When he looks back at how his defense played in 2012, Idaho State coach Mike Kramer doesnt mince words.
We sucked last year on defense, in a historical way, he said.
The Bengals gave up 53.8 points a game eight points per game more than anyone at the FCS level along with 362.7 rushing yards. Both marks are the worst of any FCS team in the 2000s.
Those numbers prompted Kramer to clean house on his entire defensive staff.
We had to make audacious changes, he said. We needed a complete change of thought.
Kramer said his depth chart is bigger than ever, as are players such as 6-foot-3, 327-pound defensive tackle Tyler Kuder, and big transfer linebackers. Only two linebackers who played in the season finale weighed more than 200 pounds.
Its safe to say we lacked size, and that hurt us. But you can see this year, going against them, theyre a lot bigger and stronger, quarterback Justin Arias said.
As usual with a Kramer-led team, the offense will throw the ball plenty. Arias leads the charge, taking over for Kevin Yost, who threw for 3,690 yards last season. Arias, a 6-1, 202-pound junior, played in eight games in 2011 after transferring from College of the Canyons before redshirting last season.
It was the first time I hadnt played in the fall since I was a little kid, Arias said. But it really helped me know the offense even better. So Ive noticed this fall camp that its been paying off.
Kramer said he hopes to have Arias throw between 70 to 75 times a game. He will throw to a veteran receiving corps led by Cam Richmond and Luke Austin, who had 67 and 46 catches, respectively, last season for a squad that scored 20.7 points per game. Idaho States offensive line cut its sacks allowed from 66 in 2011 to 34 in 2012, and returns four of its five starters.
Justin sees the field so well, hes very quick with his reads, said Austin, who had eight touchdown catches last season. Weve got some good guys coming back, and I think well be able to get in the end zone more this year.
The building blocks have come at a gradual pace for Kramers team, and include the simple acts of building up depth and finding players that fit his system. It also has meant overcoming hurdles like losing scholarships and practice time in Kramers first year, a result of prior regimes NCAA-mandated APR and academic deficiencies. Now Idaho State is at full strength with the maximum amount of scholarships and a perfect 1,000 in the APR for the 2011-12 academic year.
Lets face it: ISU has fired the last six coaches, Kramer said. Its been broken for a long time. It wasnt going to take two years. Progress is going to be painstakingly slow, but I think we have the right ingredients in place.
With a roster that is more befitting of a college football team and off-field issues in order, this fall has a different vibe for the Bengals, who are seeking their first road win since 2006 and first winning season since 2003.
Everyones buying in, Austin said. Theres a new feeling. Its a clean slate. No ones saying, Here we go again. Were excited again.