A win will go a long way for Idaho football's playoff outlook

Nov. 18—Well, that was quick.

The regular season for the No. 6 Idaho football team comes to an end at 4 p.m. today against Big Sky Conference foe Idaho State at the P1FCU Kibbie Dome (ESPN+/SWX).

The "Battle of the Domes" rivalry game will be crucial in deciding the Vandals' destiny in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the second year in a row.

With enough wins under its belt, Idaho (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky) is seen as "on the bubble" for a postseason bid. Still, the Vandals would have a far better chance of earning one of the top eight seeds if they beat the Bengals, particularly in a resounding way.

"I think it's a great opportunity," Idaho coach Jason Eck said during Monday's news conference. "We can win this one, play really well and be one of the eight seeded teams in the country. It's a chance to be second in the conference, which is an improvement from last year, where we tied for third."

A trip to the FCS playoffs for the Vandals will give them back-to-back appearances for the first time since the 1994 and '95 seasons.

The Bengals (3-7, 3-4), despite what their record may indicate, will provide a dynamic test for Idaho's defense, being the top aerial attack in the conference (337.7 yards per game).

"I'm very impressed by this Idaho State team," Eck said. "I think coach (Cody) Hawkins has done a good job over there. They have more fight in them this year. They're competing; getting three conference wins for them is a great improvement."

The Bengals' passing stats are a little bloated due to the number of times they air it out, throwing the ball 503 times compared to just 221 rushing attempts.

Idaho has risen to the occasion against pass-happy offenses more often than not this season, being the Big Sky's top pass defense (157.7 per game). But in the Vandals' 31-29 loss to Weber State on Saturday, there were several lapses in coverage that led to big plays.

Here's what to expect, with a lot on the line for the Vandals:

Come down with the ball

The Bengals don't hide their offensive identity, averaging 55 passing attempts in their last three games.

Idaho State uses two quarterbacks: junior Hunter Hays and sophomore Jordan Cooke.

Cooke is the team's leading passer and has as many interceptions as he does touchdowns (12). But the Santa Rosa, Calif., native's 2,389 passing yards rank third in the conference.

Hays has had 200 fewer passing attempts than Cooke, recording 882 yards and nine TDs. But the Cody, Wyo., native shines as a runner, leading the team with 283 rushing yards.

The Bengals also have one of the conference's top receivers in sophomore Chedon James. The Carson, Calif., native has a Big Sky-high 92 receptions for 900 yards.

Idaho State has plenty of other outside options, such as junior Christian Fredrickson and senior Cyrus Wallace, who both rank in the top 10 in the conference in receiving yards.

Idaho's pass defense will have to combat this firepower after one of its least memorable performances to date against Weber State.

The youth in the Vandals' secondary finally began to show against the Wildcats, and the Bengals' potent passing offense is bound to take some shots downfield in this one. The Vandals need to capitalize on this and create a turnover.

Currently, Idaho has a minus-7 turnover margin, and that mark needs to improve a bit before the end of the season.

Establish offensive identity

Idaho clearly missed sophomore running back Anthony Woods last week.

The Palmdale, Calif., native is questionable for today's game, but the coaching staff seemed optimistic about his return.

If Woods is ready to go, getting him the ball early and often is a must.

Much like Idaho State, it's no secret that the Vandals offense runs through Woods — or at least it should.

Even if Woods isn't 100%, Idaho will need to try to establish the run with senior running back Nick Romano because Idaho State has the conference's second-worst rush defense (221.4 per game).

A big one for the seniors

This game against Idaho State has a lot attached to it, and one of those happens to be senior day.

The Vandals will honor their seniors prior to kickoff, a group that was pivotal to building the program's unprecedented turnaround. Names like defensive back Marcus Harris and wide receivers Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson will be recognized, all three cornerstones of Idaho's recent run.

"These guys were really helpful to me in getting our program kind of established," Eck said. "So I'll be forever thankful to those guys for their contributions, and you know, the exciting thing is that if we play really well, maybe this won't be their last game in the Kibbie Dome."

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