The Idaho football team is coming off a win, just its fourth in its last 41 games, but the stakes are much higher this week than last.
The Vandals pulled out a 41-38 win over Wofford at the Kibbie Dome on Saturday. Next up is a challenge more daunting than the Terriers, in the form of the Georgia Southern Eagles, last season’s Sun Belt Conference champions.
“Until someone proves different, they are the best team in the conference ... it’s exciting, we’ve got them at home, it’s our first conference game,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
Though the win came against a Football Championship Subdivision school making its longest road trip in school history, the Vandals had to come from behind, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 11 minutes to play and holding on. Petrino laughed to himself when asked if the team needs to tackle better, confirming it’s a big focus, especially with an even better team on deck.
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“One of the biggest things is we found a way to win that game,” Petrino said. “It was a tight game, probably didn’t need to be that tight if we didn’t make a few mistakes, but looking back at it, it’s probably the best thing that happened. Because to win games in our conference, they’re going to be tight in the fourth quarter.”
After facing an old-school offense in Wofford (which ran for 326 yards), the Vandals face something pretty similar in Georgia Southern. Though the Eagles don’t run out of the wishbone like Wofford, there is a heavy emphasis on the option and the running game in general — they rushed for 381 yards per game last season and have racked up 330.3 ypg in 2015.
Quarterback Kevin Ellison returned to the Eagles last week, ending a two-game suspension. He had two touchdown runs in Saturday’s 48-10 win over The Citadel. Junior running back Matt Breida is the workhorse — he’s averaged a sparkling 9.8 yards per carry (42 for 410 yards). Petrino said the team at times didn’t have the best focus on the triple option against Wofford, be it on the dive back, the quarterback or the pitch man. The pitch seemed to cause some troubles. Georgia Southern’s top threats are the first two.
Last season against the Eagles, on the road, the Vandals trailed 33-10, but scored two straight touchdowns to end the third quarter. However, Georgia Southern ran back an interception for a touchdown and got a late rushing score for the 40-24 win.
“We did some good things — it was kind of almost the same thing (against Wofford), we just had a play here or there,” Petrino said. “What you’ve really got to defend against them is the dive, that’s they’re stud, that’s their top running back. Then you’ve got to defend the quarterback.”