Vandals/Bengals preview: Taylor Davis goes from third-stringer to starting QB by default

The Idaho senior is expected to make his fifth career start against a foe that beat LSU.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comOctober 26, 2013 

  • Idaho State at Southern Utah, 1:05 P.M.

    The Idaho State Bengals competed with No. 19 Northern Arizona on the road last week, and they seek their first road win since Oct. 7, 2006, when they travel for a Big Sky game in Cedar City, Utah, against Southern Utah.

    The Bengals lost 39-30 to the Lumberjacks last Saturday, the most points they have allowed in four Big Sky games thus far. By comparison, they gave up at least 40 points in all eight Big Sky games in 2012.

    Idaho State yielded 53.8 points per game last year, and have given up 28.0 per game in 2013.

    Idaho State's offense will get a stout test from the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah is 26th nationally in scoring defense (21.6 points per game) and fifth red-zone defense, allowing scores only 65.4 percent of the time.

    — Dave Southorn

He lost the battle to start at quarterback, even to be the backup, but something kept Taylor Davis in Moscow.

A senior for the Idaho Vandals, Davis has spent most of his final season as the third-stringer. He dabbled on special teams as his collegiate career was heading toward its conclusion.

Then a shoulder injury to backup Josh McCain put Davis as Chad Chalich's backup Oct. 12 at Arkansas State. Chalich went down with a shoulder injury himself, thrusting Davis into his first action at quarterback all season.

"It's football — everybody has to (wait). It sucks that it's my senior year when I had to do it, but I'm glad for the opportunity I have now," Davis said.

Davis is expected to start Saturday at Ole Miss. He worked exclusively with the first team during the bye week, which he said helped him shake off any lingering rust. Coach Paul Petrino said Monday he was hopeful Chalich or McCain can be healthy enough to be backups.

"You never want a QB to go down, but you want the backup QB to know what he's doing," Davis said. "Hopefully I did what I could out there, and hopefully next game I can do the same."

In the Vandals' 48-24 loss to Arkansas State, Davis stepped in midway through the first quarter and finished 14-of-39 passing for 199 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Davis helped cut a 31-7 deficit early in the third quarter to 31-24, leading three straight scoring drives in a 14:15 span that stretched early into the fourth quarter.

"Taylor came in and played real hard,” Petrino said. “Third quarter was probably as good a quarter as we’ve played, and (Davis) did a real good job of moving us. … I think he’ll just get better and better.”

Should he start Saturday as expected, it will be Davis' fifth career start — he started last season's finale and three times in 2011, which included the Vandals' last road win (Nov. 5, 2011 at San Jose State).

Even as he saw his snaps in practice dwindle when Chalich and McCain emerged, Davis' perseverance has impressed his coaches and teammates.

"I'm sure there were times he didn't want to be here, but he kept fighting, kept working. You've got to respect that," receiver Dezmon Epps said.

Davis opted to stay with the Vandals, and said he did all he could to help the other quarterbacks, praising Chalich's ability to play well as a redshirt freshman.

He also helped in another way — on special teams, playing on the punt return team the first two games of the season.

"I'm glad I'm a quarterback, but glad I got the opportunity to go and try to hit someone," Davis said.

The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Davis is at least an inch taller and 25 pounds heavier than Chalich or McCain. He isn't the mobile option the other two are, but is known for a strong arm.

"We put it in the air a little more once he got in, so of course we liked that," said Epps, who had eight catches and 91 yards, including a 15-yard touchdown, from Davis against the Red Wolves.

Certainly disappointed he didn't win the starting job, and seeing snaps in practice reduced, Davis still tried to prepare like those days when he was the starter. Just in case, as he naturally didn't want to see a teammate hurt, but it also proved to let him step in and perform well.

"It's difficult … but I had to be ready whenever the chance came," Davis said.

Dave Southorn: 377-6420;Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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