Vandals' youth movement: Boom and bust

Idaho has played nine of the 17 true freshmen Petrino signed in February.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comOctober 8, 2013 

With the Idaho Vandals putting so much youth on the field, at times the potential is tantalizing — and at times aggravating.

Halfway through coach Paul Petrino's first season, Idaho has played nine of the 17 true freshmen he signed in February. Redshirt freshman Chad Chalich is the starting quarterback and top rusher.

“We’ve had to, between injuries, the numbers we’ve had, those guys have had to play,’’ Petrino said. “A couple more might have to play before the end of the year.

“They’ll have their day — when those guys are juniors and seniors, there’ll be a great opportunity for them to put a whooping on people like they’ve unfortunately had to take a couple times this year.’’

Those newcomers will get a taste of the future as Idaho (1-5) travels to Arkansas State (2-3), a future Sun Belt opponent. The game starts at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Red Wolves are coached by former Boise State quarterback and offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

Whether it was Chalich’s 424 total yards of offense Sept. 28 in a 26-24 win over Temple, kicker/punter Austin Rehkow’s strong leg in recent weeks or the game-breaking abilities of running back Richard Montgomery, the freshmen have shown potential.

However, against veteran teams like Washington State or Fresno State, in which the Vandals lost by a combined 103-14, the growing pains are obvious.

“I think right now it’s a little unrealistic to think you’re not going to have those peaks and valleys with some of the people we're playing,’’ Petrino said.

Defensive lineman Zach Cable became the ninth true freshman to play when was pressed into duty because of injuries in Saturday’s 61-14 loss to Fresno State. He is the third true freshman on the defensive line to play this season, but Petrino said that group “is going to be a dominant defensive line in three or four years.’’

The only two true freshmen Petrino likely will not play are quarterback Matt Linehan and receiver Rueben Mwehla, the latter of which he has praised for his quickness and potential.

Pointing to receivers Trent Cowan (two catches for 20 yards) and Jacob Sannon (one catch for 41 yards and a blocked punt), along with Capital High grad Steven Matlock at guard (two straight starts), there have been a handful of players who were in high school last year who are ahead of schedule.

“There’s a lot of guys that are playing a lot better than I thought they would,’’ Petrino said.

As a coach who holds toughness as one of the prime virtues in turning around a program, Petrino saw further potential Sunday night when his youngsters scrimmaged against one another.

“I said in the team meeting, ‘Anyone without the name of Chad is in full pads. If you’re a freshman or a sophomore, I don’t care if you played the whole game,’ ’’ Petrino said. “It kind of gives you life, gives you hope. It’s good for our players, it’s good for me, it’s good for our assistant coaches because you walk off the field excited for the future.’’

McCain likely out Saturday

Backup quarterback Josh McCain, who threw a touchdown pass Saturday before exiting with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, “probably won’t play’’ Saturday at Arkansas State, Petrino said Monday.

Punter Rehkow earns national weekly honor

Rehkow, the true freshman from Spokane who handles placekicking and punting duties, was named the Ray Guy Award Player of the Week on Monday.

The award honors the nation’s top punter, as Rehkow punted seven times, averaging 51.1 yards per kick Saturday. Rehkow’s 47.5 yards per punt this season are tied for No. 2 in the nation.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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