FACTS & STATS: Site: Kibbie Dome (16,000) -- Moscow, Idaho. Television: None. Home Record: Texas State 4-1, Idaho 1-2. Away Record: Texas State 1-2, Idaho 0-5. Neutral Record: Texas State 0-0, Idaho 0-0. Conference Record: Texas State 2-2, Idaho 0-0. Series Record: Idaho leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: The Texas State Bobcats will step out of their Sun Belt season as they visit the Kibbie Dome for a non-conference tilt with Idaho Vandals.
Texas State had dropped back-to-back contests before reeling off two straight wins over Georgia State (24-17) and South Alabama (33-31) to close out its October slate. The Bobcats are now at the .500 mark in the Sun Belt standings which gives them the same number of league wins they finished the 2012 season with as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Texas State improved to 5-3 overall last week as Jason Dann kicked a 41-yard field goal through the uprights with just four seconds remaining to give the team the two-point win. Coach Dennis Franchione's squad has not proven too much outside of Bobcat Stadium this season with a 1-2 away record that includes a 22-15 win over the winless Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
Idaho enters the contest with a 1-7 record after being defeated, 59-14, at Ole Miss last weekend. The Vandals' only victory came on Sept. 18 when they downed the Temple Owls by two points at home. First-year head coach Paul Petrino's team has lost its last three games by an average margin of 38.6 points per game. This is also the inaugural year for the program as an FBS Independent before it joins the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
This marks the second straight year Texas State and Idaho will square off. The Vandals hold a narrow, 3-2, all-time series lead in the rivalry that began in 1990. The Bobcats have won the two most recent meetings, including their 38-7 rout of Idaho in San Marcos in 2012.
Texas State's defense has been the trigger to its success this season and it comes to Kibbie Dome leading the Sun Belt in scoring defense at 23.8 points allowed per game. It is also ranked 10th nationally in rushing defense (101.4 ypg) and has registered 10 interceptions to place 23rd. Mike Orakpo has been a predator of opposing ball carries en route to 9.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
The Bobcats need to catch up offensively as they are second to last in the SBC in total yards (332.0 ypg) and just sixth in scoring (24.2 ppg). Due to the tremendous play of the defense, Texas State is not afraid to pound away with the run to control the clock. It gained 234 yards on the ground versus USA to rise to 39th among FBS programs in rushing offense (192.3 ypg).
Robert Lowe ran for 89 yards on 15 carries while Chris Nutall added 76 yards on 12 attempts in last week's winning effort. Lowe has been sensational all season while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He is pacing the run heavy attack with 708 yards and seven touchdowns on 112 carries. Nutall has contributed 422 yards and six scores on 66 attempts.
Texas State has had to rely on its running game due to the frustrating play of its quarterbacks. However, freshman signal caller Tyler Jones may have his number called more often after completing 15-of-25 attempts for a career-high 218 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week. It was the best game as a Bobcat for Jones, who also tallied 68 yards on 23 carries. While it was a step in the right direction, Jones still has much to prove as he enters with three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Due to the team's tendency to keep the ball on the ground, none of Texas State's wideouts are averaging more than 30 yards per game. Ben Ijah is the team's leading receiver with only 190 yards and one touchdown on 12 receptions through eight games.
Idaho is averaging slightly more yards than the Bobcats with 350.3 ypg, but is one of the lowest scoring teams in the nation at 16.1 ppg. The Vandals were showing improvement and averaged 21.3 ppg over the three-game span just prior to they ran into the Rebels' defense. The team was without starting quarterback Chad Chalich last week, who is also listed as questionable for this Saturday due to a shoulder injury. With Chalich unavailable, Taylor Davis led the team through the lopsided loss by hitting on 12-of-30 pass attempts for 166 yards and a score, while adding another TD on the ground.
The Vandals operate much better under Chalich, who has completed 61.4 percent of his throws for 1,224 yards with five TDs against three INTs. He is also the team's second leading rusher with 30.3 ypg. James Baker leads the way in the ground attack with 95 carries for 372 yards and five scores.
Dezmon Epps is the most productive skill player on Idaho's roster with his impressive team-highs in receptions (51), receiving yards (582) and touchdowns (three). Najee Lovett is the second-leading receiver on the team despite averaging only 34.4 ypg so far.
While the offense has certainly had its share of troubles, the biggest reason for Idaho's current plight has been the play of the defense. The unit ranks second to last among FBS schools in scoring defense, allowing 45.1 ppg, and also in total defense with an allowance of 536.8 ypg. The only team surrendering more points and yards than Idaho in the nation is New Mexico State, which recently snapped an 18-game losing streak.
Bradley Njoku has a team-best 62 tackles to go with 3.0 TFL and an interception. In addition to his 5.0 TFL and two sacks, Marc Millan is the second-leading tackler on the team with 61 stops. QuayShawne Buckley (9.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) has also made his share of plays.
The Vandals will have an even slimmer chance of ending their losing streak if Chalich is unable to return to action. Idaho's weak offense will have trouble moving the chains against the SBC's most stingy defense. Texas State's offense could have a breakout game against one of the weakest defenses in the nation.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas State 34, Idaho 17
Saturday, November 2, 5:00 p.m. (et)