Vandals more confident on defense this year
Published: Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 29, 2014 at 9:29 p.m.
At first glance, it appears Florida couldn't have picked a better team to debut a new offense against.
Idaho finished last season ranked 110th out of 120 FBS teams in total defense. The lowlights for the Vandals in 2013 included giving up 48 points to Arkansas State, 59 points to Ole Miss, 61 points to Fresno State and 80 points to eventual national champion Florida State.
But Idaho coach Paul Petrino has more confidence in his defense heading into 2014. The Vandals have added some junior college transfers and freshmen to help shore up a secondary that allowed 315.8 yards passing per game.
“We're way better than we were last year,” Petrino said. “I think our safeties, they run to the ball, get around. (Cornerback) Coach (Ashley) Ambrose has done a great job with the corners, they are playing a lot better. We've put in more ... we have different combinations of coverages now than we did last year.”
In particular, Petrino is expecting big things up front from junior college transfer Alfonso Hampton, a space-eating, 6-foot-5, 346-pound defensive tackle. Senior defensive lineman Quayshawne Buckley also is back after recording a team-high 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks. “Defensive-line wise, that should maybe be one of our best groups on the team as far as depth and overall group of good players,” Petrino said.
Petrino said he's also been pleased with the performances of linebacker Irving Steele (a junior college transfer from Fort Lauderdale), safety Chris Edwards (a JUCO transfer) and cornerback Joe Smith (a transfer from Utah) in preseason camp.
“Our overall speed on defense has improved,” Petrino said. “They are all running around, getting to the ball better.”
But Petrino is aware of the problems UF's offense can present under first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Last year at Duke, Roper led the offense to a school-record 54 touchdowns. And Florida comes into the matchup with Idaho fully healthy at the skill positions, with returning quarterback Jeff Driskel, returning running backs Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor and returning receivers Quinton Dunbar, Ahmad Fulwood and Andre Debose.
“They have two big backs that can really run and then their quarterback, their quarterback (Driskel) is really athletic,” Petrino said.
Petrino said the key for Idaho to stay in the game is to avoid turnovers and limit giving up big plays.
“That's kind of what we've been talking about all camp,” Petrino said. “Every week, if we keep it close in the fourth quarter, everybody will have a chance to play and then we can win the fourth quarter.”