|Projected Record: 3-9 overall, 1-7 conference
At-a-glance: The wheels have been off for years, but if the Vandals can't get 3 wins this year with their softest sched ever, it's time to put'er up on cinder blocks.
Last, but certainly
With no viable quarterback or defense, and Rodney Dangerfield for a coach...you might expect the Vandals to be planning the world's largest pity party on the Palouse (you're invited, Wazzu!). But for some reason, hope springs eternal for the tribe from the North even though they haven't fielded a winning squad this decade. The reason of course, being booze.
Robb Akey is an excitable chap. Problem is, no one else is excited about Vandal football...or has been for some time. The recruiting, facilities, and fan base are throwbacks to a bygone era...a Division 1-AA era. In fact, I think RB Joel Thomas is still on the roster. At any rate, the Vandals haven't been stoking the fires of many rivalries lately (unless ill-advised team pictures get you riled up),
You could go get a pedicure, Tivo the Bachelor, and catch a Streisand concert. Still not as gay as this photo.
Wins in 2008:
|Pythagorean Wins in 2008:||1.6
|Returning starters:||Offense: 7, Defense: 6|
|Strength of Schedule:||107|
|Recruiting ranking 2005-2009:||79, 77, 84, 85, 115 (nat'l ranking from Scout.com)|
|WAC recruiting ranking 2005-2009:||2, 1, 3, 3, 8
When the Vandals have the ball
The Vandal O-line, led by man-mountain Mike Iupati could be marginally better than last year or they could be worse (how's that for going out on a limb?). Iupati, at 6'6" and 330 lbs. will obviously be tough to move around, but the graduation of All-WAC center Adam Korby may prove to be an issue for the Vandals. The Vandies ranked 6th and 8th in the conference in rushing and passing offense, respectively, and need to increase their output in both areas to have a chance. Nathan Enderle is simply not being protected by the O-line and the holes aren't there for the running backs. Enderle was sacked 33 times in 2008 and threw 17 INTs...not the mark of a QB with time on his hands. The Vandals have been recruiting size to the O-line lately and have several players over the 6'6" mark...but whether the added beef on the line will add extra protection remains to be seen—athleticism trumps size every time. Senior guard Adam Juratovac should be a strong player up front and the Vandals are high on youngster Matt Cleveland as well at the left tackle position. Ultimately, the Vandals have a lot of experience returning on the line, and a year after giving up nearly 40 sacks, they'll be looking to prove something...anything.
At quarterback, the Vandals simply need better production and decision making. Steve Wichman tossed 32 INTs against 23 TDs in 2005 and 2006, and Nathan Enderle has tossed 35 INTs against 30 TDs in 2007 and 2008. Enderle is slowly moving in the right direction, but the Vandals need a signal-caller (desperately) that can widen those INT/TD margins significantly. The Quin Ashley experiment didn't take flight, and now JC-transfer Brian Reader has been brought in to be the rabbit to Enderle's greyhound. Sorry, but Enderle is never going to be an All-WAC caliber QB...all Vandal fans can hope for is that he continues to throw more TDs than INTs and doesn't fumble snaps or handoffs.
Running back is undoubtably the deepest position on the Vandal squad. Junior Deonte Jackson is a former 1,000 yard rusher who had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2008. He can still make things happen if given a little bit of wiggle room, but the O-line let defenders live in the backfield last season and Jackson couldn't get into much of a rhythm. Getting almost 120 less touches didn't help Jackson's stats in 2008 either as the Vandals elected to go with a bit more of a committee approach. Tiny speedster Princeton McCarty ended up 2nd on the team in rushing and provided a good change-of-pace for the Vandals. This year, look for Kama Bailey, Corey White, and Troy Vital to further eat into Jackson's carries but likely provide better YPG output and, with any luck, get the rushing offense back into the top half of the conference.
The Vandal receiving unit lost its most productive player to graduation in Slot/H-back Eddie Williams, now they'll look to get some of their experienced players and noobs to pick up the slack. Senior Max Komar and Sophomore Preston Davis had nearly identical stats last year, in effect tying for second place on the receiving yardage list. Daniel Hardy may fill Eddie Williams shoes best as he has a similar build and played well when he was healthy. Of course, receiving corps are only as good as there QB allows them to be, and Enderle (or Reader) will have to put them in position to make plays...something that has yet to happen with any consistency.
The Vandal rushing and passing offense should improve their conference standings slightly but neither unit will field a 1,000 performer yet again. I predict Hardy will be a 600-yard receiver, Jackson, McCarty, and Vital will combine for 2,000 yards and Enderle will approach 2,500 yards on the season. I'm awfully generous, aren't I?
When the Vandals' opponents have the ball
The tribe was awfully consistent last year on defense. Check that...the tribe was consistently awful last year on defense finishing 2008 with a total defense ranking of 116 (yep...out of 119). They gave up 69 TDs in 12 games and nearly 500 yards of offense per game. Of course, it didn't help their cause by starting '08 on the wrong end of a 70-0 whooping at the hands of Arizona (?). Finding consistency (the good kind) in 2008 has to be a stated goal for the Vandals, who haven't sniffed a winning season since Bill Clinton was in office.
What was the main problem for the Vandal defense? Everything mostly...they ranked 107th in the nation in both passing and rushing defense and were -14 on turnovers. The pass rush wasn't scaring anyone, grabbing just 11 sacks, and the secondary wasn't aggressive, gaining only 9 INTs on the year. With few big-time playmakers returning, the Vandals need some newbies to step up and veterans to find their groove.
The secondary didn't have a player in the WAC's top 50 in passes defended last season, although Shelton Miles (54th in the WAC) was just a frosh in 2008 and is sure to improve. Isaac Butts may be the Vandals best DB and hauled in 3 INTs (good for 8th in the WAC) and has two years left in Moscow.
Look for senior Virdell Larkins to be productive as well, as he racked up a team-leading 82 tackles in 2008 Update:Last season's leading tackler, Virdell Larkins, has left the program. Probably the most valuable player in the secondary and the unquestioned leader of the group is Shiloh Keo, who missed all but 4 games last year due to an injury. Keo is a solid punt returner and a sure tackler...he's pitched in 187 tackles and 5 INTs in his injury-shortened 3 year career.
The linebacker corps loses Jonathan Faraimo...the unit's leading tackler in '08 who was good for over 6 stops a game. Also departed is Justin Allen who provided good run support for the squad. The Vandals are high on JoJo Dickson and soph Robert Siavii at the position and hope that stout Tre'Shawn Robinson can come into his own in his true sophomore season.
The D-line needs to be better all around and may be with experienced vets Aaron Lavarias and Jonah Sataraka back for one more go. Youngsters Hank Bryant and Henry Asuega look promising but who really knows with this crew? Maybe this pep talk will help: Pressure opposing QBs! Don't give up the inside rush! Don't be mediocre! There...now this looks like a crew that can go as high as say, 104th or 105th in the nation, don't you think?
Not so special after losing All-WACers Tino Amancio and TJ Conley. The Vandals need to find some legs and quick and Trey Farquar looks like he may be the heir-apparent at kicker. Trey doesn't possess quite the boot that Amancio had, but living in Moscow has to provide lots of opportunities to kick things and I'm sure he'll progress. The punting unit has big, big shoes to fill as departed TJ Conley led the nation in punting average in 2008. I'm sure someone will step up at the position, but don't look for the same production that Conley provided. The Idaho punters certainly will get a lot of attempts as the year goes on, and practice makes perfect.
Kama Bailey could be a dangerous return man for the Vandals as he enters his sophomore campaign. Bailey had nearly 1,000 yards in kickoff returns last season as a freshman...of course he had at least 10 more attempts than any of his other conference mates...but that kind of goes without saying when you factor in how much the Vandals let their opponents into the endzone. Bailey will have plenty of opportunities, and with some luck, may bust one or two long runs this year.
Special Teams will be a liability overall for the Vandals. And they don't need liabilities at this point.
WIth the two worst coaches in the WAC long gone, Coach Robb Akey can now assume the mantle. Akey has brought enthusiasm and one liners to the Vandals' top job...and little else. If "Akey's Army" can't turn a corner in his third season at the helm, they might want to consider lowering his $1M buyout clause (I can't believe it every time I type it). Akey's "family" atmosphere is well-intentioned and he has jettisoned a lot of the riff raff from the squad, but recruiting in the Palouse has been tricky and the Vandals have been losing for a whole decade (much longer than that really, but they had a few good years sprinkled in there). In Akey's third year at the helm, he has nearly as many wins (3), as Chris Petersen has losses (4), going into his fourth. He's good for a few laughs at media events, but Akey's schtick is wearing thin...win some games, or you're days are numbered. Even in Moscow.
Intangibles? There are none. The Vandals play in the smallest stadium in Division 1 and it is usually less than 3/4 full. They're putting some band-aids on the aging Kibbie Dome, but it is no longer much of a HFA up there. They were just picked 3rd in ESPN's preseason Bottom 10, and that's not the publicity they want. But, remember, Vandal faithful...there's always booze.