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5 questions to preview Weber State football at Idaho State

By Brett Hein - | Oct 28, 2021

ROBERT CASEY, Weber State Athletics

Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron (10) surveys the field as Idaho State's Rasheed Williams (25) pass rushes in a game Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, at Holt Arena in Pocatello, Idaho.

Weber State hits the road for the second straight week looking to continue its climb to the postseason in a trip to Pocatello, Idaho, to play the Idaho State Bengals.

Weber State is 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Big Sky play. Idaho State (1-6, 1-4) has struggled, but beat top-10 UC Davis at home and nearly upset Sacramento State in Holt Arena.

For insight on the Bengals, I asked five questions to Jordan Kaye, the ISU beat writer for the Idaho State Journal.

1. Catch us up on the quarterback situation with the Bengals. Tyler Vander Waal started both games against Weber State during the spring season but has been banged up. Is he possibly available to play this week, and what did ISU do with the QB spot last week?

JK: ISU hasn’t commented much on Vander Waal’s status all season, but I’d be shocked if he played on Saturday. Instead, expect freshman Hunter Hays to be under center. Hays has flashed potential this season with a strong arm and the ability to run, but he holds on to the ball too long and is prone to having a couple turnovers each game.

Last week, though, ISU ran a two-QB set with Hays and freshman Sagan Gronauer. It was bizarre and didn’t produce much given Gronauer only threw one pass all day. ISU coach Rob Phenicie was coy this week when asked if they’d use it against Weber.

2. Idaho State has one win, and it came against a UC Davis team that seemed to be on track for a top-four playoff seed. Break down how that one happened, and if that pattern can be repeated.

JK: Two things stick out about that UC Davis upset. The first was that the Bengals won the turnover battle for the first time all season. They committed one and intercepted UC Davis three times, including two in the red zone. Idaho State has been plagued by turnovers, racking up 20 (!) in just seven games. It has consistently shot itself in the foot with untimely interceptions and fumbles.

The other thing the Bengals did was trust their playmakers. Idaho State has one of the better receiving corps in the Big Sky and no one would have a clue because the ball doesn’t get in their hands enough. Against the Aggies, ISU had a nice run-pass balance and gave WR Tanner Conner chances to make plays.

3. WSU head coach Jay Hill has complimented ISU’s defense as a tough group that makes the right plays. Oshea Trujillo has kind of been the guy, but who else is making plays?

JK: Trujillo is obviously the leader of the defense. The stats don’t capture his full impact, but he’s so smart and makes it so his teammates can make plays. One of those guys is linebacker Connor Wills, who is often the benefactor of a linebacker-heavy defensive scheme. He flies to the ball and has racked up 56 tackles this season.

Another dude is cornerback Jayden Dawson, a junior college transfer who excelled in the spring. He ranks second in the conference with 10 passes defended.

4. Idaho State looked like a team in the spring ready to break through. The Bengals went 2-4, but only one game was against an unranked opponent, and every game but the opener was a one-score game. Is there a sense of confusion regarding what’s happened this season? What’s been the difference?

JK: Confusion is the perfect word. This team is an enigma, but they are not hopeless. Aside from the Nevada and NAU games, Idaho State has not exactly been outplayed. The Bengals just haven’t made the crucial plays and turned the ball over far too much. Where the confusion stems is whether that’s a product of a young team starting a freshman quarterback or if it’s on the coaching staff and play-calling.

In some ways, those were the same questions people had after the spring season — which is concerning, given that the Bengals are basically the same team they were a dozen games ago.

5. Similarly, ISU has been blown out by Portland State and Northern Arizona, but nearly had Sacramento State and did beat UC Davis. What explains those wildly different results, and are the Bengals capable of looking like that again at home?

JK: The hot-and-cold results are tough to exactly nail down. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of turnovers. In those PSU and NAU losses, Idaho State combined for seven turnovers. Every time the Bengals had a shot at points, they gave the ball up and their opponents capitalized. Also, in both those games, the ISU offense was incredibly stagnant and had trouble getting the ball to guys like Conner and their other talented pass-catchers.

If Weber State can get pressure on Hays, the young quarterback, it basically cuts ISU’s playbook in half and almost guarantees a turnover or two. If the Wildcats can’t do that, it may be a bit closer than they’d like.


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