No small potatoes in this week 2 matchup (sorry)
Eight days after what is sure to be a very telling season opener against the Illini, Indiana will host the Idaho Vandals for its first non-conference matchup of 2022.
The Hoosiers hosted the Vandals last year in week two as well, beating the Vandals 56-14 in what would eventually be Indiana’s most dominant win of the season. Idaho’s season didn’t improve much after that week two meeting either, as they went on to finish 9th in the Big Sky conference at 4-7.
Of course, plenty has changed since that game; Idaho has a new head coach, and we don’t even really know who will start at QB for the Hoosier’s at this point. In other words, we maybe shouldn’t expect the same result as last season’s dominating performance.
Here’s what we do know about the Idaho Vandals:
Idaho’s new head coach, Jason Eck, was brought in to rehabilitate the Vandals’ offense. He joins Idaho after serving as the offensive coordinator at South Dakota State from 2019-2021. Eck was named the American Football Coaches Association FCS Assistant Coach of the Year in his first year as coordinator at SDSU, where his offenses were regularly in the top 10 nationwide.
Eck brings quarterback J’Bore Gibbs along with him from SDSU, who is likely to be the starter if he can remain healthy. Gibbs, like former Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., has suffered multiple season-ending injuries, first in 2019 and then again in 2021.
When Gibbs is healthy, he’s been a good fit for Eck’s offenses. In 2019, he completed 58% of his passes for 10 touchdowns versus just four interceptions and nearly led the Jackrabbits to a late season upset of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Backing up Gibbs, and potentially seeing a lot of playing time due to the injury history, will be Gevani McCoy, a sophomore who appeared in three games for Idaho last season, and sophomore CJ Jordan.
The running back group should be familiar to the Hoosiers, as Roshaun Johson and Nick Romano both return for the Vandals this season. The pair combined for 24 yards on five carries last year against Indiana.
Eck welcomes a slew of Power Five transfers to the defense this year, including linebacker Paul Maola from Notre Dame, edge rusher Juliano Falaniko from USC, and Carter Carlson from Washington State.
Moala played well when healthy at Notre Dame, where he recorded 22 tackles in 23 games. He has also struggled with injury problems and with two torn ACLs (strangely both against Florida State).
In 28 games at USC, Falaniko recorded 19 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, though his career has been hampered by injuries as well. Prior to his injuries, he was the top ranked Samoan recruit in the country for 2017.
The Vandals also return some key pieces to the secondary in Marcus Harris and Jeremiah Salaam, who played in 11 and eight games for Idaho last year, respectively. At safety, Salaam totaled seven tackles, including one for loss, and three pass break ups. Harris, who appeared at cornerback in all 11 games as a freshman, registered 47 tackles, seven pass break ups, and an interception.
Indiana football should always beat teams from the bottom half of the Big Sky conference that have a first year head coach. Not only is Eck new to Idaho, but he’s new to the head coaching role as a whole, which should give Indiana a little more of an edge.
I’m a little worried that Indiana’s dominant win last season is inspiring some false confidence in how far apart these two teams actually are – it took a blocked punt and punt return for Indiana to put up 56 points last year, even with DJ Matthews, Mike Penix, and Stephen Carr healthy for that game.
Frankly, with the question marks surrounding Indiana’s offense this coming season, I do not want to see any good defenses in the non-conference schedule. Last year’s results suggest that Idaho won’t provide a ton of resistance, but again, things have changed.
Plus, Eck has two wins over the Hoosiers as a player at Wisconsin, including a one point victory in Camp Randall in 1997. Not the kind of energy Indiana needs in Bloomington early this season.