yards per punt.

Key to the Game:
Will the Idaho offense convert on enough third-downs to get the win? Idaho is sixth in the conference in third-down conversion percentage (39.2) and needs to sustain more drives in order to finish .500 on the season.

Game Predictions:
Producer Dallas: This feels like the “classic Idaho let down game”, after a gutty performance that fell just short against a top ten team. Is the triple-option here to stay, and if it is, is it as effective once the shock value is gone? Paul Petrino has won just a single road game in the last three seasons, and until that changes, I can’t predict a Vandal win away from home. NAU gets it done, 31-17.
Chris: NAU 31-30 (Correction: Idaho wins if Beaudry plays, loses if Borisch plays.)
Brian: Idaho 27-21 (Correction: Idaho wins if Borisch is the QB in the option, loses if Beaudry plays and runs the standard offense.)
Alex: NAU 31-20

Predictions Standings:
Producer Dallas: 4-1
Chris: 3-2
Alex: 3-2
Brian: 2-3

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