One of the issues generally associated with building a football program under a new coaching staff is depth. Idaho State, in Year 2 of the John Zamberlin era, felt that lack of depth on Saturday, in the Bengals' 45-31 loss to Eastern Washington.
While Idaho State remained relatively healthy through its first three games of the season, the injury bug bit the Bengals hard on Saturday. Already playing without injured star WR Eddie Thompson, ISU lost WR Isaiah Burel to a dislocated knee in the second half, and the Bengal offense immediately went into shutdown mode. Without its two leading receivers, ISU was held to negative yardage in the fourth quarter.
The Bengal defense also wore down after losing staring MLB Brad Rife to a dislocated elbow and defensive back Michael Wright in the first half. DE Micah Cloward also limped off the field and missed substantial playing time in the middle of the football game.
The injuries were no excuse for the Bengals, who played excellent football for three quarters before EWU asserted its dominance in the fourth quarter. But they did point out the need for ISU to develop more depth in key areas. In some cases, the talent is there (at wide receiver, for example, the Bengals have some capable backups in J.D. Ponciano, Edsel Logan, Kelvin Krosch and Ryan Anchetta-Major), but they haven't been fully integrated into the offense yet. As the season wears on, I expect the coaching staff to work more of these kids into bigger roles.
On other items, Eagles officials could not have been thrilled with the turnout at Saturday's game, which was officially listed at just over 5,500. When you think of all the obvious factors for why teams draw well -- a good team (Eastern was ranked No. 11 nationally), a fun style of play (the Eagles have a great QB and wide receivers and always put points on the board), a meaningful game (this was the Big Sky Conference opener for a team picked to contend for a championship), the weather (picture perfect football day), there was no explanation for the poor turnout. Add in the fact that this was EWU's Hall of Fame game and the Eagles were honoring their top 100 football players of all time (50 of whom were in attendance), and it's really baffling why so few showed up at Woodward Stadium.
Another item of note along these lines: I often hear Idaho State fans say that if the Bengals just recruited more Idaho players, it would improve attendance (even though ISU has a lot of Idahoans playing key roles on the team). Maybe, maybe not, if Eastern is any indication. The Eagles have over 70 players on their roster from Washington state, and 40 of the 44 players on the two-deeps on offense and defense are from the Evergreen State, but all those "local kids" don't seem to make much of an impact on attendance at Eagles games.
In an ironic touch of scheduling, broadcast partner Jerry Miller and I will both be going to Washington, DC later this week for travel related to our "other jobs." We will be doing the John Zamberlin coach's show tonight at AM 930, and then we'll be back (God willing) for the Montana State game on Saturday. I'm also going to be involved in ISU Hall of Fame weekend -- I'll be the presenter for Su Fox, who is being inducted along with her late husband, my former broadcast partner and great friend, Jim. It will be an emotional weekend, but I'm really looking forward to sharing this special time with Su and her family, who will all be in town for the ceremonies at the induction breakfast on Saturday.
And what a great Hall of Fame class this will be. In addition to the Foxes, Dave Kragthorpe, coach of the 1981 national champions; Jim Lane, the center on that team; Holly Togiai, one of the lynchpins of those great Ardie McInally women's basketball teams; Alice Herberlein, an excellent volleyball player, and Jason Whitmer, the Bengals' all-time leading passer, will be inducted. It should be a great weekend, and I hope to see you all at the Montana State game Saturday afternoon, where the inductees will be honored at halftime.
Thanks for being Bengal fans -- it ain't always easy, but it's always fun. --Brad B.
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