Blanchette: Laying egg not part of grand plan for UI

THURSDAY, SEPT. 1, 2011, 11:09 P.M.

John Blanchette.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
John Blanchette. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Say, any way that mass exodus from the Western Athletic Conference can be accelerated?

Like maybe starting this week?

Subtraction in the ranks may be the only way the Idaho Vandals achieve any addition in the win column this fall.

OK, one game does not a college football season make, so rather than suggest it’s going to be a long year for the Vandals let’s just say Thursday was a long night. Or a short one – all intrigue having been sucked out of their season opener before the second quarter was half gone.

Bad timing on letting all the sunshine in through the Kibbie Dome’s end walls. This one deserved to be played in the shadows.

For a team that coach Robb Akey touted as “much improved” a few days ago, the Vandals were mostly much impaired –  playing dead for their old Humanitarian Bowl dance partner Bowling Green, 32-15, in a newly, and nicely, appointed dome.

Idaho even came up with the perfect sponsor for the new premium seating section – the Litehouse Center. Because it was certainly a light house – about half full at best in those seats, and 12,173 overall, a most generous accounting.

Did somebody have a premonition?

Certainly not Akey.

“I meant everything I said about this team going into tonight,” he insisted.

And now?

“I still love this team,” he said. “I still do believe in this team. I’m not going to quit on this team. I don’t like what I saw out there tonight, but I do believe that isn’t us. And that’s not the way we’re going to play out.”

Listening to Akey, it sounded as if the Vandals suffered from stage fright: “I need to see a better response to getting hit in the mouth.”

Linebacker Tre’Shawn Robinson thought it was something else altogether.

“We got complacent with ourselves,” he said, referencing Idaho’s quick first touchdown and a heartening early stop. “We came out and stoned them and didn’t keep our eyes on the prize.”

Did they faint? Or get fat?

Well, it wasn’t the only time this night the Vandals found themselves not simply on different pages, but different sections of the library.

The defense, after that attention-getting fourth-down stop on its own side of the 50, didn’t stop anything else. In building a 30-7 halftime lead, the Falcons reeled off six plays of 22 to 76 yards, and five others beyond 10.

“I saw some wide eyes,” Akey said, “and the wide eyes weren’t looking at the keys, because if that was the case we wouldn’t have those guys running free on us.”

But the offense was similarly horrible. Quarterback Brian Reader, finally getting the chance to run the show with the graduation of Nate Enderle, was a dismal 19 of 43 with a pick and two fumbles – victimized by a slew of drops, yes, but also lots of miscommunication, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that three top receivers, including the explosive Justin Veltung, sat out with injuries.

Hard to get in a rhythm when you’re not even in the same key.

“It’s just as much on us as the defense,” Reader allowed. “We’re on the field for three plays and they’re back out there.”

Indeed, even when the defense got it together the second half – Bowling Green punted six times after intermission – the offense was still mostly a mess. The Falcons wound up holding the ball for 40 of the 60 minutes.

Naturally, all the right things were voiced in the wake of this bummer: putting it behind us, moving forward, just one game, still a whole season ahead.

But as openers go, this was more damaging.

Favored at home over a team that counts 28 freshmen and sophomores on its two-deep, the Vandals didn’t just lose but laid a smelly egg. And this is no season to be giving away games if there’s a realistic – or at least genuine – aspiration to be playing during the holidays.

“It’s one game,” said Akey, “and we have to make sure one game doesn’t cost us.”

It already has.

Even with Boise State’s vamoose to the Mountain West, the Vandals still haven’t proved they can deal with the WAC’s second-tier powers – Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada, also all leaving come 2012. And with road games at Texas A&M, Virginia and BYU still ahead, the margin for the Vandals is thin.

“I believe these guys will respond – I think that’s who these guys are,” Akey maintained. “Our people will be proud of this football team before we’re done.”

As long as they don’t look back and have to wonder if they were done after this one.

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