Even if Idaho had played mistake-free football, it would have had a tough time hanging with heavily favored BYU. As it was, the Vandals committed five turnovers and never posed a serious threat in a 52-13 loss in chilly Provo, Utah.
Idaho, 1-9, hosts UT San Antonio next week on senior day before finishing the year at Utah State. We've got more details below, including an update on the Vandals' coaching search from athletic director Rob Spear.
The Vandals quickly fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter, and that was before the blunders started. Logan Bushnell found Mike Scott for a 33-yard touchdown pass to draw Idaho with 14, but after the Vandals forced a BYU punt and seemed to have the momentum, center Mike Marboe snapped the ball over Busnell's head and the Cougars' Spencer Hadley recovered for a touchdown.
Idaho interim coach Jason Gesser said Bushnell saw the BYU blitz coming on the play and tried to anticipate it. The snap sailed over his head and Hadley scooped it at the 2 before scoring to give the Cougs a 35-7 lead.
"That was a little bit of back-breaker right there," Gesser said.
UI tried a fake punt on its next possession that went nowhere, then finished the first half with a punt, interception and fumble.
The Cougars led 42-7 with 6:29 left in the second quarter and could have scored a TD before the half if it weren't for conservative play-calling. Idaho has trailed by at least 35 points three times on the road this season.
But Spear, in the middle of searching for the Vandals' permament head coach, was encouraged by the Vandals' effort in the second half. "You know what, our kids had great effort tonight," he said in a postgame radio interview. "We just gave up some big plays. The most important thing: our kids didn’t quit. They battled the whole way."
The Vandals, though, couldn't stay on the field on offense -- and their defense couldn't get off the field when BYU had the ball. UI was 2 of 12 in third down while BYU was 8 of 17 and converted three fourth downs.
In the last two weeks with Gesser as interim head coach, the Vandals have been successful just 20 percent of the time (6 of 30) on third-down opportunities.
“At the end of the day, if we’re in position to make a play, make the play," said Gesser, who is 0-2 since taking over for Robb Akey. "If we’re in position to make the tackle, make the tackle.
"We have to clean up some stuff. It’s pure fundamentals.”
The Vandals, who came in with the second-worst scoring offense in the FBS, were outgained 537-237 and managed just 61 yards on the ground. Bushnell was 19 of 35 passing for 206 yards and two interceptions, while Jahrie Level caught six passes for 40 yards.
The game ended with a 35-yard field goal from Idaho's Trey Farquhar. Idaho recoved a muffed punt on the play before and instead of run out the clock with a pass or run, Gesser elected to bring out his kicker. The field goal meant Idaho, a 391/2-point underdog, covered the spread.
COACHING SEARCH UPDATE
Spear said he's had "a lot of interest" in the Vandals' open coaching position and expects to have Akey's full-time replacement named shortly after the final game of the season. Spear said he will conduct 10 to 12 phone interviews and soon thereafter narrow the candidate list to three to five.
The goal, he said, is to "get a coach announced shortly after the season ends."
"I think we are going to have a lot of tough decisions to make because there are a lot of good candidates," Spear said.