WyoSports senior editor Robert Gagliardi did a question-and-answer session with Josh Wright, who covers Idaho football for the Spokesman Review newspaper in Spokane, Wash., about Saturday’s game with the University of Wyoming.
Look for Q&As with beat writers that cover UW football opponents every week throughout the season.
What were your initial impressions of Idaho in its opener and with first-year coach Paul Petrino?
Idaho’s inexperience really manifested itself at North Texas. Half of the traveling squad had never played at the FBS level, and of course, the whole team had never gone through a game with Paul Petrino running the show. It also bears mentioning that Idaho started a redshirt freshman at quarterback and true freshmen at running back, free safety, kicker and punter.
After showing a crisp, disciplined offense in fall camp, Idaho looked disorganized and confused to start the game (it used all three of its first-half timeouts in the first 2 minutes, 40 seconds). So the initial impressions weren’t great, and the coaching staff was disappointed, too. Offensive coordinator Kris Cinkovich expects the offense to look much sharper — and be more effective — Saturday in Laramie. We’ll see how much of a jump the Vandals’ young players can make from Week 1 to Week 2.
What are the biggest differences in the program under Petrino compared to last season?
I think it boils down to discipline and attention to detail. Robb Akey was intense, but Petrino is on a whole different level. His expectations for players — whether they’re on the field, in meetings or out in the community — is much higher, too, which partly stems from his upbringing as a coach’s son in Montana. He’s spent time as a coordinator and receivers coach at the highest level of college football (the SEC) and briefly in the NFL (with the Falcons), and his detailed, step-by-step plan for the program was a huge reason why athletics director Rob Spear offered him the job in December. He’s constantly stressing the key elements of that plan — grinding every day, discipline on and off the field, executing better after lots of repetition in practice.
What were your impressions of Jason Gesser when he was an assistant and interim coach at Idaho last season? Now that he is the quarterbacks coach at Wyoming, do you think he has a good handle of some of the personnel on this Idaho team?
Gesser was always upbeat and charismatic on the practice field at Idaho. He seemed to embrace being a teacher, even when he was in somewhat of an odd spot as running backs coach his first year. He was a fast-riser up the coaching ranks, getting the coordinator spot his second year, and by end of his time he had a lot of responsibilities — too many, really. I think he knew he was a long-shot to get the full-time gig, and he even petitioned to be coordinator or quarterbacks coach for whomever Idaho hired.
As far as his handle on Idaho’s personnel, it’s not probably not as great as you might expect. Idaho’s roster has turned over so dramatically and Petrino is doing so many different things that this version of the team looks radically different the last year’s version. He is familiar with Chad Chalich, Idaho’s starting quarterback who redshirted last year, and he knows the core of the Vandals’ offensive line (as well as a few skill position players).
In the 40-6 loss at North Texas last week, it appeared Idaho struggled defensively. Was that a product of a good North Texas offense or a struggling Idaho defense?
I’d say both. North Texas has an impressive offensive line (its pass protection is superb) and its quarterback had time to shred the Vandals’ secondary. That said, the Vandals’ back seven is inexperienced, not very big and clearly the biggest weakness on the team (aside from maybe special teams). Getting senior free safety Trey Williams fully healthy should help (he’s listed atop the depth chart this week), but poor secondary play has been a constant at Idaho for years. Idaho has some talented defensive linemen, though, especially defensive end Quinton Bradley and defensive tackle QuayShawne Buckley. They’re going to have to make (UW quarterback) Brett Smith uncomfortable Saturday for Idaho to stay close.
What are the Vandals’ biggest concerns about Wyoming coming into this game, and how do you think the game will play out?
Petrino hasn’t stopped gushing over Smith and how complete a quarterback he is. Smith’s ability to pick apart the Vandals’ struggling secondary has to be the biggest concern. Also, Idaho wants to establish the run, but offensive tackle Cody Elenz is hurt (his status is up in the air) and the Vandals don’t have much depth on the offensive line. I don’t expect this game to be as close as last year’s matchup in Moscow. But I do expect Idaho to play crisper offensively than it did last week.