It's almost as difficult to finish winless as it is to go undefeated -- largely because the long football season takes it toll on everybody, and eventually even a struggling team runs up against an opponent who is just too beat up to win that week. For that reason, Idaho State's two best shots at getting a win this year are probably this week against a Montana State team that is struggling with injury and illness, and the last week of the season against a Portland State team that may be without its starting quarterback.
That doesn't mean Idaho State will suddenly be favored to break its 20-game road losing streak in Bozeman on Saturday. For one thing, the Bengals are banged up themselves. It seems the black cloud that tends to hang over the ISU football program just won't move on. The career-threatening injury to Bengal freshman receiver/returner Andrew Benavides, which came when he was on his way to a record day against Northern Arizona on Saturday, is just one more kick in the groin to the ISU football program. Idaho State had just two available (I won't say healthy, because Clint Knickrehm is hardly healthy) running backs in Flagstaff, they were without the services of receiver/returner JD Ponciano, and their offensive line is full of guys playing hurt -- or not playing at all, as the case may be.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, enter this week's game without the services of all-Big Sky defensive end Dane Fletcher (mono) and stand-out linebacker Jeff Price (shoulder). Running back Aaron Mason is trying to come back after two weeks off from a concussion, linebacker Chase Gazzerro "has a good chance" to play after two weeks of being injured, and starting offensive tackle Leo Davis is having shoulder issues himself. Not to mention the flu bug that swept through Bobcat camp last week, causing them to play without eight regulars, including their placekicker and punter, neither of whom suited up for the loss to Eastern Washington.
The Bobcats still have the best run defense in the conference (they're holding opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry), and one of the better running backs in the league in C.J. Palmer who has put up 240 yards rushing over the last two weeks. And they have a hot quarterback, Cody Kempt, who may still have to split time with Mark Iddins, despite's Kempt's recent strong play.
Idaho State Coach John Zamberlin has to make some quarterback decisions, himself. After several weeks of trying to separate Russel Hill from Kyle Blum, Zamberlin has a third entry in the quarterback sweepstakes -- Evan Mozzochi (above). The junior threw his first collegiate pass in a 4-for-15 outing against NAU last week and, despite less than impressive numbers, he got Zamberlin's attention with his arm strength. Coach Z will have to decide who gets the starting call in Bozeman, but even if Hill starts, I would be surprised not to see Mozzochi at some point if the Bengals fall into their recent pattern of getting behind early.
Hill threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in the Bengal loss to MSU last year, and the Bobcats rank last in the league in pass defense, giving up over 300 yards per game. A lot of that is due to the fact that teams just don't have much success running the ball against an MSU defense that has yielded only one running TD all year. The Bengals, whose running woes are well-documented, certainly don't appear likely to threaten that Bobcat rush defense, so I wouldn't be at all surprised to see ISU put the ball up 50 times on Saturday.