Start Time: 4:00 PM Central, 2:00 PM Pacific
Location: Kibbie Dome, Moscow, Idaho
Records: TXST 3-7 (2-4 Sun Belt), Idaho 3-8 (2-5)
Live Stats: Here
Line: Idaho -3, O/U 67.5
PRESENTING THE FIERCEST RIVALRY IN THE WAC--wait.
Texas State Bobcats Outlook
Thank goodness for Lawrence White, and for the fact that ULM's offense might be the worst in all of FBS.
As I mentioned in my Q&A with the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, the ULM game was at least a reset point of sorts for the confidence of Texas State defense. Aaron Shaw pulling down the game-clinching interception and almost returning it for a pick six was a catharsis of sorts for a defensive unit that's taken all sorts of lumps this season. The front seven getting involved rather than letting the secondary clean up on tackles also has to be considered a positive point to build from.
That said, Idaho is far closer to Georgia State than ULM on the spectrum of the offensive potency of Sun Belt teams, so let's wait and see before considering the Bobcat defense fully resuscitated.
The Bobcat offense on the other hand, has all but fully collapsed. Outside of the garbage time touchdown against Georgia State when the Panthers already had the game well in hand, Texas State has scored 13, 21, 12, and 16 since the South Alabama win against three of the weakest defenses on their schedule (and Georgia Southern).
Lately, they've tended to move the ball decently well between the 20s, then somehow forget how to play the game of football once they're close to paydirt. The Bobcats have scored on only 78.4% of their red zone trips, good for 99th in the country, and that ineptitude was fully on display on national television last week as the Bobcats only came up with 16 points in three of their red zone trips against ULM.
Whether it's penalties, a lack of concentration, the opposing defense stiffening well, or head-scratching playcalling, one thing's clear: the Bobcats can't score, and it's going to severely hamper their chances of finishing out their season with two more wins unless they can somehow work out the kinks.
Idaho Vandals Outlook
Despite a rather rough back end to their season, these aren't your slightly older sibling's Vandals. This group is part of the uprising of the bottom of the Sun Belt to a level of relative competence, as UI joins Georgia State, Troy, and New Mexico State in finally acquiring a pulse. Tripling (and possibly quadrupling) their win count from last year is evidence of that. So is dumping 34 points on Auburn in Jordan-Hare.
The Vandals' offensive renaissance has been spurred partly by a solid wide receiver in junior Callen Hightower and a couple of prolific tight ends in Trent Cowan and Deon Watson, at least by that position's standards. Running back Elijhaa Penny (221 carries, 1010 yards, 8 TD) may not be as explosive as NMSU's Larry Rose, but he's a workhorse (as long as he's healthy) much like Robert Lowe who averages over 90 yards rushing per game and has already crested 1000 yards on the season.
Quarterback Matt Linehan (225 of 359, 2663 yards, 14 TD, 11 INT) is much like Georgia State's Nick Arbuckle in that he's simultaneously prolific through the air and also somewhat interception-prone. He and backup Jake Luton are still getting sacked 2.5 times per game and are usually good for at least one interception per contest, but when they're not busy contributing to Idaho's -6 turnover margin, they're putting up almost 280 passing yards per game.
Good thing they have an offense, because Idaho is averaging 43 points and 486 yards surrendered per game. That points per game stat will drop a little bit if you take out pick sixes and scoop and scores, but the Vandal defense is still a suspect unit that's slow, undersized, and doesn't generate enough turnovers to overcome offensive mistakes. Yet they were good enough to slow down Troy and ULM, which is certainly an improvement from years past.
Youtube video that's somehow tangentially related to this game if you really stretch an analogy to its breaking point
Y'all remember when the Kansas City Royals morphed from lovable losers to the bad boys of MLB?
Well, that's Idaho. Under Paul Petrino, they're the hardest, cussinest, most pugnacious team you'll find in the Sun Belt. They'll rack up off-field incidents like they're trying to bring the Fulmer Cup back and roll over your ACL like an 18-wheeler smashing your grandma's holiday fruitcake. Fair or not, they've earned a bit of a reputation among the 'Belt, and they straight up don't give a damn. Well, mostly.
Granted, comparing the World Series champs to a 3-8 team is one hell of a stretch. But three wins is a massive improvement for Idaho already, so the sky's the limit, right?
Coach Fran Watch
Franchione: "This is where I want to finish up and where I'm going to finish up. I love Texas State. When the time comes, I'll step away."
— Joe Vozzelli (@smdrjoe) November 24, 2015
This could mean all sorts of things, but the operative term here is "When the time comes." For many fans, that time already came and went. But at this point, what only matters is when Franchione (or athletic director Larry Teis) thinks that time should be.
Last week, I vastly overestimated ULM's competence, especially for an offense playing with a converted wideout at quarterback. I won't make the same mistake this week, but that's only because Idaho's a significantly better team than ULM.
Texas State had better hope and pray that they can reboot their struggling offense, get in another 9 sacks on Linehan and force an ungodly amount of turnovers. Otherwise, there's a good chance the Vandal offense will pillage their way to a big Senior Day win.
Idaho 31, Texas State 21