Mike Breske packed up his things and said goodbye to the place he called home, ready for a new start, a new job, a new state.
It was going to be an undertaking, but one he was excited to face as Idaho’s new defensive coordinator.
“A whole 7 miles,” Breske said.
OK, so the move itself wasn’t a tough task from Pullman, Wash., where he was Washington State’s defensive coordinator since 2012, fired after last season’s finale. But with the move to Moscow, he hopes to turn around a long-struggling group, which begins its season at 7 p.m. MT Thursday at the Kibbie Dome against Ohio.
In coach Paul Petrino’s two seasons, Idaho has given up 42.2 points per game. The Vandals’ three wins since 2012 all have come when giving up fewer than 34 points. Otherwise, they’re 0-29. Breske, hired in June, has installed a new 3-4 base defense, from a 4-3, along with a bit of a new attitude.
“His energy, and the ideas he has, I think they’re going to fit us well,” junior safety Russell Siavii said. “There’s a lot of things coming at an offense, we can disguise it well so they won’t know what to expect.”
The system starts with a tenacious, big-bodied man in the middle, and that’s 323-pound senior nose tackle Ryan Edwards, who hasn’t missed a game in his career. Senior defensive end Quinton Bradley said “our defense is predicated on what Ryan does.”
“I like it a lot because it lets me be a playmaker, lets me hold it down for the linebackers to make a play, or shoot the middle and get into the backfield,” Edwards said.
The linebacking corps is anchored by senior Marc Millan, who has led the team in tackles the last two seasons, yet is being pushed by freshman Kaden Elliss. The secondary has some youth, but also has veterans like Siavii and senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan.
“The defensive line, that’s our marquee group, we’ve got athletic linebackers, some good new faces in the secondary, we’re going to play to their strengths — we don’t have to just fit a certain system,” Breske said.
Though the 2014 season was a struggle for the Cougars and Breske’s defense (38.6 ppg), in 2013 they forced 30 turnovers, and the previous season ranked 11th nationally in sacks per game. The Vandals will need some of that after creating 17 turnovers and 18 sacks all of last season.
“We’re going to rally to the ball, we want to be good in the red zone and take the ball away,” Breske said. “We can be aggressive but at the same time smart about making the tackle and going for the ball when the time is right.”
Idaho yielded 16 plays of 50 yards or more last season, fourth-most in the country. The Vandals believe they have a system that can keep players fresh with their improved depth, and the sort of versatility that will allow them to have the advantage.
“It fits our personnel great, I like it — I can’t wait,” Siavii said.
NOTES: Idaho will honor Jace Malek and Mark Vaught in a game dedicated to fighting cancer and cancer awareness. Malek will serve as an honorary captain Thursday. He was diagnosed with cancer just days before he signed with the Vandals in February and had a leg amputated in July. He also serves as a student assistant coach for the Vandals. The team will also honor Vaught, the team’s director of football operations who succumbed to cancer in November. The Mark Vaught Character Award has been named after him, and his wife will present it to junior wide receiver Jacob Sannon.