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Idaho Vandals 2017 Season Preview: Offense

Questions at receiver and offensive line loom for an otherwise solid group.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Idaho v Colorado State
Senior Matt Linehan looks to carry the Vandals to back to back bowls
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

The Idaho Vandals had a solid offense last season but lose many players in the receiving corps and along the offensive line. With that being said, the Vandals do return a three-year starting quarterback and two very talented running backs.

As long as the line comes together and some playmakers emerge at wide-out, the Vandals could return to 2016s form.


Quarterback

There has never been a question as to who would be under center for Idaho this fall. Matt Linehan, son of Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, has started in Moscow for three years improving each year.

As a freshman in 2014, Matt threw for 2,540 yards (11-18 INT-TD ratio) and has improved to 2,972 yards in 2015 (16-11 ratio) and again to 3,184 yards with a 19-11 ratio last season. If Linehan can continue this trend of improvement, he might end up as #3 on the Vandals career passing leaders list!

Backing Linehan up is sophomore Gunnar Amos who played in eight games last season throwing for 33 yards (10 attempts) and sophomore Mason Petrino. Mason is HC Paul Petrino’s son and threw for 23 yards. He has taken a lot of reps in spring and fall camps and is very mobile as he also has played wide receiver.

Running Backs

A potent 1-2 punch awaits defenders in the Vandal backfield as junior Isaiah Saunders and senior Aaron Duckworth both return.

Saunders led the team with 731 yards while Duckworth returns having 672 yards under his belt. Will one of these two become just the second 1,000 yards rusher since 2007? It’s quite possible! What is certain is that these two form one of the Sun Belt conferences best backfields.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl - Idaho v Colorado State
Isaiah Saunders looks to lead one of the SBC’s top backfields
Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

Wide Receiver

Departures have decimated the receiving corps as four of the top five are gone. Senior Alfonso Onuwar had 403 yards in five starts last season and is the top returnee.

Rounding out the wide receiver group is senior Reuben Mwehla (166 yards, 6 starts last year) and senior Jacob Sannon (303 yards in 10 starts). There is some experience throughout the two deep but it is very minimal outside of the three listed above, leaving all the receivers with a chance to step up and become a solid target.

We all saw Jordan Frysinger emerge out of nowhere towards the end of last year and I expect that to happen again this fall.

Tight Ends

Much like the receivers, the talent at tight end was gutted due to graduation. 2016 seniors Deon Watson and Buck Cowan actually led the team in receiving last year and leave huge shoes to fill.

Trying to fill those shoes are sophomore Joe Wysock (6’2” 230) who played in 12 games as a true freshman last year, 6’6”, 231 pound junior Alex James and newby Harrison Ashby (6’5” 220).

This is a critical group in Idaho’s offense, Watson and Cowan will be missed. Look for the tight end production to decrease in 2017.

Idaho v Washington
Buck Cowan and Deon Watson will be missed in 2017.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Offensive Line

Second-Team SBC center Steven Matlock, tackle Calvin White and guard Mason Woods depart this year leaving this unit a lot less experienced. Despite the experience that has left, each projected starter for 2017 has some experience and has added muscle in the offseason.

Led by senior tackle Jordan Rose, the 2017 offensive line looks to be filled by redshirt freshman Connor Vrba at center, sophomores Zion Dixon and Noah Johnson at guard and sophomore tackle Tanner Mauseth.

Only 40 career starts return but this group has looked really good in practice and I expect them to be much better than expected.


The offensive line may not be as experienced as last year and the receiving corps loses a lot of talent but with a four year starter at quarterback and two talented running backs behind him, look for the Vandal offense to aid the team to their first back-to-back bowl seasons in program history.