The Idaho football team already held high expectations for senior quarterback Matt Linehan going into the 2017 season.
But senior running back Aaron Duckworth proved in the season opener that the Vandals’ offense won’t be dependent on Linehan’s arm alone.
Duckworth set career highs in rushing yards (144), receiving yards (49) and all-purpose yards (193) in Idaho’s 28-6 victory over Sacramento State on Aug. 31, giving the streaking Vandals another potent offensive threat in their final season as an FBS team.
“It felt great, just going out doing what I’ve been working so hard to do, just helping my team get the W,” Duckworth said.
That W was Idaho’s sixth in a row, including the final five games of the 2016 season. That is tied for the ninth-longest active winning streak in the country, and is Idaho’s first six-game winning streak since 1994.
Idaho now tries for its first 2-0 start since 1998 when it hosts UNLV at 5 p.m. Mountain time Saturday. It’s the Rebels’ third trip to the Kibbie Dome, and they are coming off a forgetful season opener, when they lost at home to Howard, 43-40, despite being a huge favorite.
Last season, Idaho won 33-30 at UNLV in overtime on Linehan’s game-winning touchdown pass to Callen Hightower.
“They’re a good team,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “It took us to the last play of the game to beat them last year, and I anticipate that this game will probably come down to the last play again this year.”
Duckworth says the Vandals hope to make a stronger statement in the rematch.
“Practice has been good. We have a lot of energy out there,” Duckworth said. “People are fired up about this game. We are ready to go and show that last year wasn’t a fluke.”
Duckworth’s career performance last week coincided with a strong night for the Vandals’ defense, which held Sacramento State to just 190 yards of total offense. It also marked the first time the Vandals have held an opponent to single-digit scoring since 2010.
As the individual and team milestones add up, the Vandals’ confidence grows.
“It’s just us working hard and believing in the process and believing in our coaches,” Duckworth said. “That’s really what’s giving us our success.”
BYU tries to regain footing against rival
The Cougars made history last week in a 27-0 loss to No. 13 LSU, but not in a good way. BYU was shut out for only the third time since 1975 after registering just 97 yards of total offense.
Now the Cougars (1-1) must regroup in time for their rivalry game against Utah on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium (8:15 p.m., ESPN2). Utah has won the past six meetings against BYU, and the Utes have had extra time to prepare. They have been off since a 37-16 season-opening victory over North Dakota on Aug. 31.
“I’m not talking about any streaks,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake told the Deseret News. “We’re trying to break the streak of losing the last game and winning this one.”
College of Idaho finally at home
After two tough road losses, The College of Idaho plays its first home game of the 2017 season against No. 25 Southern Oregon at 1 p.m. Saturday (99.1 FM). The two teams split their meetings in 2016, with the home team winning each time.
Utah State 51, Idaho State 13
Kent Myers completed 24 of 26 passes for 323 yards and had four total touchdowns to help Utah State blow past Idaho State on Thursday night. Utah State (1-1) won its 11th straight against FCS schools, dating to the 2000 season. Idaho State (1-1) lost its 27th consecutive game against an FBS opponent during the same time span.
Tanner Gueller threw for 190 yards for Idaho State with one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Associated Press contributed.