Idaho offensive line coach Jon Carvin was asked after Tuesday's practice if he was "a little bit scared" to start true freshman Steven Matlock at guard last week. Carvin talked about Matlock's impressive practices. He talked about his toughness and learning the offense. He talked about all the extra work he's put in. Then he finished his answer with this: "Nervous? Nah. It was great."
Pretty much everything about last week was great for the Vandals' revamped O-line in a 26-24 win over Temple, especially compared to UI's ragged play up front the first four weeks of the season.
We were at Idaho's first open practice since its first win of the season, and we've got lots more on the team's offensive line.
The Vandals, after giving up 26 sacks while starting 0-4, yieded just two sacks against the Owls. Sure, quarterback Chad Chalich got rocked a few times after delivering passes during his 424-yard day, but it was the best performance of the season for the line. And it came with three players at new positions or starting for the first time this year -- Matlock and Spencer Beale at guard and Nik Von Rotz sliding over from guard to tackle.
Other than a personnel shakeup, what changed?
To Carvin, the Vandals' energy and toughness were better than earlier in the season.
"Just effort level, toughness, understanding that part of the game and playing with that kind of attitude I think was really the major step we took last week," the first-year line coach said. "We had more cuts down the field and more big blocks than we’ve had in any game yet. And that was all last week, and sure enough, the results spoke for that. So that was great to have that happen."
Paul Petrino said something similar after the win: "We’ve been talking forever: What we really needed up there …. is we need overachievers that play with good technique and give second and third efforts. And I think we got that tonight, so I was really proud of them."
Starting a true freshman at the FBS level is "almost unheard of," Petrino said. But Matlock has impressed the coaches with his toughness, even during plays when he makes a mistake. He was planning on grayshirting and showed up a week or so after fall camp started. But that hasn't hindered his progress.
"You let the practices kind of speak for themselves," Carvin said. "And if a guy’s practicing well, if he’s holding his own, then he probably deserves a chance. And Steve, since Day One when he got here, he’s battled. And he’s shown toughness. And I think that now, long with learning, it’s an advanced offense and being able to put together, ‘OK, I do this now, I do this when this happens.’ His toughness has always been the same. Just getting him caught up to speed. And he puts a ton of extra work in each week to prepare himself, and the results were definitely what we hoped for."
Added Mike Marboe, the Vandals' redshirt junior center: "Steve’s a good player. He brings a lot of energy to our O-line. Still young. We’re working with him each day to get everything polished up, but he did a great job stepping in there."
Marboe said the line had perhaps the best Tuesday practice it's had since the season started, and a lot of that has to do with the confidence that carried over from last week's win.
It wasn't just the line that got a boost, either.
"I think today’s energy and spirt was great," Marboe said. "That, I’m sure, is stemming from the victory. So everyone’s excited, everyone’s happy. … We’ve got a good chance this week to put ... ourselves on the map and shock the world, so that’s what we want to do."
He was referring to 23rd-ranked Fresno State, a 241/2-point favorite over Idaho for Saturday's 2 p.m. matchup.
Quarterback Derek Carrr will be the best quarterback Idaho has seen this year. But a big challenge awaits Idaho's offensive line, too. The 4-0 Bulldogs are tied for 10th in nation with 13 sacks as a defense.
Other notes and quotes:
-- Tackle Jesse Davis and guard Dallas Sandberg started the first four games, and they're likely to see the field again (Davis practiced Tuesday with the first unit; Sandberg appears to still be hurt).
-- Carvin on the feeling after the win last week: "It was elation. We were getting better the whole time, and they knew that and they saw that. And I think they understood and they believed what we were telling them about continuing to grind, that they were getting better. You could see it on film. But you show it over and over, and for that to come to fruition for those guys and for us was fantastic. There’s no question. And now we’ve got to build on that again. That’s not the finality. We need to keep going."
-- Carvin on Beale (a Lewiston High grad) and Matlock (a Boise product and Capital High grad) playing well on Saturday: "I'm sure it’s really cool for them. Really cool for me too because, you know, I honestly don’t care where they’re from as long as we win, but having Idaho blood involved in that win and being here now in Idaho and getting some roots in here, it definitely feels special having those guys, and I’m sure they felt really great about it as well."