MOSCOW, Idaho – In March, UC Davis needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns to defeat an Idaho team missing nine starters 27-17. Here are three things to watch for in the rematch as the 1-3 Vandals and 4-0 Aggies kick off their Big Sky Conference season at 7 p.m. at Health Stadium.
1. Is Hunter Rodrigues available? The Aggies junior quarterback was 23 of 29 for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the game against the Vandals last March and has thrown for 858 yards and six touchdowns this fall. But he was injured and left in the fourth quarter of a 17-14 comeback victory over Weber State last Saturday. Miles Hastings took over at quarterback and led the Aggies to the win as Trent Tompkins, operating as a wildcat, punched the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard run with less than a minute to play. That next-man-up performance was impressive, but the Aggies’ win against a depleted Vandals squad last spring was an object lesson in the limits of relying on backups.
2. How strong? Too strong. Idaho’s defensive front has benefited mightily from a breakthrough season from 367-pound junior defensive lineman Noah Elliss, who accounted for eight tackles against Simon Fraser in the season opener and six against Indiana. He missed Idaho’s 42-0 loss against Oregon State with illness but was back at practice in the week leading up to the Big Sky opener against the Aggies. All-America linebacker Tre Walker made 19 tackles against UC Davis in the spring and could be even more devastating if Elliss is attracting a disproportionate share of opponents’ blocking this fall.
3. And the quarterback is … graduate transfer Mike Beaudry and freshman C.J. Jordan have auditioned throughout Idaho’s first three games to be the starter for the Big Sky season. Idaho coach Paul Petrino said going into the UC Davis game he will name one of them as starting quarterback. There is not a lot to separate them. Jordan’s most impressive outing was throwing for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns and rushing for 61 yards and a score against Simon Fraser. Beaudry threw for 196 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana. If the winner of their competition has a dominant outing against the Aggies, it could define the personality of a Vandals offense loaded with top-flight skill players for the remainder of the season.