Idaho Vandals

Vandals’ Matt Linehan steps up with top wide receivers out

Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan throws a pass during the second half of the Vandals’ game against New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015.
Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan throws a pass during the second half of the Vandals’ game against New Mexico State in Las Cruces, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. The Associated Press

Despite back-to-back frustrating losses, Idaho has built big leads thanks in large part to its quarterback.

Matt Linehan has three consecutive 300-yard passing games, including 624 in defeats to New Mexico State and South Alabama. In both games, at receiver, he didn’t have now-dismissed senior Dezmon Epps (757 yards in six games), or junior Jacob Sannon and sophomore David Ungerer, both of whom haven’t played since September.

“He’s thrown for 300 yards (three) weeks in a row, made big-time runs. ... There’s guys like that, it breaks your heart, because they played hard enough to win,’’ coach Paul Petrino said.

Linehan has played in eight of nine game, missing the 49-35 loss at Sun Belt-leader Arkansas State on Oct. 3. He has completed 190-of-299 passes for 2,228 yards with 12 TDs to 10 interceptions.

As Linehan has been able to put up strong numbers, he’s done it finding seldom-used targets. Half of junior Callen Hightower’s 38 catches have come in the last two games, seven of freshman Jante Boston’s 10 catches have been in the last three games, as have half of sophomore Rueben Mwehla’s 16 catches.

“Next man up ... those guys have got to be ready,” Linehan said. “With how inexperienced they were to start, they’re getting more and more comfortable.”

The 317 yards against South Alabama are the most the Jaguars have allowed in 2015. Linehan faces another tough defense Saturday in Appalachian State (179.4 passing yards per game).

In addition to his strong passing numbers, Linehan also has been able to keep plays alive or move the chains with his feet. He’s combined for 88 rushing yards the last two games and scored three rushing touchdowns, his first ones of the season.

“I like to show off my athleticism a little bit. I don’t think I get enough credit for it,” Linehan said.

Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_southorn

Appalachian State at Idaho

▪ When: 3 p.m. Saturday

▪ Where: Kibbie Dome (16,000; RealGrass Pro)

▪ TV: ESPN3

▪ Radio: KFXD (630 AM)

▪ Series: Appalachian State leads 1-0 (Mountaineers won 40-28 on Nov. 29, 2014, in Boone, N.C.)

▪ Vegas line: Appalachian State by 19 1/2

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