ISU football: Bengals’ keys to victory, players to watch for ISU-UC Davis
IDAHO STATE’S KEYS TO VICTORY
Convert third downs in the red zone
It’s obvious, but especially true given the state of ISU’s kicking game. Junior punter Sean Cheney, who is the Bengals’ new No. 1 kicker, has not attempted a field goal at ISU, and his backup is redshirt freshman wide receiver Matt Peterson, who hasn’t kicked since high school. ISU may be forced to risk leaving points on the board by keeping its offense on the field for fourth downs in the red zone.
Idaho State has scored on 31 of 36 trips to the red zone this season and went 0 for 2 last week at Montana State. Both teams need all the points they can get in a matchup featuring two explosive offenses.
The Bengals dominated time of possession last week against Montana State, partially by sticking to a heavy dose of running plays. ISU ran the ball 52 times, picking up 15 of 26 first downs on the ground.
If ISU can grab an early lead, maintain success in the running game and drain the clock, UC Davis has less time to operate its pass-heavy offense. Simultaneously, the Aggies’ seventh-ranked defense will wear down while ISU’s 12th-ranked defense stays fresh.
Contain Maier, Doss
It’s easier said than done, and it’s not that easily said.
Maier and Doss have connected for 10 or more completions and 100 or more yards each of the last five games, in which Doss is averaging 12.2 receptions and 154.8 yards per game.
Doss has one game with fewer than 100 yards receiving this season, while Maier has two games under 300 yards passing.
Idaho State hasn’t allowed a 300-yard passer since Montana’s Gresch Jensen threw for 360 yards Oct. 6.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Idaho State
K/P Sean Cheney
Cheney will make his debut as ISU’s full-time kicker Saturday. The junior has handled most of the Bengals’ punting duties over the last two seasons and has been tasked with double duty following unavailabilities to kickers Zak Johnson and Parker Johnson.
In his career, Cheney is 3 for 3 on extra points (all this season) and has not attempted a field goal. Bengals coach Rob Phenicie said Cheney had no objection to his expanded role.
Parker Johnson became unavailable midway through ISU’s game Oct. 14 at Sacramento State, and Zak suffered the same fate last Saturday at Montana State. Without a true kicker available against MSU, the Bengals chose to forego field-goal attempts and kept the offense on the field for three fourth-down plays inside the Bobcats’ 30-yard line. All three failed.
RBs James Madison/Ty Flanagan
Idaho State’s running back tandem is the best in the Big Sky Conference, combining to average 174.9 yards rushing per game. Flanagan leads the league and is tied for fifth in the FCS with nine rushing touchdowns, while Madison has been a consistent bell cow with 5.2 yards per carry.
“They’re solid,” UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins said during Wednesday’s Big Sky coaches teleconference. “Do a nice job in the (run-pass option) game, do a great job in the zone-read game. Multidimensional, for sure.”
LB Paea Moala
Moala earned a starting job shortly after ISU transitioned from a 4-3 base defense to a 3-4 and has come through consistently, averaging 6.2 tackles per game in six starts. Montana State steered clear of fellow linebacker Mario Jenkins last week, and the Aggies may do the same, leaving Moala to clean up tackles.
Moala is tied for fifth on the team with 42 tackles and has a team-high 2 sacks this season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: UC Davis
QB Jake Maier
The Aggies’ sophomore signal caller is one of the best players in the FCS, ranking in the top 10 in passing efficiency, passing yards, yards per pass attempt, completion percentage and completions per game. He earned Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors after passing for a career-high 459 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-28 win against Cal Poly on Saturday. Maier’s 459 yards are the most by an Aggies quarterback since the program joined the Big Sky in 2012, and third-most in school history.
“He’s accurate. He’s first in the conference, second in the nation in completion percentage; he’s second in the conference, fifth in the nation in completions per game; first in the conference, 10th in the nation in passing efficiency,” ISU coach Rob Phenicie said during Monday’s press conference. “Just on, and on, and on.”
WR Keelan Doss
Like Maier, Doss’ name is all over the top of FCS leaderboards.
The junior wideout leads the FCS with 1,121 yards receiving and 10 receptions per game. His 80 catches are 52 more than the Aggies’ next leading receiver, and his 140.1 receiving yards per game are the most in the FCS since Cooper Kupp averaged 149.3 yards per game in 2015.
Phenicie said Doss is versatile, utilized on downfield passes as well as bubble screens.
“He catches everything,” Phenicie said. “You can only do so much because they move him around. … He very well could be offensive player of the year in the conference. He has my vote.”
DB Vincent White
White is tied for the Big Sky lead with 10 passes defended, and leads the Aggies with two interceptions.
The junior also ranks fourth on the Aggies with 34 tackles while contributing on special teams. White has 81 yards on five kick returns.
White and the rest of UC Davis’ secondary will be tasked with containing ISU’s offensive weapons, which have taken the Big Sky by storm this season.