Idaho football finishes out road slate with trip to Ogden

Nov. 11—The No. 4 Idaho football team hits the road for the seventh and final time this regular season against Big Sky Conference opponent Weber State at noon today at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah (ESPN+).

The Vandals (7-2, 5-1) enter today's contest coming off a 27-13 win over winless Northern Colorado.

In that one, junior defensive back Marcus Harris returned an interception 70 yards late in the fourth quarter for the final margin.

The Vandals jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, but after a cheeky fake punt in the second quarter by the gutsy Bears, they were in business, cutting their deficit to 10-7 following a 5-yard touchdown pass from Shea Kuykendall to Kyle Helbig.

Idaho aided Northern Colorado later in the contest by committing untimely errors, such as two 15-yard penalties that led to scores.

"You want a team that's struggling to beat you on their own merits," Idaho football coach Jason Eck said during Monday's news conference. "Not help them and assist them, and when you do that, some plays give them momentum, and that can certainly light their fire."

The Wildcats (4-5, 2-4) notched a 33-21 win over Idaho State on Saturday, ending a three-game skid.

Despite the losing streak, Weber State was beginning to turn a corner offensively, and the Idaho State game was just an amalgamation of those efforts.

Against the Bengals, redshirt freshman quarterback Richie Munoz earned his first career win in his third start after going 26-of-41 passing for 222 yards and three touchdowns.

On the year, Munoz is 59-of-102 passing for 573 yards and four touchdowns.

"I think they're certainly a dangerous team, and I think they figured out their quarterback situation," Eck said. "We know as much as anyone how important the quarterback position is, and we're fortunate to have a great one in (Gevani) McCoy, and they've kind of gone through some uncertainty and tried some different guys, and now I think they're playing to the strengths of the guy they got."

Here's what to expect from today's clash:

Not at the dance yet

In the eyes of the Football Championship Subdivision playoff committee, seven wins is typically the standard.

The Vandals earned that all-important seventh win on Saturday against the Bears, but given the current state of the FCS, just reaching seven victories might not be enough.

"I think there's shaping up to be a ton of seven-win teams," Eck said. "I think the Missouri Valley can have seven seven-win teams, so I certainly don't think we can rest on our laurels. Even though seven wins is usually a good barometer, you don't want to be caught at the end where all of a sudden there's a bunch of seven-win teams who don't get in, so this is a huge football game for us."

Another test upfront

Idaho's O-line seemingly gets no nights off in Big Sky, as Weber State's front seven might be the best in-conference test yet for the Vandals.

On the D-line, Wildcats redshirt sophomore defensive end Brayden Wilson has 4.5 sacks and notched a season-high two in a 40-0 loss against Montana State on Sept. 23.

At linebacker, Weber State is led by the Big Sky Conference's preseason defensive player of the year, senior Reid Winston.

The St. George, Utah, native leads the Wildcats with 93 tackles, 10 for loss, and four pass breakups.

Sophomore outside linebacker Jack Kelly is a versatile piece, whether in coverage or as a pass rusher, racking up five pass breakups and 6.5 sacks this season.

"We got to get on the right hats," Eck said. "And then we really got to strain to finish because that's where a lot of times the difference between last week where we had a lot of 6-7-yard runs but how those stretch into 26-yard runs is strain and finish."

Better preparation

Eck credits much of Idaho's 24-21 win over Montana State on Oct. 28 to the level of preparation the group put in. That level of prep wasn't the same against Northern Colorado, and it showed. Against Weber State, improving the preparation was a must for Eck and the boys.

"I think our whole prep through the whole week needs to be better," Eck said. "I think human nature is that when you have a big win and everyone tells you how great you are, there's human nature to just think we're God's gift to football, and that's why we're so good. I got to do a better job of emphasizing that, no, the reason we had success against Montana State was because of all the things we put into the game leading up to it; it wasn't because we're God's gift.

"So we got to have a really good week and approach this game the same way you do Montana State because it's huge."

Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, or on Twitter @TreebTalks.