MOSCOW — If it weren’t for an out-of-nowhere 80-yard breakaway touchdown, Wyoming’s offense would’ve been held to only about 200 total yards Saturday.
“Coming out of that game, we learned that we’re a good defense, first and foremost,” Idaho junior linebacker Christian Elliss said Tuesday. “Before going out, we knew we’d have a chance to win, even though ... we only had like a 1.6-percent chance of winning (according to ESPN) I guess.”
For Elliss and the Idaho football team (1-2), which lost that game 21-16, the defensive identity is clear — the Vandals pride themselves on matching “downhill, hard-hitting” offensive approaches, Elliss admitted.
“(Wyoming) played well to our strengths,” he said.
In regards to UI’s gusto among the front seven and its inside-run defense, Elliss is “super confident.”
Around the edges? The Vandals’ 6-foot-3, 233-pound captain on defense wants another chance.
On Saturday, he said two of the Cowboys’ three scores — both outside runs — were preventable, had he finished his tackle at the line of scrimmage on the 80-yarder, and had he read an earlier receiver sweep correctly.
“That first touchdown, they did (the same thing) later in the game, and I did it right. It was a tackle-for-loss,” Elliss said. “Those two plays, individually, I wish I could take back.”
Those two particular reps are somewhat analogous to the designs of Saturday’s opponent Eastern Washington, which made much of its living outside the tackles last season during a 38-14 rout of the Vandals.
“I hope they run to the edges. I hope they run to my side,” Elliss said. “Obviously, Eastern’s not gonna be scared to, and I hope they won’t be.”
EWU’s distinguishing characteristics are distinctly different from Wyoming’s. While Cowboys quarterback Sean Chambers and Co. sought to press the issue inside, Eagles signal caller Eric Barriere and his backfield strive to break defensive-line containment with little restraint.
Plus, the Eagles can sling it. Chambers “had struggled throwing the ball consistently,” UI defensive coordinator Mike Breske said, so the Vandals put the emphasis on him and “packed the box,” constantly rattling the freshman en route to a 4-for-12, 50-yard-passing day.
Simply put: Eastern’s “not one-dimensional,” like Wyoming was, Breske said. But that doesn’t mean the Vandals entirely revise their scheme.
“We gotta stop the run first and try to bottle up (Barriere),” Breske said, outlining a goal similar to last week’s. “But, that’s a hard thing to do. We’ll lose some contain eventually, I know it. He’s a good player. It’s not gonna be perfect, but we gotta have help there, rally up.”
Elliss pondered that it might mean using a rotating quarterback spy — “whether it be a D-lineman, a linebacker,” he said — to throw EWU off-kilter.
Either that, or the Vandals’ defensive front simply will need to “push the pocket inside and close it on the outside,” coach Paul Petrino said, “that’s where it starts.”
It’ll be against a senior-laden Eastern Washington offensive line, which garnered more preseason plaudits than any line in the Big Sky.
Luckily for UI, another 300-pound defender is back from injury. Laney College (Calif.) transfer Vei Tomasi practiced Tuesday for the first time in a while — an unspecified leg injury kept him sidelined during most of fall camp. He could see time in this game as part of UI’s five-man rotation in the D-line’s interior.
“It’s just another big body, strong-plugger kind of guy that can handle things,” defensive line coach Luther Elliss said. “Any time you get a big horse back, it always helps.”
Unfortunately for UI, defensive end Kayode Rufai will most likely miss the game. He suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury against Wyoming.
If the Vandals can rough Barriere up a bit — like they did to Chambers — it’ll relieve some pressure on UI’s secondary, which still is shrouded in question marks after a so-so showing against Division II Central Washington was followed with it hardly being tested against the Cowboys, a team averse to throwing.
“(EWU) will be a different test, a significant test in terms of pass coverage,” Breske said.
Especially because rotational safety Satchel Escalante left the program Tuesday, electing to transfer. Not only that, but senior cornerback Sedrick Thomas is questionable with an unspecified injury.
But it still might be better than 2018.
“Our guys are flying around. I think we’re tackling better in the secondary right now. I think we’re better equipped (for EWU),” Petrino said. “You gotta go after them and pressure them at times, and at times you just gotta play coverage.”
And maybe most importantly: “You gotta make sure you’re sound gap-wise, because they’re gonna run the ball too.”
It might bode well if the Vandals see a lot of that.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.