Date: Thursday, December 22, 2016
Time: 7:00 pm ET
Venue: Albertsons Stadium (Boise, ID)
Stream: Watch ESPN
Betting Line: Colorado State (-15.5)
Series Record: CSU leads 4-3 and won the last meeting 36-34 in Fort Collins
Since joining the FBS ranks—then recognized as Division I-A—prior to the 1996 campaign, the Idaho football program has certainly experienced a lot more struggle than success.
With the program’s losing history and location working against it, the Sun Belt Conference chose to go in another direction earlier this year. Thus, the Vandals were going to be without a league home and made the rare decision to return to FCS—formerly Division I-AA—after the 2017 season.
Under those circumstances, it seemed highly unlikely that Paul Petrino’s third club would muster many victories this fall.
However, Petrino—who is the younger brother of Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino—has led the Vandals to one of their best years in the FBS ranks and his club can capture an FBS era program-record ninth victory with a win over Colorado State.
While the year has been memorable, it began with a 2-3 start and a pair of blowout road losses against Washington (59-14) and Washington State (56-6). From that point, Idaho won six of its next seven with the lone defeat coming at league co-champ Appalachian State (37-19) in late October. The Mountaineers finished their season at 10-3 and captured a thrilling 31-28 victory over Toledo in the Camellia Bowl.
Offensively, the Vandals are led by quarterback Matt Linehan—son of Dallas Cowboys’ OC Scott Linehan. The junior has had a strong season, completing 61.5% of his passes for 2,803 yards and 15 touchdowns. Linehan loves to target his tight ends. Seniors Trent Cowan and Deon Watson have both been targeted around 70 times with roughly 550 yards each. Cowan has a higher catch rate and touchdown total (seven) but both tight ends are tough match up assignments for defenses.
The Vandals are led by sophomore linebacker Tony Lashley on defense. Lashley has had an impressive season, totaling 78 tackles with 9.5 of them coming behind the line of scrimmage. Senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan is also a defender to watch as he leads the secondary with five interceptions
Idaho will face stiff competition in what may be their last bowl game ever. Colorado State has had a quietly successful 2016 campaign despite instability at the quarterback position. The Rams really hit their stride in the last two weeks of the regular season as they blew out New Mexico 49-31 before blasting San Diego State 63-31 in Qualcomm Stadium.
CSU’s offense is extremely balanced, ranking in the top 20 nationally in both rushing and passing S&P+. The Rams have a fantastic offensive line which allows running backs Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Matthews to average over five yards per carry combined.
While quarterbacks Nick Stevens and Collin Hill have both seen extended playing time this season, Stevens seems to finally have a firm grasp on the position after throwing only six incomplete passes in the Rams’ last two games. The junior has completed 65.5% of his passes on the season for a total of 1,491 yards. Stevens has been efficient in the pocket, tossing 14 touchdowns to three interceptions while taking just four sacks.
Stevens’ primary target is junior wideout Michael Gallup. Standing at 6’1”, 196, Gallup has amassed 1,177 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Both sure handed and explosive, Gallup is averaging 16.8 yards per catch.
The strength of Colorado State’s defense lies in their extremely talented linebacker corps. Senior Kevin Davis (6’2”, 240) leads the team in tackles with 80 while turning in 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two pass breakups, four forced fumbles, and an interception. Sophomore Josh Watson is right behind him, complementing his 57 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a pass breakup.
CSU’s pass rush is diverse as 13 players on the roster have registered at least a half sack on the season. Defensive linemen Toby McBride, Darnell Thompson, Jakob Buys, and Arjay Jean bring the majority of the pressure upfront while the Rams’ blitzing linebackers dart into the pocket on blitzing attempts.
With the Rams coming into the game as heavy favorites Idaho will need to lean on a Vandal-heavy crowd in Boise and leave no page unturned in their playbook. If Matt Linehan can lead Idaho on an early scoring drive then the Vandals should be able to hang on for a four quarter dog fight against the Rams.