USC Football Schedule Preview 2015: Scouting Idaho

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USC football will host the Idaho Vandals at the Coliseum in week two of the college football season this September.

RELATED: USC’s offensive line ranked one of nation’s best

Third-year head coach Paul Petrino has suffered consecutive one-win seasons with the Vandals while he slowly attempts to rebuild the program.

Despite the 11 losses, Petrino did shrink Idaho’s average margin of defeat from 27 points to 12 and fielded a more competitive, if outmatched, squad in 2014.

Here’s an early look at USC’s second opponent of the year:

Offense:

Matt Linehan finished 2014 with the worst passer rating in the Sun Belt, throwing 11 touchdowns to 18 interceptions. Now a sophomore, the goal for the pro-style quarterback will be to shake off freshman mistakes and move forward.

He will have to do so without last year’s leading receiver, Joshua McCain, who accounted for nearly 40% of the Vandals’ receiving yards in 2014. On the plus side, Dezmon Eps, Idaho’s top receiver in 2013 who was suspended last season for a DUI, has been reinstated and should give Linehan a valuable outlet.

Oct 26, 2013; Oxford, MS, USA; Idaho Vandals wide receiver Dezmon Epps (1) advances the ball during the game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mississippi Rebels win the game against the Idaho Vandals with a score of 59-14. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

The trouble is only compounded by the loss of second team All-Sun Belt center Mike Marboe and by the search for a new left tackle. After conceding 40 sacks, second-worse in the conference, Idaho will need to tighten up in the trenches if improvement is to be seen.

At running back, senior Elijhaa Penny will feature as the main man at running back after splitting time with the now-departed Jerrel Brown. Though Penny only rushed for 590 yards last year, he averaged 4.28 per carry and rushed in 12 touchdowns.

Defense:

Former Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have the task of turning Idaho’s defense around in 2015 and there is plenty of work to be done.

Funnily enough, the Vandals gave up 37.3 points per game last year, which was just a mark ahead of Wazzu’s 38.5.

Idaho was particularly vulnerable to the pass in 2014, allowing the third highest opponent passer rating in the nation. With a nation worst average of 9.5 yards conceded per attempt, the numbers could not get much worse.

Two of the top three tacklers from last season have graduated, but senior linebacker Marc Millan, who has led the team in tackles over the past two seasons, will be back to anchor the defense.

Up front, defensive end Quinton Bradley led the team with six sacks in 2014, so his return should be a help as well.

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Special Teams:

Rick Neuheisal famously uttered, “Punting is winning.”

While it hasn’t exactly worked out that way for the Vandals, punter Austin Rehkow actually is a bright spot for the team, booming his kicks at an average of 47 yards. That is a mark which placed him second nationally in 2014.

Unfortunately it is not all roses for Rehkow, who converted just 11 of his 19 field goal attempts last year.

Threat Level: Very Low

This is an Idaho team which won just one game in 2014.

In fact, this team has not won more than a single game since 2011, when they won two.

Granted, the results were much closer than previous years for the Vandals this past year, but the fact remains that they are a long way from knocking USC off at the Coliseum.