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Turnovers doom Vandals in home finale

Jason Gesser couldn't have been more to the point in his post-game news conference after the Vandals' 34-27 loss to UTSA. "If we didn’t turn the ball over, we would have won that game very easily." Except there were plenty of other self-inflicted Idaho mistakes that led to its 10th loss of the year.

We've got our story and notes below.

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We'll start with a few notes:

  • The Vandals lead the FBS in turnovers with 35, and they've committed eight of them in the last two games. But those stats don't tell the whole story. After Ryan Bass fumbled while doing a spin move during a carry on UI's first possession of the game, Idaho's Benson Mayowa jumped offsides on the same play in which a UTSA receiver fumbled following a catch. The next play, Idaho safety Bradley Njoku dropped an interception.
  • Idaho's miscues were part of a lethargic first half that Gesser couldn't explain. "The whole warmup, the whole everything was kind of blah. Wasn’t a packed house. Wasn’t a juiced, energized (team). It wasn’t anything." The crowd was announced at 9,030, but it appeared to be closer to 5,000 with many students already gone for Thanksgiving break.
  • Gesser was also puzzled by the Vandals' relapse with silly penalties and discipline issues. After playing mostly clean football the last two weeks, Idaho had 12 penalties for 100 yards -- including several personal fouls and unsportsmanlike calls. "I truly thought we were getting in the right direction. Obviously today with our penalties and our mistakes and turnovers again, hurt us. They hurt us."
  • Taylor Davis came in late in the second quarter for starting QB Logan Bushnell and immediately threw a bad interception. But Gesser stuck with Davis, who had a hot hand for much of the second half and ended up with 233 yards and three TDs. He also overshot a number of receivers on deep balls that could have been easy scores. Gesser said Bushnell was examined after taking a hard hit.
  • For the second straight home game, Idaho had the ball at the end of the first half and didn't fully implement a two-minute drill. This time, the Vandals had 1:45 on the clock and three timeouts. They were down 20-3, however, and Gesser didn't want to make it worse. "I wasn’t about to go give them the ball back again," he said. Instead he called two run plays to start the drive before Davis scrambled for a first down. It wasn't until the 30-second mark that Idaho showed urgency and drove the ball into field-goal range. Trey Farquhar missed a 53-yarder as time expired.

******

By Josh Wright
Correspondent

MOSCOW, Idaho — The anguish on Justin Veltung's face couldn't be hidden. Even with his helmet still on. Even with a coach and teammate trying to console him as he walked off the Kibbie Dome field after his final home game.

Idaho's nightmare season hit another low Saturday with a 34-27 loss to Texas-San Antonio, and it was Veltung's inexplicable fumbled punt with just over 2 minutes left that thwarted a last-minute Vandals' rally.

Instead of UI taking over near midfield with a chance to tie, UTSA (7-4, 2-3 WAC) recovered and bled the last 2:28 off the clock to clinch a winning season in its first year as a Football Bowl Subdivision provisional team.

Idaho (1-10, 1-4) lost its fifth straight game — and third in a row since Jason Gesser replaced Robb Akey as coach — after storming back from 17 points down at halftime and nearly rallying from a 14-point deficit in the final 7 minutes.

The Vandals' undoing on senior day was clear enough: 12 penalties for 100 yards, multiple breakdowns on defense and most glaring of all, three turnovers.

"It’s not rocket science," said Gesser, whose team leads the FBS in turnovers lost (35). "We beat ourselves. We gave them every opportunity, and they took advantage of it."

The backbreaker with Veltung's muffed punt. After Idaho forced a three-and-out, Veltung — an explosive kick returner before being hampered by injuries the last two years — went to field the punt.

But the ball hit the turf in front of him and took a UTSA bounce. With three Roadrunners surrounding the ball as it trickled into UTSA territory, Veltung lunged to try to grab it.

It was a risky move, and it backfired.

Afterward, fellow senior receiver Mike Scott and cornerbacks coach Torey Hunter walked arm-in-arm with Veltung as the last three members of the team to head into the locker room.

"Justin and I are very close on and off the field," said Scott, who had a career-high 10 catches and 116 yards. "I told him, 'We win as a team and we lose as a team. The game is not predicated on one play.'"

Gesser, who acknowledged that a win might have helped his cause in earning the permanent head job, gambled with two fake punts and an onside kick. Both fakes worked, and the last — a 64-yard pass from punter Bobby Cowan to Camryn Harris early in the fourth quarter — put Idaho at the Roadrunners' 2-yard line.

But Idaho was called for a delay of game and holding on back-to-back plays and had to settle for a game-tying field goal.

UTSA then reeled off two touchdowns, only to watch the Vandals almost come back again.

"We’re very disappointed right now," Gesser said. "We should have won that game. Very easily should have won that game."




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