Mountain West Football: First Look At The Idaho State Bengals
UNLV and San Diego State will both host the rebuilding Idaho State Bengals in non-conference play this fall.
Will these new-look Bengals have bite?
UNLV Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
San Diego State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
The UNLV Rebels and San Diego State Aztecs have a common opponent in non-conference play this fall, the Idaho State Bengals.
ISU didn’t have a great time of things last year, as only a surprise upset of UC Davis saved them from the Big Sky’s cellar, which prompted the program to start anew. With just four winning seasons since 2001, they might be facing serious mismatches against both Mountain West teams, but the Bengals might also take a few steps back to contention if things break their way.
Location: Pocatello, Idaho
Conference: Big Sky
2021 Record: 1-10 (1-7 Big Sky)
Head Coach: Charlie Ragle (first year at Idaho State). Winning at Idaho State has long been one of the FCS level’s toughest assignments and things never really got off the ground under Rob Phenicie, who went 16-35 in five seasons before getting the axe. The program then went in a different direction to bring in Ragle, who arrives with something of a unique resume.
Most recently, he worked as the special teams coordinator at Cal from 2019 to 2021, though he also worked with the Golden Bears’ tight ends for a couple seasons before that and did both jobs for Rich Rodriguez, as well, from 2013 to 2016.
Tyler Vander Waal, QB
The former Wyoming quarterback went into 2021 as the starter, but that plan was upended when he suffered a knee injury in late September and missed the rest of the year. In nine games with the Bengals, he’s completed 52.1% of his throws for 2,218 yards with 14 touchdowns, so while nothing has been given to him by the new coaching staff, Vander Waal may remain the team’s best bet to engineer a rebound on offense.
Tyler Vander Waal scores on a quarterback keeper pic.twitter.com/O382W3hq8F
— Greg Woods (@GregWWoods) April 23, 2022
Terron Carey, C
Carey is the only returning Idaho State player who was named an all-Big Sky pick in 2021, with a third-team nod coming on the heels of a second-team selection in the spring season which preceded last fall. He started every game for the Bengals at center last year and, according to Pro Football Focus, earned an overall grade of 61.9 that marked his third straight year of improvement.
There might be questions elsewhere, Idaho State can rely upon Carey’s steady hand at one of the offense’s most important positions.
Charles Ike, LB
After a record-setting stint at California’s College of the Canyons, Ike’s first season with the Bengals hinted at bigger things to come. He picked up 44 tackles, which is actually the most of any returning Idaho State defender, and an overall PFF grade of 69.7, so chances are he’ll play a big role in cleaning up numerous messes near the line of scrimmage throughout this fall.
Xavier Guillory, WR
Could Guillory be on his way toward becoming Idaho State’s number-one option in the passing game? Between the FCS’s spring and fall seasons last year, he caught 38 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns, so the 6-foot-2 sophomore from Spokane could see his numbers go way up with more stability under center.
Back at ISU spring practice, here’s Hunter Hays with a bomb downfield to Xavier Guillory pic.twitter.com/2rHtK7u1m4
— Greg Woods (@GregWWoods) April 1, 2022
Josh Alford, CB
Like Guillory, Alford enters 2022 as a sophomore who might just be a cornerstone of the Bengals future. After breaking up three passes in six spring games, he finished second among Idaho State defenders in the fall with seven passes defended and collected 24 total tackles along with an interception.
Once the quarterback situation fell into disarray, the Bengals had a hard time moving the ball consistently last year. They finished 112th among FCS teams by averaging just 4.52 yards per play and 114th with 15.3 points per game, so it falls on new offensive coordinator Taylor Mazzone, the son of long-time offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, to pick up the pieces and make something new of them.
It won’t be easy: Three different quarterbacks — Vander Waal, Hunter Hays, and Sagan Gronauer — had at least 69 pass attempts in 2021 but the results weren’t very nice. Taken together, they completed only 52.8% of their throws for six yards per attempt, with 11 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. That all three have survived trials by fire now is a positive in terms of depth, but the hope is certainly that one will seize the job and hold it.
That can only help the running game, too, which returns just one contributor of note in Raiden Hunter (66 carries, 248 rushing yards) but has recently picked up a pair of intriguing athletes from the transfer portal in Erin Collins (Northern Illinois) and Damir Collins (Oregon State). The air attack must also replace its top two pass catchers, Tanner Conner and Jared Scott, but Guillory, Shane Dailey Jr. (23 catches, 237 yards), and Benjamin Ojayebu all held their own as role players last season.
The offensive line will need to be retooled, too, especially after giving up a conference-high 39 sacks and enabling the rushing game to average just 3.3 yards per carry. Carey, John Perko, Jacob Angel, and Tyler Clemons all return after starting at least nine games each, but the two-deep could be littered with underclassmen who may push these veterans.
Most of last year’s headaches fell on the offense, but the defense has its fair share of struggles, too, finishing 105th in yards per play allowed (6.33) and 102nd in point per game allowed (34.1). To turn things around, Ragle dipped into the junior college ranks and hired Tim Schaffner, who’d long been a fixture as the head coach at Butler Community College in Kansas.
Problem is, the Bengals must replace their top five tacklers from a year ago while improving a unit that finished next-to-last in the Big Sky in third-down conversion rate allowed and interceptions, and dead last in sacks. Ike, Alford, and defensive lineman Terrance Jones (two sacks, three tackles for loss in six games) make for a reasonable foundation, but a lot more will be needed. Lots of underclassmen got plenty of work in 2021, though, including sophomore defensive linemen Jake McGinnis and David Rowe (75 combined tackles, four combined TFLs), but it will likely take time for things to progress.
San Diego State should have no trouble dispatching this Bengals team and, honestly, neither should UNLV. Even after last year’s debacle against Eastern Washington and in spite of the team’s lingering concerns, this is not a game that a team with the Rebels’ aspirations should lose.
UNLV 35, Idaho State 14
San Diego State 49, Idaho State 10