Don’t feel the need to belabor over Saturday. Don’t dwell on the final score. Don’t overanalyze the 0-2 record.
The Bengals fell 49-10 to Nevada, failing to replicate its magical upset of the Wolf Pack from 2017. But that was expected. So, too, was the Bengals dropping their home-opener to eighth-ranked North Dakota.
Big-picture, not much has changed with ISU — which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Following a 2-4 spring season, the Bengals have remained mediocre. They’ve shown little that would inspire confidence of a program turnaround, yet haven’t seemed to regress into a Big Sky bottom-dweller.
Here are a few thoughts from Saturday:
1. Tyler Vander Waal is going to be OK
After a hard third-quarter sack, the junior gunslinger needed to be helped off the field and didn’t play the rest of the game. TV cameras showed him with his left arm in a sling and ice wrapped around his left shoulder.
Postgame, Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie said he “absolutely” expects Vander Waal to play after the bye week against Sacramento State on Sept. 25. That’s the good news. The bad news?
2. Quarterback play needs to improve
Even when healthy, Vander Waal hasn’t looked great this season. He struggled with accuracy and threw three interceptions last week. Against Nevada, he was a little better, throwing for 107 yards on 10 of 17 passing. But errors were clear. A number of passes were bound for double- and triple-coverage only saved from a possible interception by a defender smacking it away too early.
During one 3rd and 3, receiver Xavier Guillory ran a quick out route and Vander Wall hurled it over his head. On the TV broadcast, color commentator Jordan Palmer – a former NFL QB – pointed out that Vander Waal didn’t get his feet set and was almost falling back as he threw. Sometimes it’s something that small.
3. Sacks are a problem
Replacing Vander Waal was freshman Hunter Hays, who did not look completely overwhelmed on Saturday. The 6-foot-3 rookie from Cody, Wyoming failed to produce any miracles, as expected, but completed five of his eight passes for 35 yards.
The concern: He was a little too patient at times, holding the ball when pressure was en route. Hays was sacked five times, adding the trio Nevada got on Vander Waal.
“Eight sacks in a game – I don’t care who you’re playing – it was unacceptable,” Phenicie said.
4. The lack of sacks is a problem
Through two games, the Idaho State defense has yet to record a sack. The Bengals defensive line was a key area of concern last season and has had three position coaches at the helm in the last six months. It is proving again to be a sore spot, as Nevada QB Carson Strong showed sitting in the pocket for what felt like minutes.
“We have to get pressure on the quarterback,” Phenicie said. “You can’t allow him to stand back there and pick you apart.”
5. The linebackers are defensive stars
This is always supposed to be the case with defensive coordinator Roger Cooper’s odd-front scheme. More linebackers on the field means more chances for linebackers to make plays. But this group swarms to the ball like it’s the last piece of cake.
Except for quick passes to the outside, it’s rare to see the Bengals need to make a one-on-one tackle – and that’s a good thing.
“I like the way they’re flying around,” said Phenicie. “They’re not playing afraid, I can tell you that.”
6. Where are these receivers?
All the chatter from Idaho State over the offseason revolved around the receivers. Wide outs coach Hagen graves said he felt like the Bengals had five starter-caliber receivers. Maybe they do, but we haven’t seen it yet.
Expected to have an All-American-type final season, Tanner Conner racked up 24 yards on just three targets. Six-foot-6 Jared Scott didn’t have a catch. Christian Frederickson was targeted on ISU’s opening possession yet didn’t catch his first pass until almost 30 minutes later.
While the running back tandem of Malakai Rango and Raiden Hunter was fine, even Palmer on the broadcast mentioned that it was surprising to not see more quick screen passes or slants to receivers.
7. The bye week couldn’t come at a better time
It doesn’t really matter that Idaho State is 0-2. They’re still 0-0 in the Big Sky. The Bengals opening two games haven’t gone to perfection but, realistically, they don’t matter. The early bye week gives the ISU coaching staff a chance to regroup, self-scout, evaluate, tweak and charge into conference play with all their ducks in a row.
“We’re going to have a week here to hit the reset button,” Phenicie said.