Idaho Vandals

Idaho football finally has a motto that goes into the ‘win’ column

There still isn’t a whole lot of conviction when it comes to these Idaho Vandals. They’ve yet to learn the concept of the style point. It may be awhile before we see this team taunt or torment its opposition … a la Michigan-Rutgers, Washington-Oregon or Stanford-Washington State.

In 4 1/2 years under Paul Petrino, the Vandals have never trotted out of a football stadium — either their own or somebody else’s — with the proverbial blowout.

Even as they trudged through the final reeling years of the Robb Akey era, the Vandals occasionally dropped the hammer on the North Dakotas or New Mexico States of the universe.

Although they might be better, these Vandals aren’t those Vandals.

Maybe I’ll be biting my tongue this time next week after the Aggies pay the Vandals their biennial visit. Idaho has won the last five matchups on the Palouse — in 2006, ’08, ’10, ’12 and ’14 — proving that even-year mojo isn’t exclusive to the professional baseball club in San Francisco.

History is on Idaho’s side in this matchup and even the oddsmakers in Vegas feel good about the Vandals – a rarity this season. UI opened as a three-point favorite.

And that’s not a bad hunch.

On the latest stop of their two-year Sun Belt Conference Farewell Tour, the Vandals traveled to Louisiana Monroe and squeaked out with a three-point victory. UI’s other wins this season, at home against Montana State and on the road against UNLV, both came by three.

Saturday’s verdict in Louisiana gave the Vandals their third win of the season. And Idaho’s magic number for the postseason? Yep, also happens to be three.

The Vandals are on the right track and they should find this downhill portion of the journey more manageable than the upward trek that preceded it. They’ve already seen the Huskies, the Cougars and the Trojans — OK, they were the Troy Trojans, but the Alabamans might actually be more formidable than the Los Angelans this season. (No, really).

Now, to reach the magic digit, the Vandals only need to go .500 in their final six games.

Sounds easy enough, right? I’d expect the Vandals to make it anything but.

Take Saturday’s game. Four seconds were left in the final quarter when Austin Rehkow was pushed onto the field for the game-winning field goal.

UI’s senior kicker swished the 28-yarder as time expired and quickly found himself on the bottom of a silver and gold-colored dogpile.

Win how you can, I suppose, but the Vandals should’ve never had to lean on the Golden Toe of Rehkow.

“If we had a little bit better execution in that game, really it’s probably not close,” Petrino said. “But we didn’t. We’re probably going to never not win close.”

In this game, the Vandals at one point led 16-0. And beggars can’t be choosers, but the two-score lead actually could’ve been a four-score lead at the end of one quarter.

During the first period, UI made three trips to the red zone, but turned to the Golden Toe each time, settling for only nine points. Similar to their game in Vegas three Saturdays ago, the first Vandal touchdown did not come by way of the offense. At UNLV, it was a Kaden Elliss pick-6 — at UL-Monroe it was a blocked-punt-turned-TD courtesy of defensive back Kendrick Trotter.

The Vandals could’ve had this one in the bag by halftime, but once again, they stalled until the game’s final play. They waited on pins and needles as ULM coach Matt Viator twice tried to freeze the UI kicker and two weeks after pouring onto UNLV’s turf, the Vandals brashly stormed onto the Warhawks’ field when Rehkow’s attempt cleared the goalpost.

Don’t knock it until you try it, I suppose. …

“We’re going to always win close, so let’s just keep winning close,” Petrino said.

“Win Close.”

Sounds like something the Vandals should stamp on their next batch of practice T-shirts. Paint on the walls of their weight room. Use with a hashtag on social media.

It sounds like an identity — something the Vandals have been looking for since they won the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009.

OK, maybe it doesn’t carry the same ring as “Win Always” or “Just Win Baby.” But the “Win Close” thing fits.

For a program that has taken its fair share of “L’s,” finally the “W” word fits.