Throw by throw, Chad Chalich continued to appease the largest home crowd he’d ever entertained. A 55-yard completion to Jamaal Jones in the opening quarter evoked the first round of cheers. Three periods later, when Chalich finished the job he’d started by dialing up another touchdown drive to seal a 23-14 Montana win, more applause from the 26,000 at Washington Grizzly Stadium rained down on the Idaho transfer.
Something like this is probably what Chalich envisioned when he was just a young, wide-eyed pup at Coeur d’Alene High. But for the first three years of his collegiate career, the scene never came to fruition.
One, because the University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome, a junior varsity facility compared to Missoula’s FCS fortress, only seats 16,000. Two, because for the better part of his 48-month stint with the Vandals, Chalich found himself Velcroed to the Vandal bench.
So Saturday afternoon had to be a liberating experience.
Yes, Chalich benefited from circumstance. The junior was thrust into the starting role when Brady Gustafson sustained a leg injury during Week 3. Gustafson could miss the remainder of the season — never an ideal dilemma for a program, but one that provides Chalich the kind of opportunity he left Moscow to seek.
And there were plenty of positive vibes surrounding Chalich’s first start. The former All-Idaho 5A Player of the Year completed 65 percent of his passes for 279 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He rushed for another 41 yards.
The program Chalich left behind didn’t walk out of its home with the same smiles Saturday.
The Vandals were all frowns after Georgia Southern stole a 44-20 victory that saw the Golden Eagles outscore Idaho 28-7 in the second half and bully Matt Linehan into two interceptions and a pair of sacks.
Linehan had an otherwise decent day on the stat sheet. He completed 20-of-35 passes for 284 yards, hooked up with Dezmon Epps for a pair of touchdowns and finally showed some finesse on his long balls. Or Epps was just quick enough to track them down.
But he missed his man on a deep route in the first half that would’ve gone for six and put a four-point gap between the Vandals and Eagles. And the interceptions, both of which came in the fourth quarter, put to rest any thoughts of a late comeback.
In many ways, this was the same old script from Idaho and its starting QB. Some good here, some good there, but a whole heap of bad everywhere else.
Other than a brief spell last season, when Chalich relieved a concussed Linehan against New Mexico State, then vaulted the Vandals past the Aggies for their lone win in 2014, Idaho coach Paul Petrino has stuck with his guns and with the same gunslinger he recruited out of Orchard Lake, Mich. Not that allegiance is a bad thing when it comes to coaches and their quarterbacks, particularly at the collegiate level, where confidence is often more important than competence.
But a change of scenery isn’t always a bad thing. Just ask Chalich.
Fast-forward one season, and the Vandals may be in danger of losing another passer. With this one, the risk may not be worth the reward.
Linehan’s reserve, redshirt freshman Jake Luton, probably has more upside than anyone on the depth chart and a ceiling that could be higher than that of any Vandal QB since Nathan Enderle. The right arm itself is Enderle-esque. Petrino briefly unveiled Luton’s cannon to the public in a Week 2 drubbing at USC. But Saturday, as Linehan tossed his fifth and sixth picks of the year — tying him for second nationally in that category — it sat on the shelf, waiting for a call that never came.
What’s the saying: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket?
Throughout Saturday’s game, Linehan hobbled in and out of huddles, on and off the turf sporting an ankle injury he apparently suffered at USC. A reporter later noted the quarterback was wearing a boot as he left the Kibbie Dome.
It’s yet to be seen whether QB1 will see much work, if any, as the Vandals prepare for a visit to Arkansas State. But you can bet QB2 will be ready. At this point, he deserves a run out nonetheless.
And if Luton doesn’t get one, well, you can’t blame him for making like Chalich and skipping town after the season is over.