The Idaho football team has been explosive on offense this spring, even minus its biggest piece.
Junior quarterback Matt Linehan, a two-year starter, is out with a foot injury but is expected back this summer. Six-foot-6 sophomore Jake Luton has taken most of the snaps for the Vandals, who host their spring game at 8 p.m. MT Friday at the Kibbie Dome.
Senior receiver/tight end Deon Watson has been the biggest star, hauling in 19 catches for 415 yards and eight touchdowns in two scrimmages. Six of the top eight receivers return.
Junior Aaron Duckworth, sophomore Isaiah Saunders and redshirt freshman Denzal Brantley have shown flashes of potential in the battle to replace 1,000-yard rusher Elijhaa Penny.
One bright spot on the line has been freshman Noah Johnson, who graduated from Fayetteville (Ark.) High early to join the team. The 6-foot-4, 280-pounder worked with the starters Saturday, after which coach Paul Petrino said, “He should be getting ready to go to the prom, but he’s starting with the 1s right now.”
Defense will be the difference-maker for Idaho. The Vandals should again be a 30-point per game offense, but they gave up 42 points a game last season. In two losses, the difference between a 4-8 season and bowl eligibility, Idaho gave up 107 points while scoring 93.
Sophomore linebacker Kaden Elliss had 83 tackles as a true freshman and is poised for a big leap, though he has missed the last three weeks with a knee injury. Top pass rusher Quinton Bradley graduated, but senior Khalin Smith, who moved from tight end last season, has shown potential. The defensive backs, who intercepted only three passes last season, are experienced and bolstered by the return of senior Jayshawn Jordan, who got a medical redshirt last season and is the top talent in the group.
In Friday’s spring game, Petrino will eye that group, knowing if Idaho can cut down on the 26 plays of 40 yards or more it allowed last season, the Vandals could be in their first bowl since 2009.
“A really good job of reading run and pass, tackling well, not giving up big plays,” Petrino said about what he hopes to see.
COLLEGE OF IDAHO, 10:30 A.M. SATURDAY
The Yotes are looking for a new starting quarterback after the graduation of the only starter (Teejay Gordon) since the program was reinstated in 2014. Sophomore Tyler Cox (Boise High) threw for three touchdowns and ran for three more in last Saturday’s scrimmage.
The spring game is at Simplot Stadium in Caldwell.
Aiding the quarterback is the return of all four targets who had at least 18 catches. On defense, the Yotes look to cut down on the 29.2 points per game allowed in 2014 with senior All-American cornerback Nate Moore (Mountain View) leading the way. Last season’s The top 12 tacklers from last season are due back in the fall.
IDAHO STATE, NOON SATURDAY
Sophomore quarterback Tanner Gueller, who played in 10 games last season, replaces Michael Sanders, who transferred to Henderson State (N.D.).
The Bengals are also looking to find new weapons around him after graduating running back Xavier Finney, who ran for 3,542 career yards, and receiver Madison Mangum (Timberline High), who had 2,128 receiving yards and 19 TDs the last two seasons.
The Bengals switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 to help slow down opposing rushers. ISU was gashed for 269 yards per game on the ground last season and yielded 28 rushing TDs.