Idaho Vandals

Idaho Vandals football team heads to Texas State, thinking bowl eligibility

The Idaho football team has shown that it can score: It put up 55 points against New Mexico State on Oct. 15.

The Vandals also have shown they have one of the most dangerous special teams weapons in the nation in punter/kicker Austin Rehkow.

But what about that defense? The one that finished 123rd in the nation in points allowed last season?

That defense allowed 13 points in a win last week at Louisiana. It shut out the Ragin’ Cajuns in the second half and held them to 266 total yards — the 14th fewest yards in the 200-plus games Idaho has played since 1999.

“I thought the defense played awesome in the second half,” coach Paul Petrino said. “I think our three linebackers are playing really well. They’re good football players. It starts with the front seven, and they’re all doing a great job.”

Linebacker Tony Lashley led the way with 13 total tackles. The redshirt sophomore from Kansas City ranks second on the team in tackles (63) and tackles for loss (29).

“We put in a lot of work … in the spring and offseason, and we got much better,” Lashley said. “We gave our best effort in the second half (against Louisiana).”

It’s a big turnaround from a season ago for Lashley. Last year, he suffered a season-ending injury in the third game and had surgery on a herniated disc in his spine in November.

Fast forward to this season, as Idaho sits one game away from bowl eligibility, and it’s safe to say Lashley is in better spirits.

“The atmosphere around here is great,” he said.

And as Lashley lines up each down, he looks over at two fellow linebackers — Kaden Elliss and Ed Hall — who are also sophomores. He loves the idea of competing with them for two more seasons.

“It’s a great, tight-knit unit, and we all push each other in practice,” Lashley said. “We know we have a few years to come, but we’re focused on what’s ahead of us right now.

“That’s definitely the task at hand. We’ve just got to take this one game at a time and see where the end of the season takes us.”

Petrino said Idaho’s defense will focus Saturday on corralling Texas State senior quarterback Tyler Jones.

“It all starts with stopping that quarterback,” Petrino said. “He’s a very tough kid, very competitive. I have a lot of respect for him. I’ve seen him take some big hits and get up and keep competing.”

Jones is facing a front seven that has been playing effectively.

“Overall, we feed off our D-line up front,” Lashley said. “Our D-line does a great job up front with double teams.”

That defensive line includes team leader Tueni Lupeamanu and emerging star Aikeem Coleman, who has two sacks in each of the past three games.

“Guys are flying around and playing hard and doing what they’re coached to do,” Petrino said.