Being down two starters in the secondary against a Mike Leach-led team is rarely a fruitful proposition.
The Idaho Vandals found themselves in that unenviable situation last Saturday in a 42-0 loss to Washington State with cornerback Solomon Dixon and safety Trey Williams out. The Cougars completed 31-of-43 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns, but Idaho defensive backs picked off two passes and forced a fumble while finding some success with seldom-used faces.
I think we found out more about who we are in that game, senior cornerback Christian Whitehead said. Everyone had to step up, and we had a lot of guys contribute.
One of those who made an impact was Whitehead, who didnt play in the teams first three games but had four tackles, an interception and a forced fumble, both during the second half inside Idahos 10. Whitehead did not play his first three seasons in Moscow, and had two tackles last season in eight games, mainly on special teams.
It was amazing Ive been waiting for that opportunity for a long time, Whitehead said. I was more than willing to step in when my name was called.
As the Vandals prepare to host Temple on Saturday, Dixon and Williams are listed as starters on the depth chart, along with juniors Delency Parham and Bradley Njoku at the other cornerback and safety spots, respectively.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino noted that the defensive backs created three turnovers (safety DMario Carter had an interception starting for Williams), while the offense was unable to capitalize on any. Those sorts of plays, made by non-starters, gave him some optimism.
They ended up giving up a lot of yards and too many points, but there were times in that game where I thought they had great effort and made signs of improvement, Petrino said.
Petrino is hopeful Dixon, whom he called his best corner, is back to full strength against Temple, which is 95th nationally in passing (189.3 yards per game). Regardless, the Vandals were able to show some depth last week with the likes of Whitehead and true freshman safety Desmond Banks, whom Petrino said is going to end up being a really good football player here.
I think it will make a big difference, being able to put in guys who can get the job done and keep everyone fresh, Whitehead said. The coaches at first just wanted to throw out the best players, and now theyve seen a lot of guys play and hopefully will have a strong rotation.
Whitehead is listed as Parhams backup this week, while sophomore Jayshawn Jordan, third on the team with 23 tackles, is behind Dixon.
The improvement in the defensive backfield has been apparent to Petrino and company, but perhaps not in the results, as opponents have averaged 301 passing yards per game.
I think were a lot better than what the scoreboard is showing, Whitehead said.
Temple at a glance: The American Athletic program has lost all three games this season: at Notre Dame (28-6) and home games against Houston (22-13) and Fordham (30-29).
Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn