Idaho State Bengals on slow climb upward

Idaho State makes big changes defensively in Kramer’s third season.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comAugust 25, 2013 

Luke Austin.JPG

Idaho State senior receiver Luke Austin, a former walk-on who attended Skyview High in Nampa, had 46 catches for 611 yards and a team-high eight TDs last season. With new quarterback Justin Arias, he’s hoping for a big final season. “I know all the seniors feel this way, too, but I really want to finish it off strong, send the other guys into the next season on a good note,” Austin said.

COURTESY IDAHO STATE BENGALS

  • TOP-NOTCH TEMPO FOR BENGALS

    Speed manifests itself in a lightning-quick tempo for the Idaho State Bengals.

    “We keep track of how much time we take between snaps, try to make that as fast as possible,” wide receiver Luke Austin said. “We want to run as close to 100 plays per game as we can.”

    The Bengals ran 74 plays per game last season. Quarterback Justin Arias noted that the team ran 76 scripted plays in a recent practice, and finished 20 minutes quicker than planned.

    Coach Mike Kramer’s pass-heavy offense tries to take advantage of worn-down defenses with its up-tempo style.

    “I think you’ve always wanted raw speed, but today’s game is way faster,” Kramer said. “It probably will be this way for a while. We want to put the defense on their heels as much as we possibly can.’’

When he looks back at how his defense played in 2012, Idaho State coach Mike Kramer doesn’t 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.

“It’s safe to say we lacked size, and that hurt us. But you can see this year, going against them, they’re 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 hadn’t played in the fall since I was a little kid,” Arias said. “But it really helped me know the offense even better. So I’ve noticed this fall camp that it’s 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 State’s 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, he’s very quick with his reads,” said Austin, who had eight touchdown catches last season. “We’ve got some good guys coming back, and I think we’ll be able to get in the end zone more this year.”

The building blocks have come at a gradual pace for Kramer’s 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 Kramer’s first year, a result of prior regime’s 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.

“Let’s face it: ISU has fired the last six coaches,” Kramer said. “It’s been broken for a long time. It wasn’t 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.

“Everyone’s buying in,” Austin said. “There’s a new feeling. It’s a clean slate. No one’s saying, ‘Here we go again.’ We’re excited again.”

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