In Idaho coach Paul Petrino's experience, only about 50 percent of junior-college signees become dependable players. But five of the seven JC players he signed in January as early enrollees have already made big impacts this spring, and all five played well in Saturday's scrimmage.
The new JC players, particularly Kris Olugbode, are the subject of our story below. Keep reading for that and notes.
The Vandals were without offensive lineman Jordan Johnson, who was injured in the second practice, while guard Spencer Beale and Kyle Salm went down with injuries during the scrimmage. Because of the depleted O-line, Petrino cut the scrimmage short. The Vandals still ran about 125 plays during the almost two-hour session.
Cornerback Solomon Dixon and lineman Larry Dugan also didn't participate. Tight end Taylor Emo appeared to injure his shoulder during the scrimmage. Meanwhile, another offensive lineman, Ben Westrum, was seen walking with crutches on the sideline at the end of the scrimmage.
Petrino was asked if he was closer to seeing separation among his quarterbacks. Here's what he said: "You know, maybe. But even if I am, I might not say it, because I want them all to stay hungry. So I might not say it until the end of spring anyway. But I think there was a little bit of separation. I don’t think there was before today."
As I mentioned in they story, if there was separation, Chad Chalich and Taylor Davis appear to be 1-2 (in particular order), ahead of Austin DeCoud and Anthony Neyer.
By Josh Wright
MOSCOW, Idaho – By his third day on the job, Paul Petrino had seen enough in the weight room and in running drills to make one definitive judgment: The Vandals badly needed junior-college running backs and linebackers.
Idaho ended up bringing in five early JC enrollees to compete for starting jobs at the two positions. And after Saturday's sun-splashed scrimmage, the first of the spring, Petrino said it was the best move he and his staff have made.
"Thank God we did," he said, "because the ones we got are really good players and we would have been in big trouble if we hadn’t done that."
No junior-college addition stood out more than running back Kris Olugbode, who rumbled for 108 yards, scored four touchdowns and trampled two Idaho safeties in the open field. But he wasn't the only one who opened eyes.
Running back Jerrel Brown showed a burst of speed and tough running style while rushing for 54 yards and two TDs. Linebacker Juan Martinez had a sack and returned an Austin DeCoud interception 59 yards for a TD, while Marc Millan – a 215-pound outside linebacker from Santa Ana College – led the team with 11 tackles.
Millan, Martinez and Eric Tuipulotu, all of whom signed less than three weeks after Petrino was hired in December, have done enough through five spring practices to excite the new coach. They formed the first-team linebacker crew Saturday, and they could be starters to open the season at North Texas on Aug 31.
"Between Mark, Juan and Eric, all three of those guys just love to fly around and hit and make plays," Petrino said "All three of them are really good players, and like to play football. You know what I mean? That’s the best thing about them is that they like to play football. That’s a good thing."
Just as a physical as the new linebackers was Olugbode (pronounced O-lou-bow-day). The 5-foot-9, 200-pound tailback from the Community College of San Francisco twice broke free for long runs and plowed through safeties Bradley Njoku and D'Mario Carter in the open field, much to the delight of fans lined around UI's practice field.
"He’s a tough guy," quarterback Taylor Davis. "He’s a little ball, and he just runs over people. He had a really good day."
Olugbode, who chose Idaho over Old Dominion and Georgia State, was sold on Idaho after visiting the campus with his father – he called UI a perfect fit – and researching Petrino's resume.
"Everywhere he’s been, he’s won," Olugbode said. "He’s done a great job. I was lucky that he wanted me to be a part of this team."
Petrino knows it's rare to have so many junior-college players make an immediate impact. But not all of his early signees have been a hit. Quarterback Anthony Neyer, a former USC walk-on, has struggled in the spring and didn't participate in the scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman Chad Chalich got the longest look at quarterback, going 21 of 32 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He and Taylor Davis (15 of 25 for 186 yards) appear to have separated from DeCoud, who tossed three INTs.