No word yet on who the culprit was, but whichever college football team arrived at the Kibbie Dome on Saturday, adorned Idaho uniforms, quarantined the real Vandals elsewhere, then beat the living daylight out of New Mexico State certainly deserved an “A” for effort.
This was an act of impersonation. Had to be. Couldn’t not be.
For the final three quarters, this was entertainment disguised as college football. Had I not known better, I might have assumed it was some variation of a Harlem Globetrotters exhibition. Actually, the Vandals — if these really were the Vandals — deserve better. How about the Golden State Warriors on Turf?
On a night that saw them resemble anything but themselves, anything we’ve seen them resemble in four years under Paul Petrino and truthfully, anything they’ve resembled since Brian Lindgren was running the show behind center, the Vandals trounced New Mexico State 55-23, scoring more points against an FBS opponent than they have since 2003, when Lindgren directed a 58-20 romp of Louisiana Monroe.
Glossing over the UI record books, it’s becoming more difficult to distinguish between the guy who played quarterback for the Vandals 13 years ago, and the one who occupies the post now. Not just because “Lindgren” and “Linehan” are phonetically similar, either.
Saturday, Idaho junior Matt Linehan was mentioned in the same breath as many of the all-time greats. There were shades of Nathan Enderle and John Friesz, of Doug Nussmeier and John Welsh. This was Ken Hobart-esque.
Just last week, Linehan took aim at the sixth spot on Idaho’s all-time completions list — owned by his father, Scott. After watching his son surpass him, the elder Linehan conceded to being, “more of a dual threat anyway,” Matt Linehan recalled. “He kind of like brushed it off, but he told me he was proud of me, and it’s one of those things when we talked about that I was going to wear his number and do all that stuff, and the day I stepped onto campus, he’s just been proud of me ever since.”
Hey Scott, your son can run, too.
This was one of the best aerial shows in school history, but Linehan’s final act came on the ground. On an option play, he nestled the ball into the arms of tailback Isaiah Saunders, but pulled it away once the Aggies bit, and skirted around the edge for a 10-yard TD scamper.
That gave the Vandals their final touchdown of the afternoon. With 12:19 to go and Idaho sporting a 55-16 lead, Petrino pulled the plug on a 60-burger and yanked Linehan from the game, 476 passing yards and four touchdown strikes later.
This was Linehan, right? Or did Luke Falk, Admiral of the Washington State Air Raid, pop over for a few hours of dry-weather football before returning to Pullman for the soggy nightcap?
Nope, no cameo. Indeed we were watching Linehan, the unmistakable field general of the Vandals who commands his huddle with such intensity, but reveals a comedic alter-ego once he enters the interview room.
In both of those veins, he was in his purest form Saturday. Vintage Linehan.
Lumped into the same postgame Q&A with tight end Deon Watson, Linehan interrupted his teammate when Watson was asked about an acrobatic touchdown catch in the first quarter — one that saw the senior employ basketball chops to pull down a 50-50 ball over an undersized defender.
Watson began: “To me, it’s just like a rebound and anything else like that.”
Linehan interjected: “You didn’t rebound. You played guard. You played guard. You’re not a rebounder.”
No need to rebound when your QB isn’t missing. Then again, Linehan is a basketball aficionado himself and understands the value of an assist. Courtesy of the offensive line and receivers, there were plenty of those Saturday.
“Protections were good. O-line has done a really good job the last two weeks,” he said. “I don’t think that gets said enough. Keeping me upright. The receivers just made plays today. Really making plays after the catch.”
The O-line thwarted every blitz and rush the Aggies could cook up, keeping NMSU to zero sacks and zero QB hits. It might have been ill-advised for the opponent to do so much as look at Linehan the wrong way on a day like this.
The receivers, who made one untimely drop after another this season, finally warranted the high praise they received during the summer months. Three of them — Watson, Alfonso Onunwor and Jordan Frysinger — all went over 100 yards, becoming the first trio of players to do so since 2010.
There were records abound. Linehan’s yardage and touchdown totals were both personal bests. His game was statistically the fifth-best by a Vandal quarterback. Watson and Onunwor both rolled up receiving yardage digits that were career highs.
Idaho, a team that’s been subdued by 30 points in nine games under Petrino, hadn’t won by such a margin since 2010. And that 45-0 triumph was against an FCS program from North Dakota. No, not the one that ends with State University. The other one.
This was a Sun Belt contest against a middling NMSU program that, despite some fatal flaws, does have a third-ballot AP All-American in the backfield, did ring up 42 points in a loss at Kentucky and did snag an impressive win against Louisiana.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years, and that is the most embarrassed I’ve ever been with a football team,” NMSU coach Doug Martin said afterward.
The Vandals are good. The Vandals are probably postseason good. But gee whiz, are the Vandals 55-23 good?
“I think guys just kept playing hard, and in no way did I think we were going to beat them like that,” Petrino said. “I thought it was going to come right down to the end. … That’s how I think we have to win games for the rest of the year, too.”
Well done, thieves. Now give us the Vandals back.