POCATELLO — The Idaho State Bengals have their most wins since 2007.
To show the progress the team has made in its second year under coach Mike Kramer, it feels there should be more notches in the win column.
The Bengals (3-7, 1-6 Big Sky) have shown massive improvement in 2013 they went 1-10 last season, losing all Big Sky games by an average of 36.9 points.
This season, Idaho States Big Sky losses have been by an average of 11 points, two by a touchdown or less.
I think everyone on the team feels there are games we left on the table, and thats a big step, Kramer said. Were not facing 50-point deficits. Were on the verge of winning those close games. The wins are the numbers that matter, but I dont think those reflect just how far weve come.
Idaho States defense will be challenged mightily Saturday by BYU (6-3) and dual-threat QB Taysom Hill, a Pocatello native.
It is a defense, however, that has made significant strides. Idaho State yielded 53.8 points a game in 2012. In 2013, that number has been cut nearly in half, with the Bengals giving up 30.8 a game.
Kramer cleaned house in the offseason, letting three of his four defensive coaches go, and incorporated a new system that gives him optimism it can continue to be successful.
There have been so many changes, its hard to point out one reason, but you see some of those numbers and you know its a whole team effort, junior linebacker Mitch Beckstead said.
Beckstead anchors the defense from his inside linebacker spot, with team highs in tackles (74) and interceptions (three). Hes aided by a line that, well, actually looks like a defensive line.
The team has gone from a 245-pound nose tackle last season to a 310-pounder this season. Gone are ends who were 224 pounds and 240, and in are a pair who are 281 and 260.
I kind of smile like the Cheshire Cat when I think about it. Im pretty happy, Kramer said. I didnt know if wed be able to get back on our feet defensively. Theres so much new, but one of the biggest things is we finally have an attitude.
Perhaps the best sign of the defenses turnaround came last Saturday in a 38-31 loss to Portland State, which came into the game sixth nationally in total offense. The Vikings led 38-28going into the fourth quarter, but the Bengals mustered only a field goal. Last season, the Vikings beat the Bengals 77-10.
We felt we should have won it it still hurt, but its good to know were that much better, Beckstead said. A loss is a loss, by 60 or seven, it still stings in different ways. Getting blown out hurts, and knowing you could have won does, too.
That game last year was probably my lowest moment as a football player, but in the back of my mind, I knew wed be going in the direction we are now.
The odds are heavily against the Bengals to beat the Cougars and produce their first four-win season since 2005, but they will get another shot the following week against Weber State in the season finale.
Regardless, Kramer is comforted knowing things are going the right way after a dark first season.
We fight back now if we give up a play instead of just sitting there quiet, Kramer said. The guys talk about what to do to improve between series. We just need to start strong. If we can do that, make them grind, its going to be a feel-good game going into another big one.
Were still 3-7, but kids are realizing their potential, and thats great to see.
Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn