Vandals still struggling — and still learning how to win

Moscow-Pullman Daily NewsOctober 15, 2013 

The Idaho Vandals went into Saturday’s game at Arkansas State hoping to make a statement against their future Sun Belt opponent and aiming to get back into the win column.

Instead, they got onto their plane back home as victims of a 48-24 loss and down to their third string quarterback after starter Chad Chalich went down with a shoulder injury in the first quarter.

Still, perhaps things weren’t all bad. Idaho went on a 17-point surge in the second half and appeared to have control of the game momentarily, cutting the deficit to 31-24, before giving up a 98-yard kickoff return to end hopes of a victory.

Third string quarterback Taylor Davis completed 14-of-39 passes for 199 yards and a touchdown — a 15-yard strike to Dezmon Epps, who had eight receptions for 91 yards.

Three things we knew

• Mental miscues: Whenever Idaho seemed to get on a roll, it shot itself in the foot. The Vandals had several promising drives cut short thanks to false starts, holding calls and other penalties.

Compounding Idaho’s issues, two drives stalled after the quarterback couldn’t handle a snap and had to fall on the ball. The Vandals were 0-7 on third down in the first half as a result.

• Potential is there: During the 17-point run in the second half, Idaho was clicking on all cylinders. Special teams did its job by executing on a 28-yard field goal, the defense came up big when Trey Williams snagged an interception and appeared to return it for a touchdown (although the score was nullified by a penalty), and the offense capped off back-to-back drives with touchdowns. If Idaho can put together four quarters of inspired, mistake-free football, they’ll be able to keep up with everyone in the Sun Belt.

• No pressure: During last week’s debacle against Fresno State, Idaho was unable to even touch the quarterback. Against Arkansas State, the Vandals did better, getting to Adam Kennedy twice and forcing several hurried passes, but still didn’t apply pressure consistently. Defensive end Quinton Bradley played, but didn’t appear back to full strength.

Three things we learned

• Lovett’s got leaps: Wide receiver Najee Lovett still hasn’t had a breakout game, but he made some nice plays Saturday. Listed at 5-foot-9, Lovett doesn’t usually have a height advantage over anyone but, against the Red Wolves, he showcased his leaping ability, snagging a pass up the right sideline with one hand, while leaping in front of the defender. Lovett finished with three catches for 51 yards.

• Baker’s best: James Baker churned out a career-best 150 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries while avoiding fumbling. He ran tough and played downhill, breaking several tackles and fighting for every yard. “James had a good game,” said coach Paul Petrino. “He did some good things for us. We have to keep building on that.”

• Running out of options: With shoulder injuries to Chalich and Josh McCain, Taylor Davis saw his first action at quarterback since the 2012 finale against Utah State. If Chalich or McCain can’t go against Mississippi on Oct. 26, it will be interesting to see if former quarterback Austin DeCoud would be the emergency quarterback or if Petrino would burn Matt Linehan’s redshirt. Fortunately for Idaho, the team is on a bye this week.

Three things to expect

• Rehkow on a roll: After missing four of his first five field goal attempts and getting an extra point blocked, freshman kicker Austin Rehkow has made five of his last six field goals. On top of handling kicking duties, he has been a strong punter, too, booting nine balls for a 44.9 yard average Saturday.

• Bruising group: Three of Idaho’s top four tacklers Saturday were linebackers. Marc Millan paced the Vandals with 11 tackles, followed closely by Juan Martinez (nine) and Matthew Willis (seven). All three played tough and seemed to feed off of each other’s energy.

• Greener pastures: At the start of the fourth quarter, Idaho had momentum on its side. That changed when the Vandals surrendered a 98-yard touchdown on the kickoff following Baker’s second touchdown of the day. Still, Idaho’s 24 points were the most it has scored on the road this year. The Vandals scored more than 20 points on the road only once last year.

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