KALAMAZOO, Mich. – Idaho coach Robb Akey has proven he doesn’t mind taking chances, the most notable example coming on a two-point conversion to claim last year’s Humanitarian Bowl.
Saturday, he gambled again on two fourth downs – and both decisions paid off handsomely.
The Vandals, sparked by a successful fake punt and a touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal, pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 33-13 victory at Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon.
Idaho (3-2) posted its most decisive road win since 2006 to close out its nonconference season. After next week’s bye, UI will be on the road for the third consecutive week when it starts WAC play at Louisiana Tech.
“Boy, we’re smiling again,” said Akey, whose club was stunned last week at Colorado State. “We’re back to feeling good about things again.”
Idaho quarterback Nate Enderle connected on a career-high 30 completions – to 10 different Vandals – for 380 yards and three touchdowns. By far his biggest connection came on fourth-and-goal late in the third quarter, with Idaho leading 17-13.
The Broncos (1-3) had blocked a field-goal attempt by Trey Farquhar but were offsides on the play, giving the Vandals another chance at the 4-yard line. Instead of retrying the kick, Akey sent the offense back on the field.
Redshirt freshman tight end Taylor Elmo then reeled in an improbable diving catch in the back of the end zone for his first career touchdown.
“I want the offense to know that I’ve got confidence that you all can get the job done down there,” Akey said. “I’ve got great confidence in that. And it also, I think, tells the defense, ‘I’ve got confidence to put y’all out there.’
“I’m going to let our offense make some things like that happen.”
The defense, after falling apart last week in the second half, bounced back with another gleaming performance. The Vandals held WMU’s potent passing offense – ranked fourth in the nation – to just 104 yards.
Quarterback Alex Carder, a redshirt sophomore, was 5 of 18 on the day after piling up 43 completions and 403 yards through the air two weeks ago against Toledo.
“We made a couple adjustments during the game and executed well,” safety Shiloh Keo said. “When all 11 guys are doing their assignments, it’s hard for an offense to get the ball moving.”
Keo had the Vandals’ longest run of the game – a 35-yarder on a fake punt in the second quarter that helped the offense settle into a rhythm. On the next play after the conversion on fourth-and-13, Enderle found Kama Bailey for a 30-yard touchdown pass to give Idaho a 10-3 lead.
The Vandals went up 17-3 later in the second period, but it was far from a cakewalk from there.
Western Michigan (1-3) clawed back to within four points in the third quarter, in large part because of Idaho turnovers. Following Enderle’s second interception, the Broncos marched down to the 13-yard line. But Jordan White dropped a pass in the end zone on fourth down, and UI went on score four minutes later on Elmo’s grab.
The Idaho defense gave up just one touchdown despite being put in some tough situations. Two of the Vandals’ four turnovers came on consecutive possessions early in the third quarter, but the Broncos were able to squeeze out only three points after both takeaways.
WMU was 5 of 18 on third downs and managed only 184 yards of offense. The Broncos are the second UI opponent in three weeks to be held to under 200 yards.
“I’d like to praise our defense for really kind of responding in the face of adversity,” Enderle said. “We put them in some tough situations and we came out on top. They responded by putting us in good positions to score offensively.”
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