One season ago, the Idaho State football team boarded a plane bound for Omaha, Neb. There, a bus waited to take the Bengals to Lincoln where they would face a nationally-prestigious Nebraska squad.
The result was a 73-7 smothering at the hands of the Cornhuskers, plus two torn ACLs, one that ended the season for starting free safety Tanner Davis. Head coach Mike Kramer has said that his team never recovered physically or mentally from what happened in Lincoln.
This Saturday, ISU faces Washington, a team that is currently ranked 17th in the nation. The Bengals hope to leave Seattle with their health and confidence intact.
“I think the greatest growth in our program will be on the flight home Saturday night because we’ll have played against one of the nation’s elite programs,” Kramer said. “We’ll have played well at times, and we’ll have made mistakes at times.”
Why, other than the financial impact, do FCS teams put schools such as Washington on their schedules? Kramer says it will teach his team to play fast, something that will help when it faces Big Sky opponents this season.
“The game will slow down for us as we play the bulk of our schedule, outside of BYU down the road,” he said. “The Big Sky Conference just will not be as fast as the way the Huskies will play against us Saturday afternoon.”
Redshirt senior linebacker Trevor Spence was asked what Kramer meant when he said, “the greatest growth in our program will be on the flight home.”
“After you lose a game, it’s not always a joyful experience,” Spence said. “We want to have fun on the way home, meaning that we came home with a victory; we learned from the experience; we got better as a team; not very many guys got injured. We want to come back healthy, ready for conference. We want to build from this experience.”
And the Bengals will march into Husky Stadium Saturday expecting to win. They are 2-0 on the season, and feel confident in their plan and preparation.
“Playing football is a lot of confidence. You need confidence to play,” said redshirt senior quarterback Justin Arias. “If you think you’re going to fail, you’re always going to fail. You have to be confident in what you’re doing and how you approach the game.”
The Huskies are also 2-0 on the season, with wins over Boise State (ranked No. 19 at the time) and Illinois. Washington is the prototypical Pac-12 team in terms of size and speed, but also boasts the nation’s leading rusher in Bishop Sankey (184.5 yards per game).
Idaho State knows beating the Huskies is a tall order, but won’t look at them different than any other opponent.
“We’re just going to play hard and let the rest take care of itself,” said redshirt senior wide receiver Cam Richmond. “We’re going to control things that we can control, and whatever happens, happens.”
Kickoff between ISU and UW is slated for Saturday 1 p.m., Mountain Standard Time. The game can be seen on the Pac-12 Network.
“The odds are stacked against us going to this game. I believe they will be stacked against us going up against Big Sky opponents,” Richmond said. “We can’t worry about any of those things. We’re going to go out, play hard and play our best.”
Notes: Kramer said he hopes to have redshirt senior wide receiver Luke Austin back in the lineup after missing last Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury. Kramer said 34 different players saw significant playing time on the defensive side of the ball against Western State, and that is the plan going forward this season.