That opportunistc, big-play Idaho defense? Today in Ruston, La., it showed only a faint resemblance to the UI defense of previous weeks. And the result was a 48-35 beatdown from Louisiana Tech.
We've got all the details below.
Before we get to the ugly numbers for Idaho, here's what I thought was the key sequence in the game:
Late in the first half, the Vandals led 14-10 and came up with what seemed to be a big stop on third down. The Bulldogs then opted to go for it on 4th-and-9 at the Idaho 32 -- a decision the Vandals probably liked at the time. Hold LTU, and they get the ball back with less than a minute before the half, still holding a lead.
But that's when things started to unravel for Idaho. The Bulldogs' Ross Jenkins avoided the UI blitz and lobbed a touhdown pass to Ahmad Paige, who beat safety Quin Ashley on the play.
After that, La. Tech never relinquished the lead in what turned out to be a frustration-filled WAC opener for UI.
"We didn’t play well. They did. Bottom line," Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “Louisiana Tech played a better game today.”
It was an inability to get off the field on third and fourth down that ultimately doomed the Vandals. LTU converted its first five third downs, and several were third-and-longs. Then the Bulldogs cashed in on the aforementioned fourth down.
The Vandal defense -- which came in highly ranked nationally in several categories, including forcing three-and-outs -- went from struggling on third down in the first half to meltdown mode in the final two quarters. In fact, the only times LTU was stopped in the second half were because of self-inflicted errors in the form of three fumbles.
Otherwise, here is what LTU's second-half drives looked like: rushing TD, passing TD, passting TD, field goal, rushing TD. The lone punt for the Bulldogs came in the first half.
"We didn’t play well enough on defense," Akey said. “We didn’t wrap up; didn’t make tackles.”
The Vandals racked up yards in bunches through the air -- 513 between Nate Enderle and Brian Reader -- but their rushing attack was nonexistent. They managed 20 yards on the ground compared to 261 for La. Tech. If you want this loss boiled down to one stat, the rushing totals would be a good start.
Still, what an afternoon for Idaho's Justin Veltung. With Maurice Shaw suspended after a DUI last week, the sophomore caught four touchdown passes and had 140 yards receiving.
Daniel Hardy and Eric Greenwood also had monster receiving games, each going over 100 yards. But there's only so much a one-dimensional offense can accomplish. (The last time three UI receivers had 100-plus receiving yards in one game came in 1996, when Robert Scott, David Griffin and Antonio Wilson did so against New Mexico State.)
So, do the 3-3 Vandals still have a realistic shot at a bowl invitation? It's hard to imagine after today. They must go 4-3 in their last seven WAC games -- and they have yet to play Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, Hawaii or Utah State. Idaho will face those last three opponents on the road, where it is 1-3 on the season.
Tell me what you think? What are the odds of another bowl appearance for Idaho?