Time to enjoy the ride as Vandals begin their season

Aug. 31—Today's the day.

The No. 8 Idaho football team begins its highly anticipated season against Lamar at 7 p.m. at Provost Umphrey Stadium.

The Vandals' season opener will be against a fellow Football Championship Subdivision scholarship team, which will be a nice change of pace from last year when they played two FBS opponents back-to-back, followed by Drake, which had no scholarship players.

"It wasn't until the fourth game where you really felt like you were playing a peer," Idaho coach Jason Eck said. "I think this gives us a better test right away playing a team from the Southland Conference. We got knocked out by a team from the Southland Conference, so we know they play good football down there."

The Cardinals enter the season with a lot of unknowns following a 1-11 overall record that saw them finish last in the Southland Conference.

Lamar will be led by first-year head coach Pete Rossomando, who most recently was an offensive line coach at Charlotte.

The Vandals enter today's game following their first trip to the FCS playoffs since the 1995 season.

Idaho would fall 45-42 to Southeastern Louisiana in the opening round, but the season brought a lot of promise.

Here's what to expect during the season opener:

How they're preparing

Lamar's new man in charge, Rossomando, hasn't overseen a program since 2018, when he was the head coach at Central Connecticut State. This makes game planning for the Cardinals a bit more difficult than a typical week, considering there's not much to grab from.

"I kind of hate it," Eck said. "I'd rather play someone we have a good idea about — like last year against Washington State. We had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do since they'd been there a year."

As far as game planning goes, Eck and the boys are trying to make things simple by using the plays and formations they've repped the most during fall camp.

"I don't think this game is as fun to game plan for," Eck said. "But again, it just comes back to us getting ready and making in-game adjustments."

Making a good first impression

It is imperative that the Vandals begin with a hot start.

As Eck alluded to, this will be a good test for Idaho to see where it truly stands within the FCS.

With such an apparent discrepancy between these two teams, Idaho should probably put this out of reach quickly. But if the Vandals come out sluggish, it might be a sign of things to come.

"I think we have to do a great job within the first 10 minutes," Eck said. "We really need to figure out how they're trying to play us to see what their adjustments are."

Who will be slinging it?

Who Lamar's starting quarterback will be is one of several questions the Vandals will have to try and answer today.

The Cardinals QB race is between sophomore Mike Chandler, sophomore Jakolby Longino and junior college transfer Robert Coleman.

"We've studied film on all of them," Eck said. "They're all pretty good athletes. They haven't used them as full-time runners, but you never know. We have to be ready for anything."

Position of weakness

The only positional edge Lamar might have over Idaho is upfront.

The Vandals offensive line is an extremely youthful group, with junior Eli Sanchez being the most experienced.

"Communication is going to be key with us not really knowing what they're going to do up front," Eck said. "We have to follow our base rules to understand blitz pick and make sure we're clean. That's going to be the biggest part of our passing game, making sure we protect Gevani McCoy."

Players to watch

Lamar's strength on defense looks to reside in the secondary, with its two best players being junior corner Samuel Scaife and senior safety Joshua Ofili.

Scaife had a team-high four interceptions for the Cardinals last season. The junior also added 38 tackles, including 13 solo stops.

Lamar added Ofili from Brown through the transfer portal. The senior earned all-Ivy League honors last season after finishing with 38 tackles and two interceptions.

The Cardinals will need all the help they can get on the back end with Idaho's pair of preseason All-Big Sky receivers, Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson, running around.

The duo both eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in 2022 and will be catching passes from the defending Jerry Rice Award winner, quarterback McCoy.

"This is what we live and breathe for," Hatten said. "I call my parents every night, like, Hey, I can't wait, let's go. This is what makes the sport fun, and it's time to get paid and reap the rewards."

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