Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Look Ahead No. 3: Weber State

Weber State has dominated Idaho State in football in a lot of different ways over the years. In racking up a 34-14 advantage over the Bengals, the Wildcats have won tight, defensive battles like the 6-3 field goal fest in 1998. WSU has enjoyed majestic aerial shows, like the 641-yard, 60-41 pasting Jamie Martin and friends put on the ISU defense in 1991. And the Wildcats have even gotten a little lucky, as they did in 2006, when Bengal kicker Braden Jones missed a 37-yard-field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime.

But nothing better characterizes the way Weber State has dominated the Bengals recently than these two words: Trevyn Smith (above). Over the past three years, the Big Sky's No. 6 all-time rusher has absolutely owned Idaho State's defense, to the tune of 667 total yards and 10 touchdowns -- an average of over 232 total yards and 3 scores a game.

The Bengals have actually moved the football pretty well against Ron McBride's defenses during that time, averaging 27 points a game in those three contests. But ISU has had no answers for Smith and his offensive teammates, yielding an average of 47 points in those losses.

Smith gets one more shot at Idaho State this season, when the Wildcats host ISU on September 19. With the Bengals sure to be staggering off road games at Arizona State and Oklahoma, it's not exactly the perfect time to be playing their arch-rival. Especially when that rival will be loaded, with eight starters returning from the 12th highest scoring offense in the FCS. Chief among those returnees are Smith, who tied for the nation's lead with 28 touchdowns last season; quarterback Cameron Higgins, the reigning Big Sky offensive MVP; and wide receiver Tim Toone, who caught 84 passes for over 1,500 yards for the Wildcats.

Weber also returns all-league TE Cody Nakamura and wide receiver Mike Phillips, who averaged 18.5 yards a catch on his 37 receptions. The Wildcats groomed two promising redshirt freshmen running backs while Smith sat out their spring game. So there appears to be plenty of offensive weapons for Higgins, who threw for 36 touchdowns against only 11 interceptions last year, to play with.

Defensively, the Wildcats do return some playmakers in end Kevin Linehan (10.5 sacks last year), leading tackler Beau Hadley at safety and all-conference defensive back Josh Morris. But they have only four starters returning on that side of the ball, and will miss all-league linebacker J.D. Folsom, who was the only Big Sky Conference player drafted this spring when he went to the Miami Dolphins.

As beaten up as the Bengals are likely to be when they head to Ogden, there is one positive to the timing of this matchup -- Weber State will be coming off two FBS contests themselves, having opened the season at Wyoming and Colorado State. History also suggests the Wildcats may have a hard time defending their co-championship which they shared with -- who else? -- Montana. While the Grizzlies have won or tied for 11 straight Big Sky titles, nobody else in the conference has been able to sustain a real challenge to their hegemony. Other BSC teams occasionally rise up for a big season, maybe even tying Montana for the regular season crown, but none of them have been able to maintain the challenge over time.

The combination of Higgins and Smith may just be enough to do it this year, but remember two things: Big Sky quarterbacks have a history of "junior slumps," after putting up big numbers their freshmen and sophomore seasons. Higgins has to prove he won't succumb to that. And one more item: Weber State has to play in Missoula this year. None of that is likely to be much salve to a young and battered Bengal team come Sept. 19, however.


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

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