By Alan Gerould, Senior Writer, BroncoBlitz
This week for Western Michigan's third game at home versus the University of Idaho, we have five questions for Vandals beat writer Josh Grissom from the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Josh covers all things Idaho Vandals and now is on the BroncoBlitz hot seat.
BroncoBlitz: The Vandals are coming off a 9-4 season with a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Considering the turnaround last year, are there misgivings about sliding down to the FCS next year?
Josh Grissom: Naturally there was a lot contention — and there still is — in the aftermath of the decision. I want to remain as unbiased as possible with my answer, but the general consensus among fans and alumni is that the decision to go FCS could have been held off for another year or two. The team’s recent burst of success under Petrino has only strengthened the stance of FBS proponents. I talked with a couple players about this very same topic during fall camp, and they told me the team is trying to focus on finishing out the year before dealing with the fallout from the transition.
BroncoBlitz: After a relatively easy blowout win in the opener, the Vandals got a dose of comeuppance in last week’s loss to UNLV, a game that you equated to a Stephen King thriller. Which team shows up in Kalamazoo on Saturday?
Josh Grissom: I’m not really sure, to be honest with you. The Vandals are still trying to piece together some things on the offensive end, specifically in the passing game. With senior wideout Alfonso Onunwor out for the time being, the team will rely on a relatively inexperienced batch of receivers to step up and shoulder the workload. The run game looks great on the strong side of the field behind tackle Jordan Rose and guard Noah Johnson, but the other three members of the offensive line are newcomers this year. I think the answer to your question is still a mystery, but it might depend on whether the squad can find a couple of early breakthrough plays Saturday evening.
BroncoBlitz: Senior quarterback Matt Linehan has had a pretty prolific career. Two years ago they were talking about him already attracting the interest of NFL scouts. He has good size and the strong arm what are his weaknesses, areas that he needs to improve? His strengths?
Josh Grissom: I think the biggest attribute for Linehan is his football intelligence. Very few programs enjoy the luxury of having a four-year starter under center, and Linehan has shown a lot of growth and maturity during his time with the Vandals. He may not have the strongest arm or tightest spiral, but he’s reliable and is able to make decisions on the fly when needed. As far as weaknesses, there aren’t many. He dealt with a foot injury during his sophomore season, and I feel like that might have negatively impacted his confidence in the pocket. He tends to throw off his back foot when he feels pressure coming, which takes away some of his velocity and accuracy. But that’s likely the result of adjusting to some growing pains with a young offensive line.
BroncoBlitz: The Vandal defense gave up 550 yards of offense to the Runnin Rebels but nearly half of that came on a 94 yard pass play and a couple of big Lexington Thomas runs. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Vandal defense?
Josh Grissom: After watching the front seven during fall camp, I would have to say I was impressed with their speed. This is a defensive unit that is not only quick to the ball, but it will also deliver the boom. The squad has some size in the trenches with “Last Chance U” products Aikeem Coleman and DJ Henderson, while Kaden Elliss and Ed Hall highlight a sturdy presence at linebacker. An Achilles heel might be the secondary, but the defensive backs make up for a lack of experience with raw athleticism and agility.
BroncoBlitz: Head coach Paul Petrino seemingly has this program headed in the right direction. At the beginning of the season I thought that this game would be a close one, I still do despite the fact that Vegas is spotting the Vandals 17.5 points. How do you read the team's confidence level at this point? What will it take for Idaho to get out of Kalamazoo with a win and what say you for the final score?
Josh Grissom: It’s tough to gauge where the Vandals are at mentally right now. The loss to UNLV dealt a major blow to the team’s confidence, something that was quite evident in the post-game press conference. When you couple that with a tough road game at Western Michigan, it doesn’t appear to bode well. The Idaho offense would need to strike early and often if the team is going to steal a win at Waldo Stadium this weekend. Although I see a lot of talent in this Vandal squad, I think the Broncos walk away with a 31-20 win at the end of the day.