Idaho Vandals

Idaho Vandals have their main dish, a bowl game; now looking for the gravy

Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan has completed 204-of-331 passes (61.6 percent) this season for 2,446 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The junior has rushed for 137 yards and three TDs.
Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan has completed 204-of-331 passes (61.6 percent) this season for 2,446 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The junior has rushed for 137 yards and three TDs. The Associated Press

It’s been a while since the Idaho Vandals felt good about themselves as football players.

The Vandals haven’t finished with a winning record since 2009. Since then, they had three consecutive seasons with one win (2012-2014) and another season with two (2011).

Junior quarterback Matt Linehan knows all that history. So he’s relishing the fact that Idaho is 6-4 overall, 4-2 in the Sun Belt and bowl eligible as it hits the Kibbie Dome turf for Saturday’s game against South Alabama (1:30 p.m., 630 AM, Altitude and ESPN3).

After the Jaguars (5-5, 1-5), the Vandals host Georgia State (3-8, 2-5) on Dec. 3. They’ll learn their bowl destination no later than Dec. 4

“It’s been one hell of a season so far,” said Linehan, a three-year starter. “It’s been my favorite season I’ve been a part of, of course. All the hard work we’ve put in is finally coming to fruition for us.”

But there is more work ahead for Linehan and his teammates.

“We want to have one of the best seasons this program has had,” he said. “If you look back at the 2009 team and what they did, they finished with a bowl win. We want to finish with a bowl win, but we also want to finish with the best record we can.

“We’re not going to get complacent with six wins. We definitely want to get to seven or eight. We’ll focus on eight right now.”

A couple more quality starts from Linehan would go a long way toward helping Idaho reach that goal. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound QB is coming off one of his most consistent games of the season. He completed 26-of-33 passes for 336 yards and a touchdown at Texas State on Nov. 12, adding 24 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

“He’s just kind of back into the groove,” said coach Paul Petrino, whose team had a bye last week.

Linehan wasn’t in that groove at times early in the season. Although he said he came into the season 100 percent healthy, he and Petrino now admit the foot surgery he had in the spring had some lingering effects.

“Early in the year, you know, he missed all of spring ball with his broken foot,” Petrino said. “It just took him a while to get feeling really comfortable. But he’s been playing well, and we’ve won four of our last five games, and a lot of that is because Matt has been playing well.”

Linehan tossed six touchdowns with just one interception in those four victories.

He said if there’s a difference this year versus the previous two, it’s that he’s more confident — in himself and his teammates.

“Sometimes in the first few years, I was kind of locked in on that one guy,” Linehan said. “But I’ve got a lot more confidence and I’m a lot more calm back there behind the center.

“You break the huddle … and you’ve got so many guys who are willing to step up, so you don’t have all that weight on your shoulders. Now, I just want to give guys a chance to make plays.”

Two of those guys making plays are tight ends Deon Watson and Trent “Buck” Cowan. Watson leads the receiving corps with 523 yards, while Cowan has 475 receiving yards and four touchdowns.

“I have confidence in everybody on this offense,” Linehan said. “There’s just a lot of trust there. We’ve spent a lot of time together and put in a lot of work together.

“We know we’re not done and we have a lot of work left to do.’’

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