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StarBulletin.com

Idaho all about a bowl


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POSTED: Friday, October 16, 2009

PULLMAN, WASH. » One way or another, Robb Akey is keeping bowl season on the minds of the Idaho Vandals.

Plates were replaced by bowls for the Vandals' first team meal of fall camp. He regularly wears the bowl rings he earned as an assistant at Washington State around the Idaho football offices. And when the Vandals' charter was delayed last week, he spotted a nearby bowling alley and saw another opportunity to reinforce the topic.

“;We took the team in there and said, 'one of the goals of the season is to go bowling, let's get a little experience at some bowling,' “; Akey said. “;There was a little subliminal there, and it was a great way to kill time.”;

The Vandals eventually did get on their flight and earned a 29-25 win at San Jose State the next day to close within one win of becoming bowl eligible.

Idaho's first shot at reaching that mark comes tomorrow when the Vandals (5-1, 2-0 Western Athletic) host Hawaii (2-3, 0-2) at the Kibbie Dome.

Simply being in contention for the postseason in mid-October represents a paradigm shift for a program that went 3-21 in Akey's first two seasons as head coach and hasn't finished above .500 in a decade.

Idaho's start has energized the Moscow, Idaho, campus, sales of Vandals gear are up at the campus bookstore, and a sold-out crowd is expected for tomorrow's game.

So where Akey once tried to insulate the Vandals from the negativity that accompanied the team's struggles, his current challenge is to manage the adulation that comes with success.

“;We're controlled about it,”; Akey said.

“;We're going to play it one game at a time, but you know what, these guys have been told they're terrible for so long, now that somebody's patting them on the back, now that they're getting some national recognition as well as being treated positively around here, I want them to experience that. They've worked hard, enjoy the ride, there's nothing that says you can't. But again be careful with what that outside world says.”;

Akey has been pleased with the focus the team has demonstrated in practice during a four-game winning streak, and attributes the turnaround to an enhanced ability to handle adversity during games.

The Vandals saw an 18-point lead shrink to three in the fourth quarter against Northern Illinois on Sept. 26. Where the “;here we go again”; mentality might have taken over in years past, an offense led by senior guard Mike Iupati and quarterback Nathan Enderle—a three-year starter—put together a 5-minute drive to run out the clock and provide an early-season turning point.

“;You have to grow yourself out of it a little bit,”; Akey said. “;Confidence is the biggest way to fix that. With experience comes confidence. We had a lot of youth, we still have a lot of youth. But quite a bit of our youth right now is experienced because they had to play a lot as true freshmen and true sophomores.”;

Although Akey wants the Vandals to savor their success while aiming for the postseason, he remains wary of letting their sights drift from tomorrow's game against a Hawaii team that arrived in the Palouse with a three-game losing streak.

“;We'd better make sure we've got all our focus on this particular ballgame,”; Akey said. “;That is a damn good team we're playing this week. This group has not beaten the University of Hawaii, ever. So we'd better get after it.”;