MOSCOW, Idaho — Deep into the second quarter, with the Idaho sideline in a daze and the Vandals’ season in limbo, the coaching staff decided to change things up.
They were going to simplify the offense. No more throws down the field, coaches told quarterback Brian Reader. It was time to go back to what made UI’s passing game hum two years ago.
And just like that, Reader became the accurate, poised QB that coach Robb Akey envisioned all along. The senior on Saturday completed 15 consecutive passes at one point and piloted four straight touchdown drives to help Idaho pull away from North Dakota, 44-14.
The Vandals (1-1) posted 41 unanswered points against their FCS opponent and finally broke out of a bewildering malaise that started against Bowling Green.
That was longer than the 10,608 at the Kibbie Dome would have liked to have seen. But the afternoon ended with a much better vibe than last week.
“Again we were given the opportunity to deal with adversity today,” Akey said. “It might have taken us a little while to respond to it, but you get to play a game for 60 minutes for a reason.”
The Fighting Sioux (1-1) scratched out a 14-3 lead with 7:33 left in the first half on back-to-back touchdowns in just over 2 minutes – a 79-yard punt return and 54-yard TD pass from Joey Bradley to Greg Hardin.
At that point, Reader was 3 of 10 – after going 19 of 43 last week – and the Idaho offense was teetering.
But on the next drive, Reader found Taylor Elmo in the flat for 5 yards. Then he hit Princeton McCarty out of the backfield for a momentum-shifting first down.
That was the start of an 80-yard touchdown drive during which Reader connected on 11 straight throws. Almost all were quick, short passes.
“You watch probably the most successful offense around here two years ago,” Reader said, referring to the Vandals’ bowl-winning 2009 season. “And that’s the same stuff we did then.
“I love doing that stuff and I know our receivers really enjoy it. It takes a lot of pressure off our offensive line too.”
Junior college transfer Mike Scott was Reader’s go-to receiver during key parts of the turnaround. Scott brought in eight passes for 99 yards after leading the team in catches last week.
Armauni Johnson also came up with a key fourth-down reception to keep a scoring drive alive – one of his eight catches for 97 yards – and McCarty, relegated to a reserve role so far this season, provided a jolt when the offense had yet to get going.
“The second half we just came out like a train with no brakes and just kept moving the whole second half,” Scott said.
The Vandals defense has also rebounded nicely after an abysmal first half against Bowling Green in the opener. North Dakota’s ground-first offense mustered just 29 rushing yards on 20 carries, and the Fighting Sioux were 3 of 13 on third down.
“I think it helps us a lot,” Akey said of Saturday’s performance. “They did what they were supposed to do. They won a game, and they had fun. … The last 10 days – two years it seemed like since we played that previous ballgame – hadn’t been a lot of fun.”