The last time these two football teams butted heads in Moscow, fourth-ranked Idaho ultimately was a nine-win playoff team. Weber State was headed for a season under .500 and a third consecutive missed postseason.
The Vandals won that November 1994 game 79-30, improving their all-time home stranglehold to 13-3 against the Wildcats of Ogden, Utah.
But now it’s in the reverse.
Since UI deserted Division I-AA (now the Football Championship Subdivision) after 1995, it seems many of the formerly pedestrian teams in their league only have gotten better, while the Vandals have regressed.
Unranked Idaho (2-3, 0-1 Big Sky) will stage a 2 p.m. game today with No. 4 Weber State in the Kibbie Dome (SWX, Pluto TV). The Vandals, hoping to rebound from a disastrous loss at Northern Colorado, enter as seven-point underdogs, according to VegasInsider.com.
That’s because the Wildcats (2-2) are gifted defensively. Their sixth-year coach, Jay Hill, is a University of Utah-bred guru on that side. He’s morphed Weber State into a top-10 national scoring defense (16.5 points per game) and a turnover-forcing apparatus (plus-five margin, 10th nationally).
Hill’s attention to defensive detail has boosted the Wildcats to back-to-back conference titles, a 23-8 mark since the start of the 2017 season, and an impressive ongoing streak — the team’s won 19 of its past 21 Big Sky games.
“It helps big-time having coach Hill as a former defensive player and (current defensive) coordinator. We do a ton of scouting, scheme accordingly and just play disciplined, only allow a couple of field goals,” said star Wildcats defensive end Jonah Williams, a Rocky Mountain High graduate.
Weber State’s front seven is sizable and replete with upperclassmen experience. Opposite Williams is Adam Rodriguez, a senior All-American. Senior 250-pounder Auston Tesch plays behind on the strong side and he’s an all-league linebacker.
UI coach Paul Petrino said he expects Hill to dial up hidden, exotic-blitz schemes and mostly rely on man coverage in the secondary, which is comprised of three sophomores and a junior.
That might be where the erratic Vandals can find success, with their standout receiving corps and a particularly hit-and-miss quarterback in Mason Petrino, who’s coming off arguably his worst outing in a disheartening 27-24 loss to the Bears on Sept. 28, a game in which he threw three picks.
But because of pressure and cutting off intermediate throws, the Wildcats lead the league in fewest passing yards allowed per game (202.3).
Paul Petrino said it’ll be about establishing the run early against a team that prides itself on stopping it. The Vandals could be without running back Roshaun Johnson, who missed last week with a leg injury.
Idaho can’t afford to go down early. Each time it did last year, the results were blowouts.
However, Weber State’s offense hasn’t been too notable so far this season, but it’s better than it was the past couple of years.
The Wildcats’ quarterback situation isn’t figured out yet — Boise State transfer Jake Constantine was commendable before being sidelined for two weeks with a knee injury. He’s probable for the one.
Weber State’s been held to an average of 255 yards per game (118th in the country). That’s including two down-to-the-wire games against Mountain West opponents San Diego State and Nevada, in which the ’Cats scored a combined 13 points.
Against FCS foes Cal Poly and No. 9 Northern Iowa, they had 346 and 289 yards in two wins. In that second game, most of their yardage came before halftime.
“They’re doing a couple different things this year, as far as spreading people out,” Paul Petrino said. “They got two good backs, and then they got as good a skill player as anyone in the league (Rashid Shaheed).”
Shaheed is a deadly return-man and receiver who’s bound to give UI’s inconsistent secondary some fits.
“We gotta make sure we know where he’s at all the time,” Paul Petrino said.
Petrino’s hoping to offset that with a healthy defensive box, which returns end Kayode Rufai and tackle Noah Elliss from injury, and features a burgeoning star in sophomore middle linebacker Tre Walker, the league’s leading tackler (56). The front seven have been key in UI’s top-ranked Big Sky third-down defense.
It’ll be a test to see if UI can revert to its estimable play seen against Wyoming and Eastern Washington. At least the Vandals will have the confines of the Kibbie Dome behind them, where they’ve won six of the past seven games and, in the past, taken care of Weber State.
Yet, this isn’t the Weber State of the past, and although better than 2018, these haven’t been the consistent Vandals of foregone years.
Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.