Vandals hang with No. 3 LSU until Tigers erupt in second half
BATON ROUGE – Well, everybody can’t be Louisiana-Monroe.
But then again, neither was Idaho quite the cupcake for third-ranked LSU that the local newspaper here so graphically portrayed the Vandals to be Saturday.
The LSU-Idaho game was nothing like Louisiana-Monroe’s big upset of Arkansas last week.
In fact, Idaho kept the largest crowd to witness a Vandals game (92,177) around a lot longer than they expected before finally succumbing in the second half, 63-14 at Tiger Stadium.
Sweating out a 421/2-point spread that wasn’t exceeded until inside 5 minutes will do that.
But so will a game in which the two seemingly mismatched participants were only a touchdown apart until the final minute of the first half.
“That (the cupcake illustration) was just something for them to do to kind of make us scared and everything,” Vandals senior free safety Gary Walker said. “But to be honest, that was disrespectful.
“We were no pushovers tonight. I feel like I kind of showed them that wasn’t true.”
Walker had the night’s most spectacular play for either side – a 94-yard interception return that set up Idaho’s first touchdown after the Vandals (0-3) had fallen behind 14-0.
Later in the second quarter, against a defense that didn’t allow Washington to penetrate its 35 last week, junior quarterback Dominique Blackman directed a seven-play, 81-yard drive capped by a well-executed 22-yard scoring pass to Jahrie Level that closed the gap to 21-14.
It might have stayed that way until intermission. But after forcing a punt, the Vandals committed three straight false-start penalties in front of the raucous LSU student section, backing them up from their 12 to the 3.
Two running plays pushed the ball back another yard, and Odell Beckham retuned Bobby Cowan’s 48-yard punt to the Idaho 39.
Three plays later, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger teamed with Jarvis Landry for a 7-yard TD pass. Idaho never recovered, especially after Lavar Edwards’ 24-yard interception return off Blackman on the Vandals’ opening possession of the second half.
“I’d love to blame those penalties on the atmosphere, but I’m afraid I can’t,” Idaho coach Robb Akey said. “They did get loud, but that’s something we’ve got to get cleaned up.
“But against a team that might win the national championship, you can’t have mistakes like that.”
Despite the late touchdown drive, LSU only led in total yardage 181-124 at halftime. In the second half, the Tigers had 288-98 edge and the Vandals never crossed midfield again.
Blackman finished 23 for 36 for 174 yards, but was intercepted four times, with two of them returned for touchdowns.
Akey said that’s why he was not satisfied with the total effort against the Tigers (3-0).
“I’m satisfied that our guys did a good job during the week,” he said. “And I’m satisfied that our guys said, ‘Let’s go out there and play ball.’
“We competed well for a half, and it’s not easy to keep going out there fighting when the score is getting as wide as it did. But I also saw some guys just walking around, and that’s what I’m a little irritated at right now.”
Still, it was a night when the Vandals earned their $925,000 payday, making LSU work for its national-record 40th straight regular-season home field victory.
Walker said it proved that Idaho deserves to remain in the Football Championship Subdivision, despite an uncertain future following this season when the WAC dissolves and no other conference at present seems to want the Vandals as a football member.
“Since that’s the conversion going on, we’ve got something to prove,” he said. “We should never allow that to happen.
“We should step up to the plate every week and show that we deserve to be I-A.”
At least next week, the Vandals get a more-level playing field, playing host to winless Wyoming, which fell to FCS Cal Poly 24-22 on Saturday.
It’s also worth noting that the Cowboys are members of the Mountain West, which has rejected Idaho’s appeal for membership.
“It’s definitely a big game for us,” Walker said. “Our record definitely isn’t where we want it to be.
“We need to prepare like we did this week and make sure we come out of that game happy.”