Idaho, ranked nearly last in Division I-A, closes out dismal season at Montana

Idaho has had no fun in the Sun, at least not in 2001.

The Division I-A Vandals, who joined the Sun Belt Conference this year, are on the verge of completing one of their worst seasons in more than two decades. The Vandals are ranked 114th out of 117 I-A teams in this week's CBS Sportsline power rankings. A few weeks ago, they were 117.

The nightmare ends on Saturday against former Big Sky Conference rival Montana, the top-ranked team in Division I-AA football. Though Idaho is a dreadful 1-9, features one of the worst defenses statistically in all of America, and would be enjoying a football-free Thanksgiving had this game not been postponed earlier in the season because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Vandals are not quite ready to pack it in.

"For us, this is a huge game," said Idaho second-year coach Tom Cable. "They are the No. 1 team in the country in Division I-AA. We'll look forward to going over there and trying to get a win. It'll be a tough game and a tough place to play, but it will be a great test for us."

Idaho is still seething over last year's 45-38 loss to Montana when Griz quarterback Drew Miller torched the Vandals for 505 passing yards and five touchdowns.

"We were looking forward to playing Montana earlier in the season over there," said Idaho senior linebacker Brad Rice. "We know they are a good team. Some guys probably have mixed feelings about being over there during the break. But a lot of guys are excited. We get another chance to play them."

Rice, who played prep ball with former Griz receiver Jimmy Farris at Lewiston, Idaho, has been one of the few bright spots on Idaho's defense. Rice leads the team with 95 tackles and three interceptions.

Rice holds a 3.7 GPA and has more than 300 career tackles. He came to Idaho as a quarterback, before moving to the secondary in 1998. He switched to linebacker last spring.

"The transition was great," said Cable. "We're very impressed with how he picked it up. He gets better and better every week. He's a joy to have. He's a positive leader. I think the world of Brad. There aren't too many guys like him."

Idaho's defense needs about 10 more players like Rice. Idaho surrenders a I-A-worst 45.8 points per game. The Vandals, who earlier in the season were allowing well over 500 yards per game, have whittled that number down to 493.7. Only Nevada has allowed more.

Earlier this season, Idaho backup quarterback Brian Lindgren threw for 637 yards and the Vandal offense scored 58 points. Problem was Middle Tennessee State rolled up 685 yards of total offense and scored 70 points.

Things have been so bad that one of Rice's professors reportedly teased him about spelling Idaho "I-a-h-o" because there's no "D" in Idaho.

"It's been a number of things," Rice said of the defensive problems. "From early on guys were not playing with an all-out effort. It's just breakdowns here and there. It's really hard to put a finger on one thing.

"We really have a lot of talent. We just haven't had the ball bounce our way at times. As of late, we've kind of changed it around. The last three or four games we've played considerably better."

Idaho's front was strengthened last week by the return of senior Wil Beck, who missed a game with a shoulder injury that has been plaguing him since the beginning of he season. Beck, 6-foot-2, 310-pound senior, was the Big West co-defensive player of the year last season. He has eight tackles for loss and one sack this season.

The Vandal secondary received a slight blow last week when starting cornerback Ed Rankin, a 6-1 junior, was suspended indefinitely after being picked up for shoplifting in Pullman, Wash. Rankin was replaced by 5-9 junior Tim Sams.

"They've obviously had a little trouble on defense, holding teams down" said Montana coach Joe Glenn. "But they are playing a lot of young players, although they have some veterans … who can really play."

Reporter Jon Kasper can be reached at 523-5247 or by e-mail at jkasper@missoulian.com.

Up next

Idaho at Montana

Saturday, 12:05 p.m. Washington-Grizzly Stadium (19,000)

The top-ranked Montana Grizzlies (7-0, 10-1) close out their regular season against rival Idaho (1-9). Omega TV will televise the game (Channel 56 in Missoula).

Last meeting: Drew Miller threw for a career-high 505 yards and five touchdowns as Montana beat Idaho 45-38 on a Jimmy Farris TD with 19 seconds remaining last Sept. 9 in Pullman, Wash.

Series history: Idaho leads 55-24-2, but Montana has won five of the last eight.

Rewind: Idaho opened the season with losses to Washington State, Arizona, Washington, Boise State, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State, Louisana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, before beating Louisiana-Monroe 42-38. The Vandals lost to North Texas 50-27 last week.

Man in charge: Tom Cable (Idaho '86) is 6-15 in his second season at Idaho.

3 Ones to watch

86 - Brian Kania, DL (6-3, 270, Fr. from Pasco, Wash.): True freshman leads team with six sacks and eight tackles for loss.

3 - Chris Lacy, WR (6-0, 191, Sr. from San Jose, Calif): Needs 33 yards Saturday to reach 1,000 for the season.

18 - Brad Rice, LB (6-1, 220 Sr. from Lewiston, Idaho): Leads team with 95 tackles and three interceptions.

13 - John Welsh, QB (6-2, 213, Sr. from Oak Forest, Ill): Averages 284 passing yards per game, and has completed 63.3 percent of his passes.

- Jon Kasper, Missoulian

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