Idaho’s thunder has started to get rolling.
The Vandals’ senior running back, 6-foot-2, 234-pound Elijhaa Penny, rumbled for 184 yards on 36 carries in Idaho’s 27-13 win Saturday over Louisiana-Monroe. His rushing total is 16th-best in program history, and his workload is tied for fourth-most in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season.
Penny did it all with a long run of 15 yards, just consistently pushing forward and eating up chunks of yardage.
“It’s been real big,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “He just ran awesome. He had a couple 5- and 6-yard runs that were just, like, unbelievable runs, so that was great to see.”
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With five regular-season games remaining, Penny has 622 rushing yards on 133 carries, scoring three touchdowns. The Vandals are hoping he can duplicate what he did last season, when he ran for 342 yards in November, getting better as games went on. He dropped about 20 pounds in the offseason to make himself more of a complete back.
“I’m not tired, I feel like I can play another game, really. All the offseason work, I guess it’s paying off for me,” Penny said after the win, the Vandals’ second straight.
Like any good running back who sees open lanes all day, Penny was quick to thank his offensive line. He said he was going to take them out to dinner afterward.
Penny may be footing another bill soon, as the Vandals are facing one of the nation’s weakest rush defenses in New Mexico State. The Aggies are second to last in the FBS, giving up 291.4 yards per game on the ground. Run-heavy teams New Mexico and Georgia Southern ran for 401 yards and 507 yards, respectively.
“When you look at their stats, they give up a lot of yards rushing, but you look at them on tape, and there are times when they play the run really well. ... Definitely, it’s a game where we want to both run the ball and throw the ball,” Petrino said. “The biggest thing is for us to dictate when we want to run it or throw it, not become one-dimensional.”
The rushing attack has also allowed Idaho to take some pressure of its defense, which has yielded only 29 points the last two games.
The Vandals have held the ball nearly 17 minutes longer than their opponents during their two-game win streak.
As long as Penny is moving the chains, the Vandals feel they have momentum, looking to get into a bowl for the first time since 2009.
“That guy’s a beast,” sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan said. “... He’s going to continue to make plays for us.”
PETRINO ON EPPS’ SUSPENSION
Idaho announced Monday the indefinite suspension of senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps, who has been the subject of multiple off-field issues the past 19 months. Epps allegedly hit his girlfriend in a Pullman, Wash., bar early Sunday.
Petrino said he spoke to Epps, saying, “He says he has not done it. I hope that’s true.”
Petrino said he wants the legal system to take its course before making any decision on Epps’ future.
“Everyone on the team knows that if it comes out that you touch a girl, you’re off the team — period,” Petrino said. “That goes for any individual on the team.”
Idaho at New Mexico State
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Aggie Memorial Stadium (30,434; synthetic turf), Las Cruces, N.M.
Radio: KFXD (630 AM)
Records: Idaho is 3-4 overall, 2-2 in Sun Belt; New Mexico State is 0-7, 0-3 (lost 52-7 at home against Troy on Saturday)
Series: Idaho leads 15-6 (Vandals won 29-17 in Moscow on Oct. 18, 2014 in last meeting)
Vegas line: Idaho by 4.5