November 29, 1996 in Sports

Idaho Reduced To ‘What-Ifs?’ Plagued By Turnovers In Four-Game Slide, UI Was On Verge Of Being Fantastic

By The Spokesman-Review
 

From Idaho’s perspective, any football season that ends with a 45-point rump-thumping of Boise State can’t be too disappointing.

And at 6-5, Idaho had, as its record suggests, a pretty good year.

But even the season-ending rout of BSU couldn’t quite wash away four bitter losses - Wyoming, Southwest Texas State, North Texas and, most harsh of all, Utah State.

The Vandals nearly had a tremendous season. Despite six turnovers, UI lost by only two points to 10-1 Wyoming. The only game Idaho was hopelessly behind in the fourth quarter was versus San Diego State.

Losing to Utah State, however, will haunt Idaho through the off-season - especially when Nevada plays in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 19.

Idaho had scored two touchdowns in the third quarter and was 15 yards from a third TD that probably would have sapped Utah State’s will. Two fumbles later - one questionable - Idaho had given away a near certain trip to Vegas. With a win over Utah State, Idaho could have afforded the loss to North Texas and still won the Big West Conference’s bowl berth via tiebreakers.

“We weren’t really the same team again until Boise State,” coach Chris Tormey said. “Going into the season … 6-5 and a winning record in conference, we’d probably have felt that was a pretty good year. But after we saw what we could do against teams like Nevada and Wyoming, it was disappointing that we weren’t 8-3.”

There were definite high points - whipping Nevada 24-15 behind a stifling defense and throttling BSU 64-19.

Idaho’s offense made quantum leaps from 1995, averaging 100 yards more per game and scoring nearly a touchdown more per outing. Sore spots: 27 turnovers and a shortage of rushing yardage in losses.

Quarterback Ryan Fien had UI’s third highest single-season passing yardage (3,674). Joel Thomas steamrolled to 1,120 rushing yards.

Receivers Antonio Wilson, David Griffin and Robert Thomas made 23 touchdown catches and numerous long-gainers.

The defense was usually solid, though it gave up an inordinate number of big plays and was low on turnovers forced. The unit couldn’t overcome being put in poor field position in several games (North Texas, San Diego State and Wyoming).

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt was pleased with cornerback coverage in Big West games.

Remember, too, that Idaho lost two starters, Jevez Robinson and Antoine Chambers, to academic ineligibility before the season.

The fronts will require reinforcements. Three starters graduate from both the offensive and defensive lines, including star ends Ryan Phillips and Barry Mitchell. Tormey hopes to sign perhaps four JC linemen.

Other concern spots are quarterback, and possibly receiver.

Quarterback Ryan Fien’s departure opens the door for senior-to-be Brian Brennan, a part-time starter in 1994 and 1995 who is rehabilitating from shoulder surgery.

Brennan has a full range of throwing motion and is expected to be ready for spring drills. Ed Dean returns after a two-year mission and could factor into the position.

It appears Robert Scott will remain at receiver. Idaho has toyed with moving Scott to QB, but his growth at receiver has been impressive. His receptions jumped from 29 as a freshman to 50 this season.

Scott would become the slot receiver, replacing Griffin. Wilson, however, has expressed doubt about returning. If he returns, he would be on the outside with Deon Price, giving Idaho a tall, talented trio.

Quarterbacks coach “Greg Olson tells me Ed Dean is comparable to Robert,” Tormey said. “If things don’t work out (at QB), we always have the opportunity to bring Robert back.”

In an odd twist from previous seasons, Idaho’s returning defensive strength might be its secondary. The starters return, and several others in the background will challenge.

With the exception of losing standout Jason Shelt, most of the linebackers return, including fast-emerging Matt Jasik. Projected starting tackles Tim Wilson (255 pounds) and Garner Moody (238) both need to add 15 pounds.

With some minor tinkering, Idaho likely will continue running the pressure-oriented “Flex” defense, Holt said.

Tormey likes Idaho’s returning prospects. He adds that the Vandals have a good start on recruiting.

“We feel like we’re a lot further ahead,” he said. “We spent an hour every night on recruiting the last five weeks of the season.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Changed in Spokane edition.

This sidebar appeared with the story: VANDALS’ FUTURE Starters lost: Offense: Dan Zeamer (OL), Richard Zenk (OL), Steven Zenk (OL), Andy Gilroy (TE), David Griffin (WR), Ryan Fien (QB). Defense: Ryan Phillips (DE/LB), Barry Mitchell (DE), Ryan Smith (DT), Jason Shelt (LB). Key returners: Offense: Joel Thomas (RB), Robert Scott (WR), Antonio Wilson (WR), Bill Verdonk (C), Crosby Tajan (OL), Brian Brennan (QB), Troy Scott (PK), Mike O’Neal (P). Defense: Tim Wilson (DT), Arnold Gunn (CB), Bryson Gardner (S), Ryan McGinnis (CB), Matt Jasik (LB), Yaphet Warren (LB), Whitney Mayer (LB), John Harper (DE), Kevin Hill (S), Jasper Williams (CB), Nick Alexakos (DE). Names to watch: Offense: Ed Dean (QB, returning from mission), Justin Meek (OL), Willie Alderson (RB), Ryan Prestimonico (WR), Casey Campbell (OL), Brett Morton (OL). Defense: Garner Moody (DT), Chad Stalder (DE), Dennis Gibbs (CB), Casey Hills (LB), James Durrough (LB), Jaquwan Brackenridge (S).

Changed in Spokane edition.

This sidebar appeared with the story: VANDALS’ FUTURE Starters lost: Offense: Dan Zeamer (OL), Richard Zenk (OL), Steven Zenk (OL), Andy Gilroy (TE), David Griffin (WR), Ryan Fien (QB). Defense: Ryan Phillips (DE/LB), Barry Mitchell (DE), Ryan Smith (DT), Jason Shelt (LB). Key returners: Offense: Joel Thomas (RB), Robert Scott (WR), Antonio Wilson (WR), Bill Verdonk (C), Crosby Tajan (OL), Brian Brennan (QB), Troy Scott (PK), Mike O’Neal (P). Defense: Tim Wilson (DT), Arnold Gunn (CB), Bryson Gardner (S), Ryan McGinnis (CB), Matt Jasik (LB), Yaphet Warren (LB), Whitney Mayer (LB), John Harper (DE), Kevin Hill (S), Jasper Williams (CB), Nick Alexakos (DE). Names to watch: Offense: Ed Dean (QB, returning from mission), Justin Meek (OL), Willie Alderson (RB), Ryan Prestimonico (WR), Casey Campbell (OL), Brett Morton (OL). Defense: Garner Moody (DT), Chad Stalder (DE), Dennis Gibbs (CB), Casey Hills (LB), James Durrough (LB), Jaquwan Brackenridge (S).


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