Nearing the halfway point of the season, Idaho football coach Paul Petrino hopes he is past position changes, attrition and injuries.
“There’s a point where you have what you have. Try to get them better, try to improve,” he said Tuesday.
The lack of depth has been an issue for the Vandals since the first few minutes of the season. Sophomore wide receiver David Ungerer, a star of fall camp, injured his foot in the first quarter of the opener and is expected to return Saturday after missing six weeks.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan missed Oct. 3’s game at Arkansas State (ankle). On defense, projected starting linebacker Leonard Hazewood has fought an injury and is likely to redshirt. Senior defensive tackle Ryan Edwards has missed the last two games, and senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan and sophomore safety Jordan Grabski did not play against Arkansas State.
Add defensive back Isaiah Taylor, safety Doyin Sule and receiver Jermaine Johnson leaving the team during the season, and Idaho is playing short-handed.
“That depth has hurt at times,’’ Petrino said. “We’ve just got to keep getting the younger guys better enough so we can give guys a spell, but you’ve got to play the cards you’re dealt.’’
Idaho has been outscored 121-54 in the first and fourth quarters, and 114-79 the others. In the Sun Belt opener against Georgia Southern on Sept. 26, Idaho trailed 16-13 at the half before losing 44-20. The Vandals trailed 28-14 at the half at Arkansas State, but allowed 21 points the next 15:06 in a 49-35 loss.
“That’s hurt,” Petrino said about the depth. “It hurt in the second half against both Georgia Southern and Arkansas State. I think if you would’ve just lined up and they only got to play 11 guys, we got to play 11 guys, it would’ve maybe come down right to the wire.”
Idaho’s bye week came at a good time, as coaches have said they expect Linehan, Ungerer and Edwards to play, while others remain questionable. The Vandals moved tight end Khalin Smith to defensive end and offensive lineman Kato Fawkes to defensive tackle the last two weeks to help with the changes.
“We got some guys back ... got some of that leadership, got a lot accomplished,” defensive coordinator Mike Breske said.
The Vandals are 2,000 miles from home for their game at Troy, and will need to make the most of their depth with the reduced travel squad. It would be their first road win since Nov. 5, 2011. Either it will take no injuries, or some of those new, young faces will need to step up. Either way, Idaho can’t afford another late fade.
“We’ve got to go down there, have a whole game where we play consistent,” Petrino said.