FACTS & FIGURES
Where: Pocatello (54,350)
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Colors: Black and orange
Record: 1-1 overall (8-4 last season; 6-24 all-time vs. Boise State)
Last game: Lost 34-14 against Portland State on Saturday in Pocatello
Mike Kramer, 60, is in his fifth season with the Bengals, owning a 15-33 record. He led the team to its first top 25 ranking in 11 years last season. That’s a long way from seasons like 2011, when ISU allowed 66 sacks, or 2012 when it yielded 53.8 points per game. Kramer previously was head coach at Eastern Washington (1994-99) and Montana State (2000-06), making the FCS playoffs four times.
Kramer instituted a pass-heavy spread system immediately, and it has resulted in top 11 finishes nationally the last three seasons. But the offense has truly taken off as it has blended a solid rushing game into the mix, picking up a school-record 2,567 yards on the ground in 2014. Walter Payton Award finalist Justin Arias graduated, and junior college transfer Michael Saunders has taken the reins at quarterback. He’s completed 35-of-57 passes for 455 yards with seven TDs and two interceptions. He has a wealth of experienced targets, led by senior wide receiver Madison Mangum (Timberline High), who had 1,234 yards last season. He has eight catches for 112 yards and three TDs this season.
On the ground, Xavier Finney ran for 1,495 last season as a junior, and has 148 thus far. But his backup, junior Jakori Ford, leads the team with 228 yards on 31 carries. They’re aided by an offensive line that returned four starters this season, a group in which Kramer has taken much pride, calling them “alpha dogs.”
In a fairly brief amount of time, the Bengals have gone from one of the worst defenses in recent Division I history to one that posted its first shutout in a decade Sept. 5 against Black Hills State. Senior Tyler Kuder (Payette High) anchors the line in the 3-4 front, shifting from tackle to end this season after earning second-team all-Big Sky honors last season. He has 3.5 tackles for loss thus far.
The linebacker corps had a big blow in fall camp when sophomore Mario Jenkins (Columbia High) was lost for the season with a knee injury after racking up 120 tackles and three interceptions as a freshman. In his absence, Meridian grad Hayden Stout has taken a big step in the middle as a junior, with 16 tackles (four for losses) this season.
Senior safety Taison Manu also is out for the season with an injury after a 110-tackle year in 2014. The secondary is still experienced, with three seniors starting, allowing only 188 passing yards in two games.
Nampa Christian grad Zak Johnson has served as the Bengals’ kicker and punter this season, not yet attempting a field goal but averaging 41.1 yards per punt. He made 14-of-19 field goals in 2014. ISU allowed a 96-yard kickoff return TD on Saturday, but it returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the opener.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Bengals have churned out some solid coaches, including former Boise State coach Dirk Koetter, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and CFL legend Wally Buono (254 wins, five Grey Cups from 1990-2011).
Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn