Throughout fall camp, Idaho football coaches and players insisted the team was much improved.
“I think if you put one word on it, (players) are a little more confident,” coach Paul Petrino said. “I think they expect to play better and they expect to win.”
The Vandals will get their first chance to see how they measure up this season when they host Montana State on Thursday night. Idaho finished 4-8 (3-5 in the Sun Belt) last season, while Montana State went 5-6 (3-4 in Big Sky).
“(The Bobcats) are going to come ready to play,” Petrino said. “I grew up in that state, and those kids love football. They’re going to show up ready to play, and they’re going to play hard. … I think we’ve practiced really well, but Thursday night is when it matters. That’s showtime. That’s when everybody has to step up and be their best.”
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One player in particular who has to be his best is quarterback Matt Linehan, who is beginning his third season as a starter.
“It’s really incredible how much more comfortable I feel when I go to the line,” Linehan said. “I still have a long way to go, but this year compared to a couple of years ago is night and day.”
Linehan improved in nearly every statistical category as a sophomore, so his expectation — and Petrino’s — is that he’ll continue to make strides this year.
Asked which category he wants to improve upon, and Linehan gives an answer that you might expect from a coach’s son. After all, he is one: His father, Scott, is the offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys (and a former Vandals QB).
“Limiting my interceptions has been a focus of mine the last couple of years,” said Linehan, who had 18 interceptions his first season and 11 as a sophomore. “I made a bunch of mistakes my freshman year and then learned from it and improved the next season. So I want to continue to see my interception number go down every year.”
The opportunity to improve as a college quarterback almost didn’t happen. Scholarship opportunities were scarce, so Linehan, a talented high school basketball player in Michigan, figured at the time hoops might be in his future.
“I was going to play D-II basketball,” Linehan said. “And then (Petrino) got the job here and I was like, ‘I might as well send him my tape.’ So we gave him the tape, and he called me three days later and offered me a scholarship. For that, I will always be forever grateful.”
Petrino and Linehan said the bond between the two goes beyond football.
“I’ve known Matt since he was a little kid,” Petrino said. “I think we have a really good relationship. I think I’ve coached him hard; he’s able to take hard coaching. … We just have a real close relationship, and I think we will for the remainder of our lifetime.”
In addition to that hard coaching, Linehan also brings a couple valuable years’ worth of experience to the table.
“The more you play the game, the more it slows down for you a little bit,” Petrino said. “And I think he sees the defense so much better now and really understands how people are trying to attack him with pressures. He’s almost like having a coach on the field because he understands the game so well now.’’
“I’m just really looking forward to seeing him play.”
Montana State at Idaho
▪ When: 7 p.m. MT Thursday
▪ Where: Kibbie Dome (16,000, RealGrass Pro), Moscow
▪ TV: KTVB
▪ Radio: 630 AM
Choate makes head coaching debut
Jeff Choate, who was hired as Montana State’s 32nd coach in December, spent eight of the past 10 seasons as an assistant under Chris Petersen at Boise State and Washington.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino expects Choate to dip into his bag of tricks Thursday night.
“He’s going to do something,” Petrino said. “He’s a special teams guy, so they’re going to fake a punt or onside kick or do a reverse or throwback on the kickoff return. Just because, after all those years as an assistant you’ve always wanted to do those things, and now you’re the head guy so you get to do them.
“He’ll be very excited and excited to get out there. But, hopefully we can make it not a happy first game.”
Choate previously coached high school football in Twin Falls, Post Falls and Challis.