The Idaho Vandals came a quarter shy of a big upset Saturday in their 45-35 loss to Northern Illinois at the Kibbie Dome, and there was an air of "what if?'' as the team looked back.
Coach Paul Petrino lamented three lost fumbles, including one that set up the Huskies' go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. "If we don't fumble the ball, there's no question we win the game,'' Petrino said Monday.
Though Idaho has yet to throw an interception on 87 attempts, the Vandals' eight fumbles lost are most in the nation, with no other teams having lost more than five.
Many of those fumbles have come off sacks - Idaho has allowed 21 sacks, also the most in the nation, nine more than any other team in the country. The offensive line gave up nine sacks to Northern Illinois, but also helped the team score a season-high 35 points.
"I thought they played a lot better than they had the first two games, but they've got to continue to improve,'' Petrino said.
Petrino said the team was "fired up'' after watching film from the Northern Illinois game, pointing to a touchdown on the first offensive drive and a three-and-out on the first defensive drive. The Vandals' 35 points was more than twice the 16 points they had in the first two games.
"It's encouraging at least to see a bunch of good plays, there was a great improvement from game two to game three," Petrino said.
A rivalry ahead
The Vandals will take on Washington State in Pullman, Wash., on Saturday a unique matchup between two schools located just eight miles apart.
The Cougars are 70-13-3 against the Vandals, but the two teams have not played since 2007, and the current schedule has no future dates between the two. Petrino said Washington State has taken a big step in Mike Leach's second season and hopes the rivalry continues, along with another.
"I think it's great for our program to play them or Boise every year, every other year,'' Petrino said.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn