Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Conversation with Brian Strandley

Brian Strandley is in his third season as defensive coordinator at Idaho State. He's trying to rebuild a defense that finished last in the Big Sky Conference in several key categories last season: scoring, rushing and total yards, as well as turnover margin. I spoke with him Saturday afternoon at Holt Arena, after his defense looked much better in the second scrimmage of the pre-season. Here's how our conversation went:

1. Give me your overall assessment of where your defense is right now.

Strandley: I think we're doing a good job. We've got new systems going in right now and at the beginning of camp, I think their heads were spinning a little bit. But I think the difference you saw from today's scrimmage from the last one is I think guys are playing faster. We haven't gotten any faster as individuals, I just think they know more what they're doing. They're more comfortable with what they're doing and you see guys breaking to the ball faster and you see guys getting off on the ball faster, not so much worried about, 'What am I doing here? What am I doing?' but they know what they're doing so all they're worried about is reading their keys, getting off and playing the ball, so I think that was the big difference between this scrimmage and the last one.

2. Tell me about this scrimmage. What were you pleased with, what did you like in this scrimmage, and what areas do you still need to work on?

Strandley: I think, like I just mentioned, I was pleased with the fact that we played faster here today. The first scrimmage, we bent but didn't break, but you don't always want to do that. You wanna go after them and you wanna stop them. We got more three-and-outs and the kids played at a much faster pace, I thought, today. And there was more contact out here. I thought we tackled better. Initially, the first scrimmage we didn't tackle very well. The first couple of series in this scrimmage we didn't tackle very well, but then we started cracking some heads, we were wrapping up and doing those things. If you're not doing that, it doesn't matter what we're doing on defense, so I thought our tackling was much better.

3. Let's talk about pass rush, where do you expect your pass rush to come from this year?

Strandley: We expect it to come from all over the place, okay, but No. 1, it starts with the D-line, no question. And (defensive end) Sean Rutten has improved a great deal as a pass rusher in this camp, and he's out there, he's playing faster, he's got a larger array of moves, he feels better at that position now, and coach (d-line coach Joe Cullen) has done a real good job with him. (Defensive tackle) Demetrius Amos is rushing the quarterback better at times and he's showing great improvement there. And then we're looking at some other guys too. (Defensive end) Jake Rouser has improved as a pass rusher. (Defensive end) Rustin Phillips has improved as a pass rusher. (Defensive end) Jeff Tuua has gotten better as well, but there is some competition for some spots there, as well, there's no question and we might take a look at a linebacker playing that position if we get them in some third-and-eight situations. And also we're going to bring different kinds of pressures, too, so our backers have gotta get used to this blitz scheme, and they're getting better at it, too. So we'll bring it from all over the place, but we expect it from a four-man rush.

4. Talk about newcomers, new kids in camp, who are you most impressed with?

Strandley: Right now, we like all of our freshmen d-linemen. They're doing a good job. (Freshman DT) Minh Williams is a big, ole bull rusher, he's a big man that we haven't had for awhile, that big sized kid. Jarrid Nash (JC linebacker), he didn't play today, but he's done a great job as well. (Defensive back) Phil Pleasant has gotten better from his true freshman year, and he's playing some nickle now. He's not a newcomer, but he's running with the 1s right now, and he's doing a great job. (Boise State transfer DB) Keith McGowen shows great, great potential at corner and we just gotta iron out a few things with him. He's a playmaker, but there are still a few things technique-wise we're still working on with him. And (linebacker) A.J. Storms (who moved from safety), I guess you can call him a newcomer at linebacker, I tell you he's really fitting in that position very, very well.

Opponents Updates

Arizona State, the season-opening opponent for Idaho State, played its second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday. Sun Devil observers are predicting this will be ASU's best defensive team since 1996, and the defenders dominated the scrimmage on Saturday. ASU Coach Dennis Erickson also publicly confirmed that senior Danny Sullivan will get the call at quarterback when the Bengals come calling on Sept. 5.

Meanwhile, second-game opponent Oklahoma was ranked third in the nation in the first Associated Press poll released this weekend. The Sooners will likely be the highest-rated FBS team Idaho State has ever played when the Bengals travel to Norman on Sept. 12.

Also, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper came out with his top 15 college players this week, and the Sooners had four of them, including quarterback Sam Bradford, rated the best NFL draft prospect in the country by Kiper. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was ranked No. 4, and left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jermaine Gresham were also in the top 15.

--Brad B.

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Movers and Shakers

Here are some more photos from the football team taking part John Zamberlin's "Movers and Shakers" program. Just click to enlarge the photo

Carson Glover, Jalani Phillips, and Jake Lammers carry a fairly large carpet into the dorms.

Brandon Garcia is just a kicker, so he gets to carry clothes and stuff.

Tanner Davis, Mark Clampitt, Mihn Williams, and Jacob Hyde pose with a happy dad. The dad is happy because he didn't have to carry much.

Jake Lammers carried some boxes for the young lady on the left.

Carson Glover grabs a box out of a freshman's car.

Jake Lammers, Isaiah Walker, and James Bergren were also helping out Courtney.

Jake Pele also grabbed a box out of the same car.

And Away We Go....

Finally, after scrimmages, exhibitions, you name it, we officially, officially start the 2009-10 athletic year with the soccer team traveling to New Mexico to take on the Lobos. I personally have a soft spot for the Lobos as the first football game I ever worked was the ISU at New Mexico game in 1998. Ironically, my predecessor the esteemed Glenn Alford worked HIS first football game at New Mexico for a Bengal-Lobo encounter in 1967. If we ever schedule New Mexico in football for a season opener again I'm gonna start looking behind me though....

Soccer Stuff
Tim Flagstad previewed today's match in the Journal, and then he really goes in-depth on the blog about the freshmen and his thoughts on the season ahead...a must read for the soccer fanatics in all of BengalLand. Also, you can get ISU's match notes here, and New Mexico's here.

Volleyball Scrimmage Tonight at 6:30 pm
Pretty self explanatory headline...that scrimmage is taking place at Reed Gym. I have to score the could get ugly.

Scooter Hanging in There
Sometimes Kelvin Ang gets this odd rap for being a bad guy which is always funny to me, but he's been covering football now for a while, and for the most part, his stories, such as this fantastic piece on Tubotein Taylor's recovery that ran today, and how the team has come to his side, are just fantastic reads. Kelvin tries to look for stories, and maybe that's it, but he's proving to be a very good writer. That Taylor piece is a great read on a story many reporters might have just forgotten about and dismissed.

Football Scrimmage Inside Holt Arena on Saturday
Holt Arena is fairly busy today and tomorrow, with the old lockers getting torn out today, and then the scrimmage tomorrow. Bengal Foundation members should have received their invitation to the BF BBQ tomorrow at Holt, and all freshmen students will be at Holt Arena for Holt Hurrah, where the incoming freshmen will learn the fight song and get to meet the various teams, take part in drills and such, and generally speaking, have a good time before watching the scrimmage.

The SID and statguy in me prefers the scrimmages inside by the way, because I don't have to guess at the numbers, and I can see the stuff better then from the sidelines.

The New Kids In Town...
Not only are the student arriving, but all the department graduate students as well. Brandy Crum in the training room is already here, but Kristin Kehrer formerly with the University of Detroit is here as a G.A. in the strength and conditioning office with Mark Campbell (she and Joe Cullen can swap stories about moving from Detroit to Pocatello), and even the new G.A. in our office, Jaime Schroeder, straight from Washington State University, will get in town today. In a case of who you know, when I worked at the NCAA Tournament in Boise, Jaime was part of the Wazzu student crew assigned to me. When Mitch Worthington left the G.A. spot to head to air traffic controller school (way more money for equal stress LOL), we ended up getting Jaime, who was the star of the student staff at Wazzu and will handle track, cross country, golf, and assist with other stuff. Of course, Katie Zigars is still around, and it's funny, this is officially year two for her, but she also has a year as a G.A. here, and then the interned for three years, so it's more like six years (heck, this is just my 12th here).

I'm personally hoping Jaime ends my run of one-year G.A.s...and she has no relation, but her last name is pronounced just like David Schroeder.

Facebook Me
Funny that that is now a verb, but you can befriend Idaho State Athletics on Facebook, and there's photos and lots of news there. Good addition to the Blog and the website. I'm on there too, and I tend to post funny videos links there (because I'm a highly entertaining guy)

Speaking of Funny Videos
So the Marching Band has been practicing RIGHT OUTSIDE MY OFFICE DOOR for a week now, and without giving the whole thing away, they have been working on reproducing some classic video game themes, which is cool, but, and this is not a slight on the band in any way, but it will never top this. Have a great Friday!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thoughts on the New Basketball Schedule

As noted earlier, there are very few gimmes on Idaho State's non-conference basketball schedule again this season, but... a quick glance at the slate that was officially released yesterday shows it's not quite as brutal as last year's. Here's a very rough rundown:

Last year's non-conference, Division I opponents finished with an average RPI of 88, a mean RPI between 80 and 89, and a winning percentage of 62.5 percent. The highest ratest team at the end of the season was Utah at No. 14, and there were a total of five teams (the Utes, Arizona State at 24, Utah State at 28, BYU at 37 and Wisconsin at 42) ranked in the top 50.

By contrast, if you look at last year's numbers and project to this year (which is sheer folly, I admit, but it's the only basis of comparison we have right now), the number for this year's opponents are: average RPI: 122; mean RPI: 94; winning percentage: 55 percent. Only four teams -- Utah, BYU, Utah State and USC (at 39) -- finished in the top 50 last year.

Here are a few other factors that will likely make next year's schedule not quite so tough: USC lost its coach and two NBA draft picks in the off-season, and didn't have a great recruiting year; Missouri-Kansas City (RPI of 309) and Cal-Bakersfield (RPI of 300) replace Hawaii -- at Hawaii (No. 246) and Long Beach State (155) as the lowest rated teams on the ISU schedule. And Utah, the highest-rated team from last year's slate (and one of the two D-I non-conference teams the Bengals beat) lost 7-foot center Luke Neville to graduation.

Frankly, I don't worry a lot about Ws-Ls in the non-conference. ISU is over-scheduled on the road for money (they're playing $380,000 in guarantee games this year), and very few teams in the West can get decent home-and-homes with other comparable D-1 teams. (Boise State fans complain all the time about the lack of marque home games at Taco Bell Arena -- the Broncos would have given a left saddle horn to have Utah, Utah State and BYU all play at their place last year, like the Bengals did.)

Where the Bengals need to get more serious, however, is on the road in Big Sky play. There has been a lot of complaining about the league's decision to go to Friday-Saturday road trips this year (and, for the record, I think it's a dumb idea), and ISU gets two of those: the Montana-Montana State trip (Feb. 5 and 6); and the Portland State-Eastern Washington excursion on the last weekend of the season (Feb. 26-27). Those will be extra challenges, but the truth of the matter is that Idaho State hasn't been a good road team for a long time, even with normal travel time. Over the last three seasons, ISU has won back-to-back road games exactly once--on Jan. 4 and 6 of 2007, when they beat Weber State and Sacramento State. If the Bengals really want to contend for their first regular season conference championship since 1994, they need to ignore any excuses about travel challenges and compete consistently away from home.

Opponent Check

It looks like Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson has settled in on senior Danny Sullivan as his starting quarterback when the Sun Devils host Idaho State in the season opener Sept. 5. Sullivan has put up rather pedestrian numbers in his three years as a backup, and there has been some clamoring for his two young backups, but it appears he's going to get first shot at running the offense against the Bengals.

Meanwhile, over in Norman, Okla., the Sooners continue to roll in the pre-season honors. OU All-American defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Jeremy Beal were both named to the Nagurski Award watch list. The award honors the nation's best defensive player. The Sooners held a 50-play scrimmage Tuesday night and, despite the presence of such rugged defensive linemen, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was very pleased with the play of his offensive line. That's not good news for Sooner opponents, because the O-line was supposed to be one of the few pre-season question marks for OU.

--Brad B.

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hoops and Kicks....Finally, It Starts

We officially get going today with women's soccer hosting Northwest Nazarene in an exhibition game at 11:00 am at Davis Field (FREE ADMISSION FOR THE BUSINESSPERSONS SPECIAL!).

ISU won their exhibition opener 4-0 last year, and if you can't make it, you can listen live at 91.1 FM KISU, or online at (just click the listen live microphone on the front page, or the KISU link on the soccer page).

Also, sometime this afternoon I will release the men's basketball schedule, which is travel heavy early to say the least, but it does have 14 home games. Two exhibitions are Colorado Springs and Rocky Mountain (defending NAIA Champions). Non-conference road games are at Iowa State, Bradley, Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Oregon (those are the guarantee games), Utah, Utah State, Brigham Young (the end of the contracts on those), and UMKC (Missouri-Kansas City), which is a home-and-home contract. Home non-conference games are Colorado Christian (at Reed Gym early), Montana Tech, Boise State, and Cal State Bakersfield (Senior Night). ISU will have one December conference game at Sacramento State on December 19, and you can ring in 2010 with the Bengals hosting Montana on December 31 at 3:05 pm.

There is one home Sunday game, and it's January 3 at Altitude's time of choosing, which is neither here nor there, as Saturday would be up against the NFL Playoffs anyways, and a bowl game or two, so we'll take the $10,000 ... plus, we didn't have a Sunday Altitude game last year, and it was doubtful to get away with that one two years in a row.

Full schedule later on today....head out to Davis, or tune in!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Conversation with Brian Jensen

Brian Jensen (left) is in his first season as Idaho State's offensive coordinator, after serving as quarterbacks coach in the first two seasons of the John Zamberlin era at ISU. Jensen inherits the task of reviving the Bengals' running game after ISU finished second from the bottom in the Big Sky with an average of 2.6 yards per carry. He also has the responsibility of grooming Kyle Blum as the starter at quarterback.

On Saturday, Jensen's offense got off to a good start in the team's first scrimmage of the fall. Running backs Stew Tracy, Clint Knickrehm, and Ben LaPorta were particularly sharp carrying the football, and Blum and backup QB Russell Hill threw the ball well -- although Blum did cough up a couple of interceptions. Towering wide-out Kelvin Krosch made a couple of great catches in traffic, and freshman wideout Andrew Benavides served notice that he will be a factor in the offense. Here's my conversation with Jensen:

1. You've had a chance, spring football, and now all summer to prepare for fall, to develop your philosophy. What kind of changes have you made?

Jensen: That's a great question, and it's a fair question. I'll tell you what, you're going to see and I've said it before, and I know it's cliche, but we want to be as balanced as we can. If you watched the scrimmage far as coming off the field, I felt like we were fairly balanced. We 've got some good backs, we've got a healthy Clint Knickhrem, we've got a lot of our offensive line back, so we ought to be able, and we have to be able to run the football. Easier said then done, I know, but that's going to be a point of emphasis is that we stay on the ground and run the football and then we can use our play action and other stuff off of that.

2.Obviously, you didn't have any depth at running back in the spring, but it looks like now you've got four or five kids who can carry the football for you. Who do you like in that role?

Jensen: I'll tell you what, you can't pinpoint a guy, obviously Clint Knickhrehm's kind of the mainstay there, but I'll tell you what, Coach Whit (ISU running backs coach Nick Whitworth) has done a great job with the backs and with recruiting some running backs, and we've got different styles of probably noticed that today where we can change pace with some kids and not miss a beat. And I'm not saying it's going to be running back by committee. We know it's Clint's job to lose. We know how hard a worker he is. But we've got a good complement of backs to go with Clint.

3. Give me your assessment of your quarterback play today.

Jensen: You know I thought overall it was good. We're probably at about a 60 percent clip today, which is good. We need to continue to be smarter with the ball. I just talked to the kids about if it's not there, we throw it away, we burn the down and you get the call from Coach (Drew) Miller on the sideline and we go again. It's playing a mature style of football. But overall I was really pleased, and I want to note I was really pleased with the two freshmen kids -- Kyle Morris and Jake Lammers -- they did a real good job too.

4. Talk about the new kids that we're seeing, the Benavides kid (wideout Andrew) certainly impresses you off the top. Is he going to play this year?

Jensen: Well, I'll tell you what he's got a great role model in (J.D.) Ponciano. Ponce has done a great job taking him under his wing. Benavides, to his credit, has been a sponge and has accepted that and learned from Ponce. Benavides is an explosive kid and you saw it today. We saw it on film and I know Coach Miller is really excited about him and if the role presents itself and he needs to contribute, he'll be ready.

5. I don't want to start a quarterback controversy, but is it set -- is Kyle your No. 1 guy?

Jensen: Well, yeah, as of right now he is. They all have things to work on. Kyle was sharp today at times, and Russell was sharp, and that's a great thing...that's a good thing. There's no controversy there. We're just so fortunate to have both of those guys and you know when quarterbacks go down around the league, and in the NFL and in high school, boy some teams are scrambling and we hope that doesn't happen, but if it does we're in real good shape.

Farewell to a True Bengal Fan

My best wishes and prayers go out to the family of Bernie Schroeder, a true Bengal fan in every sense of the word, who passed away on Friday, Aug. 14. Bernie, games at Holt Arena just won't be the same without you.

--Brad B.

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