Idaho anticipating a physical matchup with UND football
MOSCOW, Idaho—In Idaho's first season dropping from the FBS level to the FCS, the Vandals have struggled to a 3-5 record including blowout losses to regional rivals Idaho State and Eastern Washington.
One of the theories behind the challenging season is the adjustment to a new conference. The Big Sky Conference features a wide array of styles—from Cal Poly's triple option to Eastern Washington's high-flying pass attack.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino has been stressing this week that his team is about to see the physical side of the Big Sky when the Vandals host UND at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kibbie Dome.
"They're always physical, tough," Petrino said. "I think we went and played that style against Montana State (a 24-23 Montana State win). We need to line up and do that again. I think our guys will rally and step up and match that."
The matchup features a contrast in outlook for the final three games of the season. UND is playing for its playoff life, likely needing three consecutive wins down the stretch to finish 8-3 and make the playoffs.
"It's what we work for, to put ourselves in a position to play past the regular season," UND wide receiver Noah Wanzek said. "We have a lot of confidence. We just have to keep looking forward one game at a time. We have the playoffs in the back of our head, but we're focusing on Idaho right now."
Idaho, meanwhile, is playing for pride, hoping to continue a perfect mark at home—the Vandals are 0-5 on the road and 3-0 at home.
"We'll find guys who are passionate and want to play," Petrino said. "I think we match up well speed-wise. The big thing will be the toughness."
Idaho enters the matchup with UND sporting a banged-up offensive line, which had two starters out last week at Eastern Washington.
Petrino, whose son Mason, is expected to start at quarterback for Idaho, was non-committal about his team's injuries this week.
He knows his offensive line is in for a battle against UND's front seven—specifically defensive end Mason Bennett, who has 6.5 sacks, 11.0 tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries.
"Fifty-five (Bennett) is as good of a defensive lineman as we've seen this year," Petrino said. "He's physical, explodes off the ball and plays the run well."
UND is fourth in the country in sacks per game.
UND's running attack, ranked 10th in the country, hopes to receive a shot in the arm against the Vandals with the return of senior captain and All-American John Santiago.
Santiago has been slowed by a couple of injuries this season and didn't play last week against Weber State.
He's expected to be a game-time decision against Idaho. Wide receiver Izzy Adeoti is a game-time decision, as well, while fellow wideout Travis Toivonen isn't expected to play.
UND at Idaho
When: Today, 4 p.m.
Where: Moscow, Idaho
Radio: 100.3 FM
Records: UND 5-3; Idaho 3-5
Of note: UND has played Idaho three times, all losses and all by nearly identical margins: 45-0 (1954), 45-0 (2010) and 44-14 (2011)