Idaho's offensive line shuffle has positive effect

Two guards made their first starts for the Vandals in the team’s first victory of the year.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comOctober 5, 2013 

Center Mike Marboe, center, and the Vandals’ offensive line had an improved effort last week against Temple. Jesse Davis, right, missed the game due to injury but is back at tackle.

COURTESY OF IDAHO ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

— Something had to change for Idaho’s much-maligned offensive line.

It turns out what typically is an undesired situation was a blessing in disguise.

The Vandals yielded a season-low two sacks last Saturday in a 26-24 win over Temple with one lineman in a new position and two making their first starts, one a true freshman.

“Way better effort,” coach Paul Petrino said. “They brought passion, they brought energy, they brought second and third effort, and it kind of rubbed off on everybody. It’s the best (the line) has played this year by far.”

Idaho has still allowed an FBS-worst 28 sacks, but some needed optimism came despite starting guard Dallas Sandberg and tackle Jesse Davis out in the win over the Owls. Junior guard Nik Von Rotz shifted to tackle, and junior Spencer Beale made his first start at guard.

Also making his first start, in his second career game, was true freshman Steven Matlock, a Capital High grad who initially was supposed to grayshirt, but arrived during the middle of fall camp and was a very quick learner.

“Steve, since day one when he got here, he’s battled,” offensive line coach Jon Carvin said. “He puts a ton of extra work in each week to prepare himself, and the results were definitely what we hoped for.”

True freshmen do not typically speak to the media during the week, but Matlock’s coaches and teammates heaped praise on him for being able to perform despite his lack of experience. Petrino said starting a true freshman on the offensive line is “almost unheard of.’’ He said the 6-foot-2, 276-pounder is “an overachiever who plays with greet technique.”

“He brings a lot of energy to our O-line,” junior center Mike Marboe said. “He’s still young. We’re working with him each day to get everything polished up, but he did a great job stepping in there.”

Sandberg and Davis are listed as the starters this week, with Matlock listed behind Sandberg and Beale as Marboe’s backup at center. Petrino said the depth chart isn’t firm. He’s proven if a player has a bad week of practice, he won’t play, like when he benched backup quarterback Josh McCain last week and used running back Richard Montgomery sparingly the prior week.

“There’s always competition. It’ll always be by who practices the best,” Petrino said.

Regardless of who the starting five is Saturday against Fresno State, the line gave quarterback Chad Chalich more time than ever to find an open receiver or create a running lane. The redshirt freshman threw for 310 yards and ran for 114 against Temple.

“It starts up front, if they can get it going, it just opens up our offense,” Chalich said. “Makes lanes where I can throw, lanes for the running backs. They stepped it up this last game.”

Though Petrino is quick to point out pass protection doesn’t fall solely on the line, the Vandals’ men up front took the rough start to heart. With allowing Chalich to only be sacked twice with a shuffled lineup during the first win of the season, the offensive line was jubilant as anyone — but room for improvement is massive.

“It was elation,” Carvin said about the performance. “We were getting better the whole time, and they knew that and they saw that. … for that to come to fruition for those guys and for us was fantastic. Now we’ve got to build on that again. That’s not the finality. We need to keep going.”

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_southorn

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