Opponent preview: Does it matter what quarterback starts for the Idaho Vandals on Saturday?

With Nathan Enderle injured and Brian Reader merely adequate, the Idaho Vandals' QB situation is a big question mark headed into Saturday's rivalry game against the Broncos. Can Enderle play? Can Reader play well?

More importantly: Does the question of who is under center really matter? Join me after the jump for a look a preview of Saturday's showdown and a breakdown of Enderle, Reader, and the Bronco defense. Plus, feel free to add your own game preview thoughts in the comments.


7-3, (4-2)

Idaho vs. No. 6 Boise State

Kickoff: Saturday, 1:30 pm MT, TV: ESPNU, Radio: 580 KIDO, 1350 KTIK

Weather forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 42

Spread: Boise State by 31


9-0, (4-0)


Vandals season-to-date

Thanks to the inevitability of parity and the fickle notions of random chance, the Idaho Vandals are not bad this year. At times, they have been good. At times, they have been mediocre. But in almost every single one of their games this season, Idaho has not been Idaho. And where's the fun in that?

For 10 weeks, the Vandals have been exceeding expectations, and they've been doing so by playing seriously un-Idaho-like football. They convert third downs at a nearly 50 percent clip. They do not turn the ball over more than their opponents (only a minus-1 on the season). They are bizarro Idaho by nearly all accounts.

Stranger still, they're bowl eligible and most likely coming into Boise in December for the redneckiest Humanitarian Bowl ever. Good for them. Bad for me ever respecting the H-Bowl again.

Vandals on offense

  • QB Brian Reader
  • RB Princeton McCarty
  • OT Matt Cleveland
  • OG Mike Iupati
  • C Irvin Stevens
  • OG Adam Juratovac
  • OT Bryce Sinclair
  • TE Kevin Small
  • WR Preston Davis
  • WR Max Komar
  • WR Daniel Hardy

Idaho's offense has carried the team for most of the season, keeping them in close games and providing a much-need spark at opportune times. The rushing attack is balanced by McCarty, DeMaundray Woolridge, and the RB formerly known as Deonte Jackson. Nathan Enderle started at QB for all but the last Idaho game, although he did give way at times to Reader.

One major note is that OG Mike Iupati, the best player on the Vandal offense, suffered a concussion last week, and his status is in doubt. The Vandal line as a whole is solid, but it is decidedly less so when Iupati is not in it.

Vandals on defense

  • DE Andre Ferguson
  • DT Jonah Sataraka
  • DT Michael Cosgrove
  • DE Aaron Lavarias
  • LB JoJo Dickson
  • LB Paul Senescall
  • LB Robert Siavii
  • CB Aaron Grymes
  • CB Kenneth Patten
  • SS Jeromy Jones
  • SS Shiloh Keo

Defense is not Idaho's specialty, but there are enough quasi-playmakers to keep things close against bad offenses. Boise State's is not a bad offense.

Shiloh Keo is the defense's playmaker, as he always seems to be around the ball. He'll most likely have an impact on Saturday, and I'm not talking about his postgame antics at the after-party. Seriously, what does a Vandal athlete have to do to get suspended? Kill a man? Post a gay slur on Twitter? I don't get it.

One player to watch might be LB JoJo Dickson. From the Vandal games I've watched, Dickson always seems to stand out. However, that could just be because he has big hair.

Vandals on special teams

Veltung took back a kick for a TD against Louisiana Tech, and he's been decent ever since.

Nathan Enderle on the year

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If there is one reason why the Idaho Vandals have been successful this year, it is that Robb Akey made a deal with devil in exchange for mustache visitation rights. If there are two reasons, the second one would be Nathan Enderle.

As much as it pains me to do this, take a look at Enderle's statistics and where they rank in the conference this season:

267 yards per game (No. 1)
152.3 pass efficiency (No. 2)
15 TDs (No. 2)
62.2 completion percentage (No. 3)

(FYI: He ranks tied for last in the conference with 9 INTs.)

Who is this competent passer and what has he done with Nathan Enderle? Vandal fans and experts point to the QB competition in fall camp as a big reason why Enderle has improved so much. His receiving corps is possibly one of the best in recent Vandal memory, too, and he's playing behind an offensive line that is experienced and better than usual.

Regardless of how it happened, Enderle has been one of the better WAC quarterbacks this season, and considering how far he's come, that's saying a lot. He will start on Saturday if Akey deems him good to go from the arm injury that kept him out last week. Otherwise ...

Brian Reader on the year

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Brian "Emo Kid" Reader's stint as Vandal starting quarterback has spanned all of one game, and he finished 12-for-25 for 240 yards and two scores with no INTs. All in all, not a bad evening.

The gap between Enderle and Reader does not seem to be all too large, considering that the two QBs were neck-and-neck for large portions of spring and fall camp. Where Enderle has an obvious advantage is in game experience. Enderle played most of the first nine. Reader did not.

But is that all that separates the two? Jesse Baumgartner of the Lewiston Tribune thinks not.

While Reader seemed to be much more comfortable in the second half, there was little of the dynamic vertical passing game that has become so routine with Enderle this season.

And now that Enderle has been mentioned in the same sentence with "dynamic vertical passing game," I will resign blogging forever.

Boise State pass defense on the year

Choosing between Enderle and Reader might seem like the biggest decision of the weekend, but will it even matter considering that whoever Akey chooses has to face the Bronco pass defense?

Therein lies the real question. Which Bronco pass defense will show up? When I look at it, I see two versions of the Bronco pass D:

  1. The dominant version. This is the one that Bronco fans expect to show up on a weekly basis. It is the one that shut down Oregon and Hawaii and gave fits at times to Tulsa, Bowling Green, and Fresno State. It is the perfect combination of pass rush, disciplined coverage, and aggressiveness.
  2. The soft version. This is the one that drives Bronco fans insane. It is the one that allowed Fresno some quick points, looked bad against UC Davis, gave up big plays to Tulsa, and let in a couple scores against LaTech. It tends to show up when teams go to a quick passing game, when the pass rush isn't getting to the quarterback, when Kyle Wilson is out injured, or when the Broncos are protecting a big lead.

Do you think I'm right in saying that there are two versions of the Broncos on pass defense? Would you add a third or fourth?

(Note: Make no mistake, the Broncos show up with the dominant version far more often than they do with the soft version. Boise State is No. 10 in the nation in pass efficiency defense. They are good-bordering-on-great most of the time.)

A big part of the type of pass defense that shows up is what gameplan the Broncos bring into the game, so it will be interesting to see how Justin Wilcox and Co. decide to defend against Idaho. Will they take away the pass or the run? Which one would you choose?

I'm thinking that the Broncos choose to take away the pass, and they disguise some coverages in order to confuse Reader or Enderle. Blitzing is still an unknown for me. I think that Boise State is capable of creating pressure with its front four, but the Idaho line is experienced and big, which would make matters tougher. Personally, I'd love to see  more of the 3-3-5. I love the 3-3-5.

Other thoughts

Idaho's passing game will be a key factor on Saturday. Here are some other factors worth keeping an eye on:

  • An extra day to prepare. Boise State's Friday game at LaTech gave Bronco coaches a day's head start on preparing for the Idaho game. How did they spend that day? Hopefully figuring out how to score TDs in the red zone.
  • Scoring TDs in the red zone. Don't you think this will be pretty important?
  • Emotions. Considering the youth of the Boise State roster and the recent string of Idaho blowouts, do you think this Bronco team hates the Vandals as much as past squads? Rivalry games are supposed to be full of emotion, and sometimes that can lead to the playing field being evened. Other times it can lead to blowouts worse than usual. I'm hoping for the latter.
  • Turnovers. Boise State blows out teams when the Broncos create turnovers. If Idaho wants to stay in the game, the Vandals will have to protect the ball.
  • Third down conversions. As mentioned above, the Idaho offense has been very good on third downs this season. The Vandal defense? Not so much. They are last in the conference at letting opponents pick up the first. Considering that the Bronco defense is the stingiest third down D in the conference, the Vandals will have their work cut out for them on Saturday.

Your turn

What factors do you see playing an important role on Saturday? Which Boise State pass defense do you think we'll see? Will it matter if Enderle or Reader starts at quarterback? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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