After the spring season, Idaho State offensive coordinator Mike Ferriter sat down with quarterback Tyler Vander Waal and reflected on a 2-4 season that left a sour taste in their mouth.
They talked about the season-opener against Weber State, the ugliest of the Bengals’ quartet of defeats, and the swirling uncertainties the quarterback had to deal with. Vander Wall threw for over 300 yards and tossed three touchdowns but he completed just 40% of his throws and turned the ball over twice.
“There was a lot of question marks around our offense,” Vander Waal said of the Weber State loss. “What was our identity? What am I capable of in this offense? Could our O-line protect me? Could I trust our O-line. Could our guys make plays?
“As the season went along, I got more comfortable in the offense and I think it showed.”
Idaho State has bigger concerns than Vander Waal’s play in 2021. There’s still a young secondary. There’s a defensive line that has had three position coaches in six months. And there’s a team that has yet to prove it can finish game. But in Vander Waal, Idaho State has a supreme talent whose potential was far from being reached in the spring.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound gunslinger transferred to ISU from Wyoming with rave reviews and high expectations – some of which he met a few months back. As a junior, Vander Waal played all six games, threw for over 1,800 yards and a dozen touchdowns yet completed just over half his passes and hurled 10 interceptions.
“You look at 54% completion percentage, I’d like to get that up and be touching 60, 62%,” Vander Waal said. “The biggest thing is turnovers … just limiting those and being smarter with the football.”
Helping Vander Waal’s chances at a resurgent fall is a receiver corps stacked with talent. Returning is first-team all-conference pass-catcher Tanner Connor along with freshmen Xavier Guillory and Christian Fredrickson – both of whom played in the spring. Adding on to that crop, the Bengals now have the services of South Dakota State transfer Shane Dailey Jr. and Jared Scott, a 6-foot-6, 240-pound transfer from Jacksonville State.
The key for Vander Waal is making sure he puts his playmakers in the best spots to succeed, which is as cliché as it gets. But putting them in the right position is not just throwing them the ball when their open, it’s getting to the line, surveying the defense and calling something that gets them open.
“(I feel more comfortable) with our checks system. Having the freedom at the line to – North Dakota is a very one-high-specific defense,” he said, referring to the Bengals’ week one opponent. “Say we get a one-high look, knowing where the pressure is coming from and running opposite the pressure. Maybe changes the play at the line of scrimmage if we’re getting pressed on the outside.
“Giving myself the freedom to put our offense in the best fit to be successful that play – not necessarily leaning so much on coach Ferriter.”
There was no reigns being passed to Vander Waal this offseason. He had the ability to make checks and audibles at the line during the spring, but he wasn’t comfortable enough with the scheme and his personnel to full bore.
Months later, he’s shed the life vest.
Lining up across the line from Vander Waal, linebacker Oshea Trujillo is not always thrilled with the lack of a play clock at ISU’s practices. No ticker means Vander Waal can wait to make a call until he’s looked over every minute detail of the defense.
“Obviously I complain about it at practice, but that’s only going to get us better,” Trujillo said. “It’s like, ‘OK, I see this look. Now let me check into this because of these reasons.’
It’s a methodic approach that is tough to master. Yet if Vander Waal can, Idaho State’s ceiling gets much higher.
“He puts a lot on his plate just by himself,” said Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie. “He likes the responsibility. He likes the pressure. And he wants to have the ball in his hands.”
Vander Waal’s litmus test will come at Holt Arena on Friday, when the Bengals kick off against No. 8 North Dakota at 1 p.m.