A bowl game is out of reach after back-to-back second half collapses, so what do the Idaho Vandals have to play for?
Coach Paul Petrino said his team’s goals aren’t necessarily tangible, but more about pride, along with what may lie ahead.
“If you’re going to run the race, you run to win,” Petrino said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so a lot of it is going out and getting better these next two weeks for next year and for their future.”
Saturday’s opponent, Auburn, has a more quantifiable goal — a win and the Tigers (5-5) are bowl eligible for the 14th time in 16 seasons.
The game could be an opportunity for Idaho (3-7) to pick up a huge win, but recent history has the odds stacked highly against the Vandals. Idaho has lost by a combined 310-37 in its past five games against “Power 5” schools.
“As a team, maybe not, but we’ve had individuals that have played very well in these games, and that’s something we’re looking forward to this week,” Petrino said.
Seven of Idaho’s regular starters are seniors, which has Petrino looking at improvement next season. But he pointed out two seniors as the sort who can benefit from a solid game against an SEC school. He’s said in recent weeks that defensive end Quinton Bradley and running back Elijhaa Penny have NFL futures.
Bradley has been a reliable force on a shaky defense, leading the team with six sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Penny has rushed for 1,002 yards (564 the past four games). His season is tied for 12th in school history, and he is one of nine Vandals to hit the 1,000-yard mark.
“For sure, a big game for (Bradley), a big game for Penny,” Petrino said. “Those are two guys that want to go out there and play really well, show they can play against that level of talent.”
Petrino said he hopes his team can return to the way it played when it won two straight before losing 23- and 24-point leads in consecutive games. With wins, Idaho would be on a four-game winning streak and one win shy of bowl eligibility.
The Vandals close out the season next Saturday against 2-7 Texas State.
When asked about his team’s mentality with a bowl game out of reach, Petrino expressed a bit of a letdown in last week’s 47-20 loss to Appalachian State despite trailing 21-13 at the half.
“The second half last week, we didn’t play as well as we had the month previous. ... We need to finish these last two playing really well,” Petrino said.
Idaho at Auburn
▪ When: 2 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,541, grass), Auburn, Ala.
▪ TV: SEC Network
▪ Radio: KFXD (630 AM)
▪ Records: Idaho is 3-7 overall, Auburn is 5-5 (lost to Georgia 20-13 on Saturday)
▪ Series: Auburn leads 1-0 (Tigers won 30-23 in Auburn on Sept. 11, 1999)
▪ Vegas line: Auburn by 33