Vandals hope to run wild this season

Three new running backs should help Idaho improve touchdown production.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comAugust 31, 2013 

Senior James Baker is the only returning Vandal who ran for a touchdown last season. Baker was second on the squad with 395 rushing yards in 2012.



    When: 5 p.m. MDT Saturday

    Where: Apogee Stadium (30,850, PowerBlade HP + turf), Denton, Texas

    TV: None

    Radio: KFXD (630 AM)

    Rankings: Both unranked

    Series: North Texas leads 5-4 (last meeting: North Texas 51-29 in Denton, 2004)

    Vegas line: North Texas by 15

Partially because of the season that had just been completed, and after seeing his new team gathered for the first time, Idaho Vandals coach Paul Petrino quickly had a realization in December.

“We needed running backs, no question,’’ he said.

Petrino remedied that by signing two junior college transfers, Jerrel Brown and Kris Olugbode, within three weeks after he was hired. Among his February freshmen signees was running back Richard Montgomery, who Petrino said is the fastest player on the team.

An influx of talent with the strong-bodied junior college transfers and the speedy Montgomery was a necessity.

Idaho running backs, on 274 carries, scored two rushing touchdowns last season, the fewest in the nation.

“I think we brought in some backs who are really going to help us get in the end zone,’’ quarterback Chad Chalich said.

The back with both of those touchdowns, senior James Baker, returns. He and the trio of newcomers also hope to improve the Vandals’ 89.3 rushing yards per game average from 2012 behind an offensive line that returns three starters.

“I think they’ve come along well, and honestly, that group could end up being one of our strengths,’’ Petrino said.

Olugbode, a spring standout, missed most of fall camp, but returned last week to practice. Petrino said all four will play in Saturday’s season opener at North Texas, with Brown and Montgomery likely getting most of the work.

Montgomery has perhaps been the team’s breakout player, running for 209 yards in the team’s three fall scrimmages and catching seven passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s able to do a little bit of everything — he can run it well inside the tackles, catch passes — and that’s not mentioning that breakaway speed,’’ Petrino said of the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Jacksonville, Fla. native.

Though Petrino says he doesn’t concern himself much with what happened during the Vandals’ 1-11 campaign last year, he has made moving the ball on the ground a priority with his rushers, along with some option and zone-read plays to take advantage of Chalich’s mobility.

“I’ll only judge us on what we’ve done this spring and this summer,’’ Petrino said. “It’s a different scheme, different people.

“I just know that we'll be successful offensively when we can run it well.’’

Run game key for UNT, too

Petrino also noted North Texas’ ability to run the ball.

The Mean Green had three running backs run for at least 495 yards last season, and the team was 51st nationally with 173.1 yards per game rushing. “They’re physical, they use different guys, mix it up with counters and power runs,’’ Petrino said.

Chalich to run the show

Petrino didn’t a name a starting quarterback leading up to Saturday’s game — he didn't even release a depth chart — but will have Chalich, the redshirt freshman from Coeur d’Alene, taking most of the snaps.

Chalich completed 50-of-67 passes for 880 yards with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions in the three fall scrimmages, adding four rushing touchdowns.

“Pretty much everyone knows,’’ Petrino said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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