It’s that time of year again. Kickoff is so close that Florida Gators fans can taste it and the first opponent on the schedule are the Vandals of Idaho who will travel 2,798 miles from Moscow, Idaho to take on the Gators.
As we did last year, Gator Country is teaming with a beat reporter from the opposing team each week to get to know Florida’s opponent a little better before kickoff.
To kick our season off we teamed up with Dave Southorn of the Idaho Statesman. Dave covers the Vandals as well as Boise State and is a graduate of the University of Colorado.
1) After one win last season, Paul Petrino reached deep into the JUCO ranks to fill out his team. How are the junior college players fitting in and how many of them figure to play this season?
It was quickly obvious Idaho needed some guys to make a quick impact and fill in some holes after Petrino’s first year. The JCs have helped provide a little bit of depth, which the team lacked at just about every spot last year. A few will step in right away — linebacker Irving Steele and safety Chris Edwards should start right away. Steele will be a game captain Saturday and Petrino’s as excited about Edwards as anyone. Defensive tackle Alfonso Hampton was a big get and a big guy (6-5, 346). He arrived a bit late and was dinged up, but he’ll play a bit Saturday and once acclimated could be a difference-maker. Also, running back Elijhaa Penny (6-2, 254) is the sort of goal-line/short-yardage back the team was lacking.
2) Dezmon Epps emerged as a receiver last year but was dismissed from the team this offseason. How big is that dismissal?
Huge. Other than maybe kicker/punter Austin Rehkow, Epps was the brightest spot on last year’s team with 980 yards, including 126 against Florida State. He would’ve played a big part in getting the quarterback, whoever that may be, comfortable. Petrino likes the receiver depth, and I don’t disagree — Deon Watson is a good-sized target at 6-4 and converted QB Josh McCain is a very good athlete who has fit in well. Two Florida natives, sophomores Jacob Sannon and Richard Montgomery, will be top targets. The depth is good, but losing a clear-cut No. 1 will hamper the offense, I think.
3) Matt Linehan and Chad Chalich are battling for the QB job. Who will start vs. Florida. What are the strengths of each QB?
As of Wednesday, Petrino said he had a starter in mind, but didn’t want to say whom. We know both will play. Chalich started seven games last season before getting hurt in late October. He’s a good runner (had a 300-yard passing/100-yard rushing game in their lone win) and is a heady leader. He needs to improve his accuracy and turnover rate, as he lost too many fumbles early on. Linehan, the son of longtime NFL coach Scott Linehan, now in Dallas, is not surprisingly a very smart guy. He’s got the fairly complex offense down and has spent this offseason working on his analysis of defenses, improving his reads. He’s a more prototypical pocket passer, but he can run, too.
4) The offensive line is led by center Mike Marboe. Is the offensive line the strength of the offense and how will they hold up against the Florida defensive line?
Marboe is a known commodity, one of the best centers in the west and making his 37th straight start. Around him is a little unknown, as sophomore Mason Woods is set as one starting tackle, and he’s a monster at 6-9, 355, but he’s only played three games. True freshman Jordan Rose likely will start at one guard spot, while the other three guys competing for starts have prior starting experience. Everyone there promises the line will be better this year, and it has to after giving up the most sacks in the FBS last year (53). I think the group will be better, but has a lot of room to make up, and starting off against a D-line like Florida’s, it won’t be pretty at times.
5) The Vandal defense was aggressive in 2013. Will they continue that this week against a Florida offense that is playing their first game in a new system?
There is a little more of a smarter aggressiveness this year. It came back to bite them a lot last season, giving up 40 touchdown passes (most in FBS since 1997) and 46.8 ppg (most in FBS since 2008). The defensive backs, coached now by former NFL’er Ashley Ambrose, have said they are out to create turnovers, instead of just trying to stop touchdowns. Junior Jayshawn Jordan will be a solid corner, but the back end is breaking in two new starters in Edwards and Russell Siavii. The strength of the defense, and probably the team, is the defensive line, which is a pretty underrated group and can compete with most teams. It has experience and returns a combined 15.5 sacks in ends Quinton Bradley, Maxx Forde and Quayshawne Buckley. If any group has success against Florida, my bet is on the D-line.
A very special thank you to Dave Southorn for helping us out this week. You can follow Dave on Twitter @IDS_Southorn.