You gotta take it one game at a time, right?
Even if Utah isn't expecting too much of a challenge from visiting Idaho State in Thursday's season opener, it's worth knowing more about what you're going to see. What is Idaho State like? Who are their important players? What are their expectations for the game (even if their coach kind of answered that Tuesday)?
To that end, I asked beat reporter Kyle Franko of the Idaho State Journal to answer a few questions on just what's going on in Pocatello. His responses are below:
1) Idaho State hasn't beaten an FBS team since 2000, and it hasn't won a road game since (2006). How are players preparing for a game in which they're such a heavy underdog? Are there important goals they can meet besides trying to win?
Kyle Franko: The Bengals and head coach Mike Kramer are definitely tamping down expectations going into the Utah game. No one is talking about an upset.
Really that's the story of this group as they enter the 2014 season having won a combined six games the previous three years. The Bengals are done saying how they think they're a better football team - they want to prove it on the field. And in terms of wins and losses, starting with Utah is not a great opportunity for Idaho State to show off whether it has improved.
So they will measure success outside of Ws and Ls?
First, make Utah earns its points on offense. No big plays. Second, compete in the kicking game. No meltdowns with blocked punts or field goals and no touchdowns via kickoff returns. Third, avoid injuries. Finally, force Utah to play into the second half.
2) The program had some big problems when Mike Kramer took over. How has he handled those issues since becoming head coach, and what does he have to do this year to show he's headed in the right direction?
KF: To show the program is moving in a positive direction, the Bengals must display the same kind of gains that they did in 2013. Last year, ISU won three games and barely avoided a last-place finish in the Big Sky Conference. But Idaho State's defense took a major step forward by slashing its points allowed per game from 53.8 to 33.2. They went from a bad team with a losing record to a competitive one ... still with a losing record.
Ultimately, it comes down to wins for Kramer and Idaho State. They beat one Division I opponent last season. Bumping up that total is an obvious must. To what extent is a mystery.
3) The Bengals bring an experienced starter at quarterback in Justin Arias. What are the strengths of his game, and how does he elevate the ISU offense?
KF: Arias graduated high school in 2009, so he's an older guy who isn't easily rattled. He's not a dual-threat, but Arias does have the ability to escape the pocket and extend plays.
Idaho State is young at wide receiver with four sophomores as their starters at wide receiver and tight end. Arias' greatest impact should come from their offseason workouts over the summer in Pocatello. ISU is at its best when the offense falls into a rhythm. For that the Bengal receivers and Arias have to be on point and in sync with one another.
4) What is Idaho State's biggest concern facing Utah, besides the overall talent level in an FBS program?
KF: That's pretty much it. Idaho State has been simply overwhelmed in the past three years by FBS competition. The Bengals lost to Washington State 64-21 and BYU 56-3 in 2011. In 2012, Nebraska pummeled the Bengals 73-7, and last year Washington and BYU combined to defeat ISU 115-13.
Those are the kinds of results Idaho State wants to avoid Thursday night. The final score might not be close but the Bengals want to make sure Utah works for the win.
5) Who are some of the ISU players who will stand out in this game? Any guys on the Bengals roster who can hold their own at the FBS level?
KF: BYU sophomore transfer Madison Mangum looks like a Pac-12 wide receiver. He's big (6-2, 212), strong and has good hands. Injuries are a concern but he's a guy from a purely physical standpoint who could hold his own in the FBS.
Idaho State's starting nose guard, junior Tyler Kuder, is a beast in the middle for the Bengals. Kuder lacked discipline a year ago, but he's a talent.
Offensive guard Skyler Phillips is a guy on the other side who might have been overlooked coming out of Churchill High School in Eugene, Ore. The sophomore (6-3, 317) has good size and mobility.
Thanks for playing, Kyle.
You, dear reader, can read up on Idaho State on the ISJ blog. If you want to read my responses to the Idaho State Journal's questions about Utah, you can check them out here.
Stay tuned for more from the Tribune.
— Kyle Goon
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