It's almost impossible to believe it was only three years ago that Idaho lit up the scoreboard en route the program's pinnacle moment in the Humanitarian Bowl. Quarterback Nathan Enderle threw for just under 3,000 yards with his team averaging 32 points per game. The Vandals won a program high eight games.
In 2011, the only way to describe the Idaho offense was "pathetic."
Need a gauge on just how pathetic? Consider that as a team, Idaho threw only 11 touchdown passes the entire season. Or, there is the fact that the teams' punter, Bobby Cowan, out-punted the offense with 4,048 yards on 88 punts (that's 7.3 punts per game).
Needless to say, offensive coordinator Steve Axman got the proverbial axe at the end of the year.
Now, it will be up to 33-year old first-year (ever) offensive coordinator Jason Gesser. He will be asked to revive a Vandal offense that was the primary reason Idaho regressed into a two-win team, from one that had won 14 in the two seasons prior.
Gesser's meteoric rise towards taking the reigns of the Vandal offense started less than 8-months before he would take the position of the "retired" Steve Axman. He had spent the 2011 season as Idaho's running backs coach, a position he accepted after two years as head coach of Eastside Catholic High school in Sammamish, WA - and two weeks at quality controls at Washington State.
The biggest issue with Axman's offense was how predictable and out dated it was. It's safe to say that won't be a problem under Jason Gesser. The strength of the offense is that it's not going to pretend to be something it isn't.
Starting QB Dominique Blackman is a strong, accurate intermediate thrower which will be the boon of the offense. He will line up in the shotgun with four or five receivers running routes that enable Blackman to get the ball out of his hands in three seconds or less. The tight ends will get vertical, instead line up in traditional H-back positions and stay back to block in run heavy formations that netted a whopping 3.5 yards per carry for Idaho last season.
It'll help that Idaho has four wide receivers that are capable of grabbing the ball in space and taking it up the field. The idea is that it will turn a methodical offense that just prays to move the chains in to an explosive offense.
The offensive line will feature two redshirt freshmen on the left side, and all-conference candidate Mike Marboe, a sophomore, at center. The right side protecting the blind side of the left handed Blackman will have two upper classmen, unless sophomore Spencer Beale fills in. It's worrisome to think about four underclassmen protecting the rather immobile Blackman - but that's the idea behind Gesser's quick passing, spread the field attack.
A running game might help. The team's leading returning rusher is senior Ryan Bass, who ran for 175 yards last season before getting slowed by injuries and eventually buried on the depth chart. Bass has shined in the fall and will top the depth chart. Opposing defenses should also meet James Baker, the 6-foot-2 225 pound downhill bull that will give the Vandals the goal line presence they'll need. Sure, every team usually has these guys. But Idaho hasn't. They had a linebacker taking goal line carries last year. It was fun. (Korey Toomer had three scores!)
With that said, improving the Idaho offense is much easier said than done. There is still a noticeable talent disadvantage that Idaho faces with many of its 2012 opponents.
But Jason Gesser is no stranger to being the under dog. That's how he ended up as the winningest quarterback in Washington State history, taking that program to its second Rose Bowl in five years. Gesser wouldn't mind ending up back in Pullman some day, he probably wouldn't mind ending up as a head coach somewhere someday. But that won't happen unless the Idaho offense shows noticeable improvement.
Sean Kramer is a 24-year old journalism student at the University of Idaho. He is currently the manager of the Vandal Nation blog, operated by University of Idaho student media publication, The Argonaut.