Idaho Vandals

Versatile receiver shines for Vandals; Bengals face stiff test; Yotes dominate on ground

Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Jeff Cotton wasn’t aware he’d cemented his name into the Idaho football record books until a day later.

Truth be told, he didn’t feel like he was piling up that many catches Saturday during the Vandals’ 41-31 win against Central Washington.

Maybe Cotton didn’t realize he was on the verge of history because plucking a multitude of footballs out of the air inside the Kibbie Dome is the norm — just go to a practice; he lines up all around the shop, and makes plays high and low.

On crossers and deep fades, to be more precise. Also, don’t overlook his downfield blocking.

Cotton shrugged off a second-quarter kickoff fumble and proceeded to bombard CWU, collecting 145 yards on 16 receptions, the second most in single-game program history. His mark fell one catch shy of the record, set in 1969 by former All-American Jerry Hendren, who logged 238 yards and four TDs on 17 grabs in a win against Southern Mississippi. As a senior that year, Hendren led the country in catches (95) and yards (1,452).

If he’s planning to mimic the late Hendren, Cotton’s two-game total of 22 grabs, 228 yards and two scores is a good start. As of now, no one in the NCAA has had as many receptions in a game this season as Cotton.

The Vandals (1-1) play at Wyoming at 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN3).

“It really didn’t feel like I had that many; we were just taking what we were receiving, I guess,” said Cotton, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound senior and former junior college All-American at Pima Community College, and apparently an expert in puns. “It’s exciting; it’s something I can be proud of, but I just want to keep getting better. Hopefully the opportunity presents itself again and I could get 18, 19 or 20.”

His reaction to being just one off tying the record?

“That was rough to think about.”

But if opposing defensive coordinators feel content to let only one cornerback tail him, Cotton might have a shot at No. 1 — that’s taking the CWU game into account.

More often than not, the Wildcats had him in single coverage with a lone safety playing shallow.

“We were just taking advantage of it,” Cotton said.

Truly, it seemed as if quarterback Mason Petrino would give him a look, maybe a wink, then either lob one over a defender’s head or buy a shred of time so Cotton could shake his man over the middle like he’s done ever-so-fluidly since preseason camp began.

“I guess they were confident in their DBs,” he said with a grin, perhaps spurning an oddly chattery Wildcat secondary that had no answers for the Petrino-to-Cotton deep fades, which generated two scores.

Otherwise, Central Washington was caught off guard by Cotton’s shifting from the outside receiver spots to slot, and sometimes to a wing-back spot. There’s not another player on the team who’s as versatile as Cotton, or as potent of a game changer.

“(In) high school, I was mainly outside and Pima, that’s when I started to play in the slot a little bit,” Cotton said. “I told coach (Paul Petrino) a couple of years ago, I was like, ‘I want to play every position. ... I just like playing football, so I like doing everything.’ ”

Petrino’s taken heed. The seventh-year boss commended his exceedingly valuable captain for not only the myriad of receptions Saturday — many of those on short tosses, as is UI’s custom — but for his effort, which surpassed most on the field.

In one instance Petrino alluded to, Cotton got a block on a talkative Wildcats player at about the 10-yard line, and drove him all the way into the Vandals’ Allstate field-goal net at the Dome’s west wall. The cornerback was down for several minutes.

“When it was a run, he ran guys off all the way into the end zone,” Petrino said. “He played with unbelievable effort when he wasn’t getting the ball, and I think that’s really amazing. We get the whole team doing that, you’re gonna win all the time.”

Idaho State at No. 11 Utah, 2:15 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

The Bengals (1-0) take a major step up in competition level after their season-opening win against Western Colorado.

Matt Struck threw for 402 yards in his Idaho State debut, the most by a first-time Bengals quarterback since 2013. Tanner Conner had 10 catches for 173 yards, topping his yardage production from the previous two seasons combined.

The Utes beat the Bengals 56-14 in 2014. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham began his college football coaching career as an assistant at Idaho State in 1988.

College of Idaho vs. Southern Oregon

The Yotes (2-0) host their homecoming game at 1 p.m. Saturday. They have dominated their first two opponents on the ground, averaging 7.1 yards per carry and 362 rushing yards per game. Nick Calzaretta has 371 yards already — and hasn’t been stopped for a loss yet.

The Yotes defense, on the other hand, is allowing just 3.1 yards per carry and 92 rushing yards per game.

Chadd Cripe of the Idaho Statesman contributed to this report.