They knew if there was any chance to end years of ineptitude, the Vandals had to shore up their defense. They brought in a new coordinator and searched for more speed and depth.
But thus far, the results have shown a lot of the same. Idaho is last in the FBS in yards per play allowed (8.6) and 125th in scoring defense (46.5 points per game).
“We can’t have teams score 40 points on us and expect to win. We’re sick of it,” senior end Quinton Bradley said. “We know we can beat these teams, but when you have some lapses like we’ve had, teams will exploit it and find big plays. That has to stop.”
The new 3-4 scheme was supposed to introduce more aggressiveness, but the Vandals have registered just two sacks, both by Bradley. He believes the Vandals are more disciplined than in prior seasons, but the success or failure can be traced to one player on a given play doing the right or wrong thing.
“There’s been some breakdowns in assignments, and that’s what has killed us most of the time,” Bradley said. “One guy messes up, the whole thing can go wrong. It’s all for one and one for all. You don’t want to be watching film after a game and have everyone see it’s you not doing your job.”
A few factors have collided to create a struggle no matter what a team opts to do, whether it’s a lack of depth in the secondary, not filling gaps against the run or missing tackles.
“It’s a combination of both,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said.
In back-to-back weeks, Idaho faced run-heavy teams in Wofford, which runs a lot out of the wishbone, and option-based Georgia Southern. Saturday’s game against Arkansas State presents a more traditional test, a team that has rushed 165 times and passed 128.
“I’m ready to get after the passer. It’s been tiring to go against the teams that are 90 percent run,” Bradley said.
Idaho has recovered four fumbles this season with just one interception. Arkansas State has lost five fumbles and thrown eight picks. The Vandals hope the game will provide opportunities to create the turnovers they need to turn a game around.
“They’ve put the ball on the ground, we have to take advantage of that,” Breske said.
The formula is simple for Idaho — give up fewer than 34 points, and it wins. In their past 37 games, the Vandals have allowed 33 or fewer points only four times, and they are 3-1 in those games. In all others, they are 1-32.
If Idaho wants to reach its postseason goal, it will need to cut down on the long plays (29 plays allowed of 20 yards or more), while getting more pressure and creating more turnovers. It certainly sounds like a lot of ground to make up, but the Vandals feel they are close. It may boil down to not overthinking, relying on technique and forgetting about the ugly numbers.
“Your mind can be somewhere else, you want to make the play so bad, you realize you aren’t doing your job,” Bradley said. “It’s frustrating right now,’’ Bradley said. “We want to show everyone that doubts we belong in this league that we can win. We’re ready to let it show.”