Idaho had some outstanding moments in their near-upset of Louisiana Tech in The Dome. Among the…
Resilient Vandals Fall Short
As frustrating as this loss was for the team, these Vandals are showing some impressive resiliency under Head Coach Nick Holt and his staff. "Everyone is starting to buy into the system," senior cornerback Herb Cash said after the game. "Guys want to make plays for each other and the coaches now."
It showed. Against a solid team like Louisiana Tech (currently tied for second in the WAC with Boise State and Nevada), the Vandals battled all afternoon. Down 28 – 6 late in the second quarter (Idaho's points coming on two Mike Barrow field goals in the first quarter), Idaho went on a charge that started on senior middle linebacker Cole Snyder's interception just before intermission and did not end until Barrow's only missed field goal attempt on the afternoon (a 54-yard attempt with 16 seconds left in the game).
Aside from a brutal second quarter in which the Vandals yielded 28 points, the Idaho defense was stingy, giving up just two field goals in the third quarter and a touchdown in the fourth. Idaho also forced 3 Bulldog turnovers in this game (two fumbles and an interception), an uncharacteristic number of turnovers for the usually sure-handed ‘Dogs. Coming into this game Tech was second in the conference with just 13 turnovers total on the season.
Special Teams had some moments in this game (a breakdown of Barrow's accomplishments on the day are summarized below in News & Notes), punctuated by a blocked field goal returned 80-yards for an electrifying touchdown by senior cornerback Herb Cash (we believe this may be a first in Idaho history). Sophomore D.J. Dykes returned a punt for 26 yards to the 49-yard line (Dykes also had one of the biggest hits of the game from his strong safety position), and senior Antwaun Sherman was solid all day returning kickoffs (five returns for 134 yards and a long of 34 yards).
Offensively, the Vandals posted 38 points, 424 yards, and 24 first downs of total offense against one of the better defenses in the Western Athletic Conference. Idaho was also a perfect 4 of 4 in the Red Zone, and converted the one 4th down play they tried. How good is the Tech defense? They came into this game ranked second in the WAC giving up just 23.1 points per game.
Quarterback Steve Wichman completed 27 of 50 attempts for 343 yards and two touchdowns while being sacked just once. On the downside, three of Wichman's passes were picked (two as the result of tipped balls), and the junior lost the handle on the snap at the 50-yard line in the fourth quarter. This game was a test of wills, and the signal-caller for Idaho didn't let the setbacks derail him or the offense as they continually battled back in the game.
Asked in the post-game interview what the biggest difference is between this year and last, Holt said, "We can get down field now, [and] we're doing it against good teams. We're playing with more confidence."
And it's showing.
NEWS AND NOTES
INJURY REPORT GOING IN … Junior starting nose guard Ryan Davis sustained an injury during the New Mexico State game and wasn't quite 100% for this game. Also out this game was starting cornerback Jason Martin who suffered a hamstring injury and was unable to play. Both should be available for Saturday's matchup at Boise State.
INJURY REPORT COMING OUT … Aside from the usual bumps and bruises, injuries occurred to starting right guard John Neddo (torn MCL, and is likely out for the year), starting runningback Rolly Lumbala (shoulder, status uncertain), and starting nose guard Siua Musika (knee, status uncertain). Lumbala did not play in the second half, and Musika was helped off the field late in the second half.
ALMOST PERFECT…Saturday night Mike Barrow was one foot away from having the greatest night in the history of kicking at Idaho. For the night he connected on 5 of 6 attempts (tied the record for most conversions in a single game, set by Tim McMonigle in 1984). His 53 yard conversion tied for fourth longest in UI history (the longest field goal on record is 56 yards set by Mike Hollis in 1993). He converted attempts of 19, 27, 45, 47, and 53 yards. His final attempt from 54 yards out with 8 seconds left in the game and Idaho down 41-38 had plenty of length, but was off by about 1 foot outside the left upright. "He kept us in the game, quite frankly," Holt said after the game when asked about Barrow's performance in light of the missed attempt. For the season, with two games left to play, Barrow has set a new Idaho single-season record with 16 conversions on the year (the previous record of 15 conversions was shared by Tim McMonigle in 1984, Brian Decicio in 1987, and Thayne Doyle in 1988). His field goal percentage of 84.2% on the year (just three missed attempts) currently ranks second all-time behind Brian Decicio (87.5%, 1985). Barrow disclosed during the post-game interview that he worked with Hollis, a former All Pro kicker in the NFL, in the off-season this summer. It looks like the extra work has paid HUGE dividends for the St. Bonaventure High School star.
TURNING POINT IN THE GAME … Arguably the biggest turning point in this game for Idaho occurred at the end of the second quarter. At the time, with just 56 seconds left in the half, Idaho was down 28 – 6 and the outlook was bleak. Then senior middle linebacker Cole Snyder stepped in front of a Matt Kubik pass at the Tech 35-yard line and returned it to the 8 yard line before being brought down. Wichman and the Vandal offense took over, scoring from 5-yards out on a TD reception by junior wideout Wendell Octave and a 2-point conversion by grayshirt freshman Tracy Ford operating out of the backfield. The half ended with Idaho down 28-14, and the shootout was on.
TAKING IT TO THE HOUSE … Sophomore linebacker Josh Bousman and senior cornerback Herb Cash combined to provide one of the most spectacular moments of the game. With ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, Tech lined up at the UI 21 for a field goal attempt to build on their 34 – 23 lead. Bousman burst through the line and dove in front of the attempt to block the kick. The ball rolled to the left side of the line and was scooped up at the 20 yard line by Cash who returned it 80 yards for the score. The stadium exploded in a chorus of cheers as Idaho converted their second 2-point conversion of the game to cut Tech's lead to just 3-points.
BREAKOUT GAME #1 … Junior wide receiver Matt Askew had one of the best game of his young Vandal career. He only had four catches on the night, but he was exceptionally efficient and clutch when Idaho needed it the most. His highlights included a 14-yard touchdown that closed the gap to 41-38 late in the fourth quarter, a 2-point conversion earlier in the fourth quarter that closed the gap 34-31, a 40-yard completion on the last drive that moved the ball from the Idaho 3 to the Vandal 43 yard line, and a 9-yard completion on the same drive that moved the ball to the Tech 42-yard line, helping to set-up Idaho's last field goal attempt. It wasn't the most receiving yards he'd had in a game, but his catches were key all afternoon.
BREAKOUT GAME #2 … On a much more quiet note than Askew, redshirt freshman wide receiver Lee Smith led all receivers in the game hauling in 6 receptions for 97 yards, including two 27 yarders in the first half to keep drives alive. He didn't score a touchdown in the game, but he's becoming a more utilized target as the season progresses.
SOLID RECEIVING CORPS … Aside from the emergence of Askew and Smith this week, juniors Wendell Octave and Daniel Smith continue to be key leaders at wideout for Idaho. D.J. Smith, one of the top receivers in America, hauled in several key receptions to keep Idaho drives alive and finished with 90 efficient yards on just 5 receptions. Octave finished with 67 yards on five receptions, including a 44-yarder late in the game to keep a drive alive, and being on the receiving end of a 5-yard touchdown strike at the end of the second quarter following Snyder's interception. Wichman appears to be growing more comfortable spreading the ball around, and the unit overall is becoming more sure-handed.
POSITION CHANGE … Grayshirt freshman Tracy Ford moved from the slot to tailback this week and had a solid game against the ‘Dogs. "He's not big, as you know, but he's a good football player," Holt said. "He provided some key first downs for us." For the game, the former star runningback for state champion Bellevue High School (WA), Ford gained 49 yards on 13 carries (3.8 yards per carry, long of 14) and made good on a 2-point conversion at the end of the first half that closed the gap 28 – 14 going into halftime. Will he stay at runningback? We'll see. But with Jayson Bird out and Lumbala's status for Saturday's game uncertain, odds are that shifty back could be lining up behind Wichman in the weeks ahead.
BACK IN THE MIX … Redshirt freshman right guard Kristopher Anderson, out since the fourth quarter of the Fresno State game, rotated in with John Neddo in the first half at right guard. With Neddo now appearing to be out for the year, Kris looks poised to reclaim the starting role next week at Boise State.
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