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UI Steps Over Nevada Defense Delivers In 24-15 Victory

You might want to sit down before reading this:

Idaho beat Nevada 24-15 on Saturday in a DEFENSIVE struggle.

That’s Idaho’s defense, which surrendered 30 second-half points to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in its last outing, stifling Nevada’s top-ranked offense.

“That was exciting,” said defensive end Ryan Phillips, who repeatedly introduced himself to Nevada quarterback John Dutton and Wolf Pack running back Alex Gresham as a weather-crimped Kibbie Dome crowd of 11,041 roared its approval in Idaho’s inaugural Big West Conference football game.

Exciting indeed, and maybe not as surprising as it appeared on the surface.

Idaho’s D earned an A grade because, well, most of the Vandals finally were able-bodied enough to take the test.

“First of all,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said, “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out we’re not bad if all our guys are in there. Ryan, Barry, Tim Wilson (previously slowed by ankle injury). That’s the biggest difference.”

Bookends Phillips and Barry Mitchell, both bothered by hamstring injuries, were relentless. Mitchell once sacked Dutton on a three-man rush. Phillips had two tackles for loss and countless QB pressures.

They were far from alone. Contributions came from defensive tackles Ryan Smith (nine tackles) and Wilson (six tackles, interception), linebackers Jason Shelt (fumble recovery, key stop on third-and-2 late in the third quarter), Yaphet Warren (sack, fumble recovery), Whitney Mayer (six tackles) and John Harper (five tackles).

Which brings us to UI’s secondary, a unit that had been victimized by Wyoming, San Diego State and Cal Poly (in the second half). UI played man-to-man coverage 70 percent of the time, coach Chris Tormey estimated, and most of the time impeccably.

Why even attempt man coverage? “I talked to (Wyoming assistant coach and Tormey’s ex-teammate at UI) Tim Lappano and he told me our secondary was the most athletic they’ve played this year,” Tormey said. He added that, in breaking down Nevada game tapes, the Wolf Pack made few big plays against pressure man defense.

“They played a heck of a game up front and in the secondary,” said Dutton, who completed 20 of 38 for 267 yards with no TDs and one interception.

Idaho evened its overall record at 3-3 and stands 1-0 in the Big West as it travels to face former Vandals coach John L. Smith’s Utah State Aggies next Saturday. Nevada is 4-3 and 1-1.

“It’s as big as any win we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Tormey said of Idaho’s 16th straight victory in the Kibbie Dome. “Who would have thought it would be that type of game?”

The Vandals pitched a shutout in the second half by forcing three turnovers. Just as important was Idaho’s first-half work, holding Nevada to field goals on three drives that reached UI’s 20, 12 and 2 yard lines.

Nevada finally crossed the goal line on Dutton’s sneak from the 1. Shelt tipped away the two-point conversion pass as UI trailed 15-14 at the half.

Idaho easily could have trailed by a couple TDs in the first half. The Vandals’ first four possessions resulted in three punts and a fumble. It looked no more promising on Idaho’s fifth series until quarterback Ryan Fien whistled a 39-yard completion to David Griffin to Nevada’s 3. Fien scored two plays later and Idaho led 7-6.

Nevada answered with a field goal before Fien responded again. Nevada junior linebacker DeShone Myles, who could eventually play on Sundays, perfectly timed a blitz and was in Fien’s lap when the quarterback zipped a pass to Andy Gilroy for 26 yards. Later on third-and-7, Fien hit Griffin on a 10-yard TD pass that was deflected by a Nevada linebacker.

Idaho took the lead for good, 17-15, on Troy Scott’s 28-yard field goal early in the third quarter.

The Vandals’ succession of key defensive stops ensued, biding time until Fien sidestepped the rush and fired a 16-yard score to Griffin 14 seconds into the fourth quarter. The drive was set up by a 59-yard pass play in which 6-foot-3 Antonio Wilson outjumped 6-0 cornerback Darnell Hasson.

Appropriately, Idaho’s defense preserved the 24-15 lead, forcing two fumbles recovered by Warren and Arnold Gunn, and Phillips and Tim Wilson teamed for a fourth-down stop on Nevada receiver Damond Wilkins.

“Amazing (UI defense),” said Fien, held under 300 yards for the first time this year (267). “That’s the stuff I have to go against every day.”

UI safety Bryson Gardner made 13 tackles and broke up two passes. Gunn shadowed Nevada’s Wilkins, who leads the country in catches per game at 11.2. Wilkins caught nine passes, but wasn’t a dominant force.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Idaho 24, Nevada 15 Nevada 6 9 0 0 - 15 Idaho 0 14 3 7 - 24 Nevada-FG Shea 37 Nevada-FG Shea 30 Idaho-Fien 1 run (T.Scott kick) Nevada-FG Shea 17 Idaho-Griffin 10 pass from Fien (T.Scott kick) Nevada-Dutton 1 run (pass failed) Idaho-FG T.Scott 28 Idaho-Griffin 16 pass from Fien (T.Scott kick) A-11,042. Nev Ida First downs 18 16 Rushes-yards 38-159 34-146 Passing 267 267 Comp-Att-Int 20-39-1 18-33-0 Return Yards 21 12 Punts-Avg. 5-43.0 8-39.9 Fumbles-Lost 4-3 1-1 Penalties-Yards 5-38 10-99 Time of Possession 36:38 23:22 Individual statistics RUSHINGNevada, Gresham 20-80, Lemon 10-41, Wilkins 2-1, Dutton 6-(minus 33). Idaho, Joel Thomas 20-72, Jerome Thomas 7-13, Fien 7-4. PASSINGNevada, Dutton 39-20-1-267. Idaho, Fien 33-18-0-267. RECEIVINGNevada, Wilkins 9-102, Noisy 6-54, Russel 2-19, Lemon 1-48, Insley 1-28, Simms 1-10. Idaho, Wilson 8-139, Griffin 4-73, Gilroy 2-35, Gamelin 2-21, R. Scott 2-(minus 1).

Cut in the Spokane edition.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Idaho 24, Nevada 15 Nevada 6 9 0 0 - 15 Idaho 0 14 3 7 - 24 Nevada-FG Shea 37 Nevada-FG Shea 30 Idaho-Fien 1 run (T.Scott kick) Nevada-FG Shea 17 Idaho-Griffin 10 pass from Fien (T.Scott kick) Nevada-Dutton 1 run (pass failed) Idaho-FG T.Scott 28 Idaho-Griffin 16 pass from Fien (T.Scott kick) A-11,042. Nev Ida First downs 18 16 Rushes-yards 38-159 34-146 Passing 267 267 Comp-Att-Int 20-39-1 18-33-0 Return Yards 21 12 Punts-Avg. 5-43.0 8-39.9 Fumbles-Lost 4-3 1-1 Penalties-Yards 5-38 10-99 Time of Possession 36:38 23:22 Individual statistics RUSHINGNevada, Gresham 20-80, Lemon 10-41, Wilkins 2-1, Dutton 6-(minus 33). Idaho, Joel Thomas 20-72, Jerome Thomas 7-13, Fien 7-4. PASSINGNevada, Dutton 39-20-1-267. Idaho, Fien 33-18-0-267. RECEIVINGNevada, Wilkins 9-102, Noisy 6-54, Russel 2-19, Lemon 1-48, Insley 1-28, Simms 1-10. Idaho, Wilson 8-139, Griffin 4-73, Gilroy 2-35, Gamelin 2-21, R. Scott 2-(minus 1).


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