MOSCOW, Idaho – When Robb Akey took over the Idaho football program four years ago, this must have been what he envisioned – the Kibbie Dome pulsating for a nationally televised game, and the Vandals’ defense flying around with as much energy as he exerts on the sideline.
Saturday night against UNLV, Idaho’s plan came together seamlessly from the start. The Vandals smothered the Rebels in a dominant first half and rolled to a 30-7 triumph in front of Dad’s Weekend crowd of 15,390.
The Vandals (2-1) won their third straight against Mountain West competition in the last two years to head into a three-game road trip with a needed shot of momentum.
“Best defensive performance we’ve had here since I’ve been here, hands down,” said senior defensive end Aaron Lavarias, who had two of the team’s six sacks and a forced fumble “We played amazing, I thought.”
Idaho opened the ESPNU-televised game with a crisp 14-play touchdown drive before the disruptive defense went to work. The Rebels (0-3) crossed midfield just once in the first half, mustered 187 yards, and didn’t score until inside the final 80 seconds against UI second- and third-stringers.
At home in two games, the Vandals have allowed just seven points – after surrendering 36 points per game last year.
It’s a welcome sight for Akey, a longtime defensive coach before coming to Moscow.
“We’re getting closer to the standards that I expect us to be able to (perform at),” he said. “And I see those guys flying around and they’re building off some success now.”
Idaho’s offense, on the other hand, racked up meaty gains in the first 20 minutes and didn’t punt until the start of the fourth quarter. Yet it was far from an efficient outing.
The Vandals squandered plum field position repeatedly after rampaging to a 24-0 lead and came away with no points on consecutive trips inside the Rebels’ 5-yard line.
Other drives were marred by dropped passes or penalties at key times.
“You can’t worry about it because it’s done,” quarterback Nate Enderle said of the mistakes. “We tell everybody to kind of reset, move on to the next play.”
Enderle amassed 210 passing yards – often against broken coverage – before getting pulled in the fourth quarter. Deonte Jackson punctuated two first-half drives with 1-yard dives into the end zone.
The Vandals came in having given up the most sacks (11) in the FBS through two games. But against UNLV, which hadn’t registered a sack, the UI offensive line protected Enderle better. The senior was taken down just twice.
McCarty led UI with 63 yards on 12 carries. The Vandals averaged 3.1 yards per attempt for 122 yards on the ground.
“I think we ran the ball pretty well tonight,” Akey said. “I think that group (the offensive line) is coming well together.”
Asked if he was surprised by the Vandals’ quick start, first-year UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said, “Not much. They held up pretty well against Nebraska. We watched Nebraska (Saturday against Washington), and they played well. And this team went into Nebraska and they held up.”