Typically, if your defense can stop an option-based team from running successfully, it translates into a win.
Then again, hardly anything has been typical for the Idaho Vandals this season.
In Saturday's 37-21 loss to Texas State, Idaho held the Bobcats to 108 yards rushing, 84 yards below their average. However, they threw for a season-high 228 yards, completing 19-of-23 passes to drop Idaho to 1-8.
"Defensively, we stopped the run real well, but we've got to stop the pass better," Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. "We defended the run way better, so at least we got good at something."
Idaho's rush defense put the team in good position multiple times to get off the field, but Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones was 9-for-9 on third downs, five of those completions going for first downs.
Petrino said one of the game's turning points came at the end of the first half, with Idaho down 17-14. The Bobcats marched 75 yards in 10 plays, with Jones going 6-for-7 and 3-for-3 on third down, culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass as the second quarter ended.
"We needed somebody to step up and make a play there," Petrino said.
The 37 points yielded by the Vandals were actually the fewest allowed this season in their eight losses. Idaho is allowing 44.2 points per game, 120th in the nation.
Against the Bobcats, Idaho's 11 defensive starters had a combined 36 career starts between them entering the season, with three of them not on the team last year.
"We're still lining up there a lot of times with two freshmen corners, some growing pains defending the pass at times," Petrino said. "That's probably the hardest thing."
Though this Saturday's foe in the Vandals' home finale has only been playing football since 2009, Petrino is expecting another test for his defense. Old Dominion, which is transitioning into a full-fledged FBS membership (it will join Conference USA next season), is 6-3 and averaging 43 points per game. Monarchs quarterback Taylor Heinicke won the Walter Payton Award as the nation's top FCS player last season as a sophomore. In 2013, he has completed 263-of-370 passes (71.1 percent) for 3,018 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's also rushed for 328 yards and four touchdowns.
"They're used to winning, there's something to that and they've got a good quarterback," Petrino said.
McCain expected back, Chalich questionable
Senior Taylor Davis is likely to start at quarterback for a third straight game, Petrino said Monday. Davis has completed 46-of-104 passes for 546 yards with four touchdowns and one interception since being pressed into duty in the first quarter Oct. 12 at Arkansas State.
Junior Josh McCain, the backup the first five games before injuring his shoulder Oct. 5 against Fresno State, is expected to return Saturday. Redshirt freshman Chad Chalich, the starter the first six games before injuring a shoulder himself, is a little more iffy.
"Josh practiced last night I'd say no question Josh would be available this week. Chad, I don't know," Petrino said.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn