Last week marked a payday for the visitors and a tune-up for the hosts.
Idaho football, the away team then, hopes for a repeat today, just one where it’s on the right side of a rout.
The Vandals will compensate Division II Central Washington about $60,000 to travel to the Kibbie Dome for UI’s home opener at 6 p.m. (Pluto TV 542).
To first-year CWU coach Chris Fisk, there doesn’t need to be added emphasis, other than “D-I vs. D-II.”
“You can tell these guys are excited to compete against a bigger school,” Fisk said. “These games have added incentive. It helps bring out the chip on these guys’ shoulders.
“It’s kinda the same thing for Idaho, going out to Penn State. They wanna show they can play with those guys.”
The Vandals fell far short of matching up to the 15th-ranked Nittany Lions in a 79-7 demolition last weekend in a Football Championship Subdivision vs. Football Bowl Subdivision matchup. Based on their showing, not much could be measured, simply because of the vast disparity in talent and depth.
But the same outcome UI suffered probably shouldn’t be expected of CWU. In fact, this one should be somewhat a fair gauge of the Vandals’ capacities.
The Wildcats finished 2018 with an 8-3 record and went undefeated the season before. The reigning back-to-back Great Northwest Conference champions also boasted the No. 2 overall offense in all of D-II a year ago, thanks to an ace offensive coordinator who’s now the boss.
CWU might’ve graduated a dozen — including its quarterback and three offensive linemen — but still, “they’ve got some great players,” Idaho guard Noah Johnson said.
“We really can’t underestimate them just ’cause they’re D-II. We need to treat them like we’d treat anyone else,” Johnson said.
That wasn’t the case in Idaho’s supposed warm-up tilt last season, when it welcomed Western New Mexico to the Dome, then struggled in the first half — WNMU even took the lead in the second quarter. Finally, the Vandals began to pull away late in the third thanks to similar advantages Penn State owned over them.
This time, the Vandals might not be able to afford a slow start.
“We should (have an outright physical edge),” UI coach Paul Petrino said. “But you don’t want to tell your guys that. You’ve gotta come out mentally and be very sharp.”
Especially because the Wildcats enjoy a wealth of former D-I talent, which is partially why they’ve flourished as of late, and how they’ve become a consistent power in the D-II ranks.
Out of their eight D-I transfers, seven are from the Big Sky, and one — linebacker Hamilton Hunt — just came from Oregon State, where he’d repped as a special-teamer.
CWU, albeit young, has a deep corps of D-I-caliber running backs and a lengthy first-look receiving target in 6-foot-3 Kellen Gregory, formerly of Eastern Washington.
As for the quarterback, Fisk said it will be game time decision between five. But it’s expected that Weber State transfer Braden Miles will assume the duties, considering three-year WSU quarterbacks coach Kelly Bills made the jump to Ellensburg, Wash., simultaneously.
“I hope they’re repping all five. Not sure who it’ll be, but they’ll do a good job schematically,” Petrino said. “They brought over the QB coach from Weber, so through the summer you kinda watch both (teams).”
For the Vandals (0-1) to succeed, they’ll have to limit CWU’s multi-headed, speed-oriented rushing attack, which UI linebacker Tre Walker calls “the key factor in their offense.”
The Idaho defensive front seven also should be a potent factor. Three Wildcat offensive linemen will be making their first career starts against the Big Sky’s largest defensive line and perhaps UI’s top position group.
On the other side, it’s also the box that seems to be CWU’s premier facet. Its linebackers enjoy overload pressure, a trend the Vandals struggled with a week ago.
“I’ve noticed that their backers fly around, get in your face,” freshman running back Aundre Carter said. “They have a really good D-line, but our O-line’s gonna grind and punch ’em.”
For Petrino, this game is about converting third downs, limiting penalties and maybe sorting out some position competitions, particularly in the offensive backfield.
NOTE — UI edge-rusher Kayode Rufai will miss the first half because of a targeting penalty in the fourth quarter at Penn State. ... Receiver DJ Lee, linebacker Christian Elliss and tackle Sean Tulette will return after each were suspended for Week 1 because of violations of team rules.
Colton Clark may be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.