For the first time since 2011, the Nittany Lions will face an FCS team when the Idaho Vandals come to town to start the 2019 season. The Vandals were an FBS team when the Penn State scheduled them back in 2015, but dropped down to FCS level beginning in 2018. A member of the Sun Belt at the time of scheduling, the Vandals were slated to be the third team from the conference to visit Happy Valley in as many years.
The Vandals' drop down to Division I's lower conference was not a very fruitful one its first year. Paul Petrino's team went 4-7 overall while being outscored 142-23 in their two games against FBS opponents.
Idaho at a Glance
|Head Coach||Paul Petrino (7th season; 23-48 overall, 23-48 with Idaho)|
|2018 Record||4-7, 3-5 (10th Big Sky)|
|Biggest Losses||RB Isaiah Saunders, RB Tyrese Walker, WR David Ungerer, DB Clark Dorian|
|Biggest Returnees||QB Mason Petrino, WR Jeff Cotton, LB Christian Elliss, DB Lloyd Hightower, OL Logan Floyd, OL Noah Johnson|
|Summary||Despite dropping to FCS, Idaho was still really bad last season. In other news, there is an Idaho, Pennsylvania, that is just over 100 miles from Penn State's campus.|
|Matchup with PSU||The long-awaited season opener will be the first time these two programs meet.|
Mason Petrino, son of head coach Paul and nephew of former Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, is back to lead an offense that ranked No. 65 in total offense at the FCS level last year. While he completed under 60% of his passes and threw for fewer than 2,000 yards, he should take a step forward with four of his top five receivers back.
The Vandals lose their top two running backs from a season ago, leaving Petrino as the team's leading returning rusher. Roshaun Johnson should take over as the lead back, but the rising sophomore has just 18 carries to his name at the collegiate level. Thankfully, he'll be running behind a very experienced offensive line, led by Noah Johnson and Logan Floyd. Johnson was first-team All-Big Sky last season, while Floyd was named to Phil Steele's Freshman All-American first team.
The Vandals were atrocious on defense a season ago, allowing over 40 points five times. They ended the year showing marginal improvement, losing their final game to Florida by 53 points, after losing their home opener to Fresno State by 66.
To add insult to injury, Idaho loses four of it's top five tacklers from last season, meaning this next incarnation of the defense could be even worse. They do return their leading tackler, Christian Elliss. Like Petrino, Elliss' father is also on the coaching staff, serving as the Vandals' defensive line coach. They also return defensive back Lloyd Hightower who led the team with 13 pass breakups and tied for the team lead with one interception.
The Vandals boasted the No. 98 passing defense and the No. 99 rushing defense last season, which added up to a whopping 455.3 yards allowed per game. For a Penn State team looking to break in a new quarterback, running back, and two new starters along the offensive line, this seems like the perfect game to build up some confidence.
Cade Coffey takes care of just about everything that involves kicking for the Vandals. He punted 64 times for an average of about 44 yards per punt and went 8-11 on field goals, hitting from as far out as 44 yards. Coffey did have two field goals and one punt blocked last season, something could be attributed to him being on the field too often. The Vandals returned two blocked punts for scores of their own but didn't do much else in the return game last season.
Idaho. It's very weird to have this team on the schedule, especially with some huge early-season matchups coming in the next few years.
The Vandals' offense should be better with a returning quarterback and experienced line, but that defense could be in for a long season. They probably won't compete for the Big Sky Conference title, which is really the only way this game could carry any positive weight for the Nittany Lion's schedule. This should be an easy opener for James Franklin's squad, which is perfect a young team like this one. Hopefully, the game is pretty much decided by halftime and the staff can start focusing on getting as many players experience as possible.