We reached out to Madison Guernsey, a sports editor for the Idaho State Journal and picked his brain leading up to Oregon State’s home opener. Check out his responses and learn more about the Idaho State Bengals below.
Q: What is Idaho State's biggest strength? And how will they utilize that strength against Oregon State on Saturday?
A: Through two games, it's tough to tell exactly what Idaho State's strengths are.
The Bengals ran through Simon Fraser — a Division II team from Canada — to open the season, then got handled by Colorado last week. ISU's offense didn't show consistency in either game. The defense was stout against Simon Fraser but gouged by the Buffaloes.
ISU's run defense has been steady, holding Simon Fraser to minus-22 yards on 23 attempts, and though CU averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the run defense was a bright spot for a unit that gave up 597 yards.
As silly as it seems, ISU's biggest strength may be its special teams. They've been a major topic of conversation this season because of their atrocity from a year before (the Bengals ranked near the bottom of the FCS in multiple special teams categories in 2015). Kickoffs are better, punts are better and coverage is improved, leading to better starting field position for the Bengals and worse field position for opponents.
If ISU can hold an edge in special teams and avoid giving up a big play in the return game, that will at least bode well for the Bengals' confidence moving forward.
Q: Who are a few Idaho State players that Beaver fans should watch out for and could potentially cause problems?
A: Starting linebackers Mario Jenkins, Joe Martin and Hayden Stout — as well as backup Jake Pettit — are the stars of the defense. Jenkins was the Big Sky Freshman of the Year two years ago, Stout led the team in tackles last season, and Martin leads ISU in tackles through two games this season. The four have combined for 56 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season and are flourishing in ISU's new 4-3 defense.
On offense, sophomore quarterback Tanner Gueller is early in his first season as the full-time starter after sharing first-string duties as a redshirt freshman. Gueller diced up Simon Fraser's pass defense for a career-high 338 yards on 24-of-36 passing, but struggled against Colorado's sticky secondary. Gueller went 18 of 35 for 59 yards with a long of 11 yards against the Buffs. He's shown flashes of greatness and spots of youth behind an injury-plagued offensive line.
Gueller's primary targets are senior tight end Josh Cook and senior slot receiver KW Williams. Cook passed current New Orleans Saints tight end Josh Hill in the ISU record books last week for most career receiving yards by a tight end.
Senior Jakori Ford is the leader in a stable of running backs that runs four deep. Ford isn't big at 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, but he can crack a home run at any moment and is improving his inside running game.
Q: In your opinion, which aspect of the Beavers game poses a bigger threat to the Bengals, offense or defense?
A: Has to be the defense, for the simple fact that ISU's lack of offense last week led to a worn-down defense that got severely outsprinted by Colorado's tempo. If the Bengals can't solve Oregon State's defense and sustain offensive drives, Saturday will present more of the same, especially with three underclassmen starting on the offensive line and a slightly new-look offense that showcases another piece or two each week.
4. Oregon State has a history of struggling against FCS opponents, losing to Eastern Washington in 2014 and Sacramento State in 2011. How confident are the Bengals going into this game?
Idaho State knows FCS teams — especially ones in the Big Sky — take down FBS foes almost annually. But ISU hasn't done it in 16 years and just got blown out by an FBS team, so they're not strolling into Reser Stadium with any sort of top-dog mentality. The Bengals are aware of where they're at and what their expectations are. The game against OSU is very much a tune-up for next week's conference opener against Sacramento State.
Q: Idaho State will take home a $475,000 check for coming to Corvallis to take on the Beavers. Besides the check what are the Bengals hoping to take away from this game?
A: Above all: health. Saturday's game means little in the grand scheme of how ISU's season will play out, so as long as a full team returns to Pocatello mostly bandage free, that will be a huge plus.
Almost equally important: confidence. The Bengals were trounced by FBS teams Boise State and UNLV in back-to-back weeks last season and never recovered as they entered league play. ISU needs to feel good about its performance this week heading into the most important stretch of the schedule.
Read more about how Idaho State is regrouping and preparing for the Beavers here.
Huge thanks to Madison Guernsey for being willing to answer some of our questions and we wish your Bengals the best of luck on Saturday, but as always Go Beavs!