Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No way to re-LAX

For those of you uninitiated in traveling with a team, let me tell you, it's sort of like watching an amoeba....the gang mostly stays in a circle, and every now and then a smaller group moves away from the group like a cell trying to reproduce, and eventually, most of the rest of the group follows suit and moves to them, keeping the amoeba intact. It's just sort of funny.

So, after a whirlwind bit of travel, going from ISU men's basketball Friday night to driving to Missoula to the football game to driving back right afterward just so I can get up at 5:15 (what is the deal with the 5:15s I've been awake for this year?) to go to the Salt Lake Airport for a near 7 hour flight to Hawaii, we missed our connection in LAX, so we have a three-hour wait, meaning we'll get back to Holt at 4:30 pm instead of 2:00 pm...oh well, at least they have free internet.

The one thing you cannot possibly do well on a plane is's just not possible. I had two seats, and I'm not the biggest character in the world, but I couldn't get comfy. Mark Campbell had THREE seats and laid out across them like a bed and didn't get much sleep at all either. Traveling is hard, and there is a reason it's hard to win non-conference games on the road....recovery is just hard.

For those that missed it....
Idaho State just did get nipped by Hawai'i, 67-64 in overtime, and while ISU had PLENTY of chances, the fact that ISU played 45 minutes of zone defense and got whistled for 29 fouls is comical, especially when Hawai'i played man-to-man all game, and a full court trap for 15 minutes, and got whistled for just 21. Also, the same three officials that worked the four-game Hawai'i tournament the previous two days worked the game ... it's just interesting. Anyway, here is the Honolulu Advertisers's perspective, and here is ISU's take as well, plus Kellis's running blog of the event, and this as well...we missed ya' buddy.

Doing the Charleston
Jeff Charleston is doing pretty well for the Saints after getting picked up at midseason, as this attests. The article doesn't mention that Jeff also worked for a bit on his dad's ranch to help stay in shape, and I know that because Jeff's dad told me that after the Portland State game.

Not an earthquake....just the bandwagon jumper-offers...
Kelvin Ang posted a few thoughts about ISU's opening weekend, and his comments are pretty good. Nice of some of the "fans" to practice jumpship in the comments section after the first three games of the season, back-to-back-to-back with a new coaching staff and offensive scheme in the first games after two of the program's greatest players have left.'s game three....the fact that Sobolewski picked up a win in that third game is great, especially after opening with two probably NCAA Tournament teams to start.

One Last Game...
Football is heading into their final game (bring a can of food for buy-1-get-1-free....) and the Olympian in Washington has a great profile on Jaron Taylor. The Montana student newspaper has a conference final weekend outlook going, but I haven't heard too many folks bring up this point...Weber State is in, but if Montana State wins the Brawl of the Wild this week, they are 6-2. Montana would be 6-2, so Montana State would be in second place, and they would be playoff eligible to get in with their 8-4 record and seven Division I they get in? If the west gets four...well, Cal Poly is a shoe-in, right? Weber State is in....if they consider the Southland a west school, there might be a debate about Montana State. I have a feeling they would get left out due to the perceived East Coast bias, but I could see a case where they get in too. I can't imagine Montana getting left out, but it would be odd to see the second place Big Sky team left out for the third place, no? Could happen though...that'll be an interesting game to see on Big Sky TV...

From the Los Angeles International airport....that's about it. Cody VanFleet looks exhausted by the way...also, congrats to Mark Liptak, who made his re-debut on the air for Bengal women's basketball...heard nothing but good things about the broadcasts...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thoughts on Busy Football Off-Season

As a disappointing Idaho State football season comes to a conclusion, thoughts of Bengal fans start turning to the hard off-season work that will be necessary to begin to restore the program. Bengal Coach John Zamberlin and his staff have a lot on their plates as they try to rebuild the program. Here's a look at their ambitious off-season agenda:

1. Stem attrition. Right now, Coach Z has to deal with players who are considering leaving the program because they are homesick, want their parents to see them play more often, are academic non-qualifiers who have been paying their own way, or think they should be starting or playing more. Zamberlin will meet with every player after the season is over, get their input into the state of program, and talk to them about what they need to do to be a part of a successful ISU program in the future. Not everyone will listen to or agree with Coach Z's assessment, and some will opt out. Hopefully, he can convince a majority of such players to hang tough.

Holding on to your players also means keeping your LDS missionaries committed to returning. The Bengals have a number of former recruits out in the mission field who are scheduled to return next year or the year after. These players are "re-recruitable" and can choose to join another program without penalty, so ISU has to keep the communications lines open and convince them to return to the program. This also will include two of the better-looking athletes in this year's freshman class, Kevin and Kyle Whimpey, who will be leaving for missions in December.

2. Hit the junior colleges hard, identifying and getting commitments from players who can make an immediate impact next year, especially on defense. The Bengals' problems on defense are well-documented. They need three or four kids who can step in immediately on the defensive line, two or three linebackers and at least one cornerback. There are some redshirts who have promise -- defensive end Jake Rouser, tackle Mykel Durr and safeties Phillip Pleasant and Chris Holmsely will likely all contribute immediately next year. But ISU must find a minimum of four or five other defensive players who can run and hit, and understand the schemes well enough to do it from Game One.

3. On offense, the Bengals have a major need for speed at the skill positions. They lose WR Eddie Thompson and RB-KRT Kenyon Blue, and WR Jaron Taylor has only one year left. RBs Clint Knickhrem and Ben LaPorta, a redshirt, are both in the power back mold. ISU needs to add someone like Delonte Williams, the NAU speedster who took a recruiting visit to Pocatello last year, only to wind up torching the Bengal defense for the Lumberjacks during his return this fall.

The Bengals also need more depth on the offensive line (isn't this an annual refrain?), and they need to find someone who can step up and play the essential left tackle spot immediately.

Oh, and that quarterback situation? This one is going to be tricky. Russ Hill and Kyle Blum will likely head into spring in a battle for the top spot, and Evan Mozzochi has to be wondering if he's going to get a shot, too. ISU is also looking at bringing in two or three freshmen, who, ideally, would redshirt next year.

4. Special teams. Is the Mike Ramos (placekicker)/Jarret Huk (kickoffs) combination good enough for next year, or will the Bengals opt to bring in a scholarship kicker? Apparently J.D. Ponciano will be back at kick returner, but they'll have to replace Blue, an excellent punt returner. The Bengals need to upgrade their athletic ability all across the roster to improve the coverage and return units, which struggled at times this year.
5. Not all of these "solution" players will be, or need to be junior college or D-1 transfers. ISU is in the position of being to offer to better freshmen the opportunity to compete for immediate playing time. Will that be a strong enough pull to convince players to cast their lot with an 11-loss team? Don't know, but it's one known commodity for the Bengal coaching staff to sell.

The coaching staff knows it must bring in enough older players that improvement next year is obvious. At the same time, they must balance that with the need to recruit "character" kids who will stay committed to the program for the long haul -- and stay out of trouble. Nothing brings down a program faster than a knee-jerk reaction to start recruiting marginal students or citizens. If you're winning, a community will cut you some slack on the occasional "bad kid," but nobody is going to have much patience with players on an 0-11 team who get into trouble.

6. Coach Z will have to spend some time re-evaluating schemes and systems, and making sure his coaching staff "fits" what he wants to accomplish. He will also have to decide if he wants to continue to be the linebacker coach, or if his time and talents are better spent on "big picture" issues.
7. Zamberlin and Interim AD Jeff Tingey must make a decision on the non-conference schedule. Right now, Coach Z and the ISU athletic administration are trying to figure out the best balance for a non-conference schedule that will include some confidence-building lower-tiered teams, as well as some revenue-building D-1 programs. The decision will also have to involve teams already contracted for next season. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made, and as Idaho's economic situation grows more problematic and the prospect of more state holdbacks becomes evident, I wouldn't be surprised to see "money games" rise to the top of the priority list.

None of these "to-do" lists are unique to Idaho State, but the tenuous state of the program makes successful completion of each item all the more critical. Here are some key dates to keep in mind as Coach Z and his staff start checking them off:
Dec. 17-Jan. 15--Signing period for "early" junior college transfers, who will be on campus for spring football practice.

Feb. 4-April 1--Signing period for all high school players and junior college transfers who will not be on campus until fall practice.

--Brad B.

And thanks for being a Bengal fan. It ain't always easy, but it's always fun.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Basketball Scouting Report

I just got done watching two future Idaho State basketball opponents on the Big Ten Network Sunday: Long Beach State at Wisconsin. The Bengals are going to have their hands full with both of these clubs. The Badgers are the defending Big Ten champions, but they've lost several key players off that team. They do return Marcus Landry, however, the defending Most Outstanding Player from the Big Ten tournament, and he showed why on Sunday. Landry had 23 points, including a critical three-pointer down the stretch that helped hold off the 49ers. The 6-7 power forward blocked several shots, and was a monster on the boards. He'll be a load for the Bengals when they travel to Madison Dec. 9.

But Long Beach State, which won only six games last year (including one against Idaho State) is not going to be any patsy when they come to Holt Arena on Nov. 25. Led by defending Big West scoring champ Donovan Morris, they were tied with the Badgers with a minute and a half left in the game on Sunday, before Landry and Co. made a couple of big plays to clinch the win. Morris was quiet in the first half against the Badgers, scoring only two points, but he went on a 10-point run in the second half that left the 49ers tied with 4:33 to play. The 49ers also feature four very athletic freshmen recruited by former Gonzaga and Minnesota Coach Dan Monsen, and their quickness and athleticism gave the Badgers fits all day.

The 49ers certainly won't be intimidated by Holt Arena. They led BYU, which has now won a nation's best 48 straight at home, by 7 points at half in the Marriott Center on Friday, before losing 75-65. Then LBSU gave Wisconsin, which is 108-7 in the Kohl Center, a game to the finish on Sunday. I've got the DVR fired up for another future Bengal opponent, Idaho, as the Vandals play at Michigan State Sunday evening.

--Brad B.