They were two wins the Vandals needed to get toward their ambitious goal of a bowl game. Two wins they nearly had, but catastrophic collapses left them empty-handed.
Idaho blew 30-7 and 24-0 leads in back-to-back road games, which became 55-48 and 52-45 losses to New Mexico State and South Alabama, respectively. The last, on Saturday, caused coach Paul Petrino to ponder just what happened.
“To have two games in a row like that, it’s a little sad,” he said.
When meeting with media Tuesday, he couldn’t think of a team he’s coached that’s suffered such crushing losses.
“Not that I remember, not two weeks in a row,” he said.
Idaho needs to win its final three games to reach the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility, starting Saturday at home against Appalachian State (7-2, 4-1 Sun Belt). That’s followed by a game at Auburn (5-4) and the finale vs. Texas State (2-6, 1-3) in Moscow.
As for the past two weeks, Petrino credits his staff for getting players ready, but said the team has been ravaged by “crazy injuries that have lasted forever” and attrition. He said he essentially is using 29 players regularly, though 45 saw at least one snap against the Jaguars.
Some of those seldom-used players have been a part of struggles in special teams. Two of the team’s best special teams players, junior receiver Jacob Sannon and senior cornerback Jayshawn Jordan, have missed most of the season. South Alabama had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and averaged 12.3 yards per punt return.
“Those could all be a positive thing next year, but they really hurt our depth this year,” Petrino said.
Even if the focus is on the now, Petrino mentioned the potential for key players to return next season healthy. The offense, which has put up 1,063 yards and 93 points in the two losses, could lose only two starters.
“What we’ve also seen the last two weeks is how much further we’ve come along in the program,” Petrino said. “We have a bunch of guys coming back on offense. I think that’s a great light at the end of the tunnel of where we can get to, I guess is the best way to put it.”
Petrino does not expect Sannon, Jordan or sophomore receiver David Ungerer back this season. Sannon has played in four games, Jordan in three and Ungerer in two. Petrino said all three could get medical redshirts. ... Ungerer was arrested on suspicion of DUI on Halloween, and Petrino said “we have to let the legal (system) take its course and then he’ll be disciplined accordingly.” ... Petrino didn’t add much to a previously-released statement when receiver Dezmon Epps was kicked off the team Monday. “He’ll always have a very special place in my heart, and I’ll do everything I can for him. But that’s where we stand, and that’s kind of the end of it,” he said.
Appalachian State at Idaho
▪ When: 3 p.m. Saturday
▪ Where: Kibbie Dome (16,000; RealGrass Pro)
▪ TV: ESPN3
▪ Radio: KFXD (630 AM)
▪ Records: Idaho is 3-6, 2-4 Sun Belt; Appalachian State is 7-2, 4-1 (lost at home to Arkansas State 40-27 on Nov. 5)
▪ Series: Appalachian State leads 1-0 (Mountaineers beat Vandals 40-28 on Nov. 29, 2014 in Boone, N.C.)
▪ Vegas line: Appalachian State by 17.5