MOSCOW, Idaho – Before last week’s fourth-quarter explosion at San Jose State, it had been a fallow two months for Idaho. The defense and special teams unit were producing more touchdowns than the offense, close losses were becoming routine and fans were growing weary.
But Robb Akey never budged. He was adamant that a breakthrough, no matter how it came, would breathe new life into UI’s season.
Saturday night in Provo, Utah, the Vandals (2-7) get to see how much good last week’s win – the first in seven tries – did in sparking a late-season revival.
Idaho will clash with BYU at LaVell Edwards Stadium at 6:15 PST on ESPN2. This is UI’s first nationally televised game this year and its first matchup with the Cougars since 1955.
The Vandals’ confidence appears to have been restored. But in facing newly independent BYU (6-3), they’ll go against a higher caliber of talent than they have seen this year in the WAC.
The Cougars, winners of five of its last six games, own road victories over Ole Miss and Oregon State. The club turned to Riley Nelson at quarterback a month ago, and he’s surpassed the 200-yard passing and 50-yard rushing marks in all four of his starts since replacing Jake Heaps.
“I think Nelson is playing his tail off right now,” Akey said. “He’s doing a tremendous job, and he hurts with you his legs too.”
An upset of the Cougars would give Idaho back-to-back wins for the first time since October 2009 – “it’s been too long,” Akey said – while Vandals sophomore quarterback Taylor Davis is looking to further solidify his leading role.
Davis supplanted Brian Reader as starter three weeks ago, yet he still often turns to Reader – easily the most experienced QB on UI’s roster and one of the Vandals’ captains – when a question arises.
“Oh, he’s a great guy,” Davis said of Reader. “He still helps me with everything — from film to practice to everything.”
With a younger QB taking snaps, the Vandals have substantially added to the workload of running backs Kama Bailey and Princeton McCarty. Bailey went off for 163 rushing yards last week, while McCarty had 99 and 116 the two weeks prior.
Who will get the bulk of the carries tonight? That’s to be determined.
“If one of them gets a hotter hand, then that guy should get fed a little bit more,” Akey said.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.