MOSCOW, Idaho – Dropped passes and blown coverages.
Those two things don’t fully explain Idaho’s 59-38 football loss to Old Dominion on Saturday, but they were the dominant story lines on Senior Day in front of perhaps 9,000 at the Kibbie Dome.
The Vandals (1-9) lost for the fifth straight time despite rolling to a 14-0 lead less than 4 minutes into the game and forging a tie, at 31-all, before halftime. They’ve now yielded at least 59 points three times this season and six times in the last two years.
And it doesn’t get any easier. After a bye, the Vandals travel to meet Jameis Winston and No. 2 Florida State, easily the most lethal offense they’ll see this year.
“We either got to improve or get guys that run faster, one or the other,” said UI coach Paul Petrino, after his team gave up 533 passing yards to ODU quarterback Taylor Heinike. “They just ran by us. There’s not a whole lot to analyze.”
It wasn’t just the secondary that had a long afternoon. Idaho receivers and tight ends dropped five surefire catches in the second half alone, when ODU outscored Idaho 28-7.
Junior receiver Dezmon Epps had a career-high nine catches for 175 yards and senior QB Taylor Davis racked up 308 yards through the air. But Epps had two critical drops, one of which led to an interception, and Clayton Homme and Jacob Sannon couldn’t corral passes on consecutive drives with the Vandals trying to rally in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t really look the ball in – that’s my problem,” Epps said. “I could have willed us to victory. I could say my mistakes really hurt (us).”
Heinicke, a 71-percent passer coming into Saturday, was especially on point to start the second half for the Monarchs (7-3), who registered their first FBS win in program history. He completed his first 12 attempts of the third quarter, and his 39-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Marquel Thomas on fourth-and-3 early in the fourth was a back-breaker for Idaho.
Thomas waltzed into the end zone when Idaho’s Roman Runner, a senior receiver who switched to cornerback in the second half, stopped covering him on a sideline fly route after he expected a safety to come over and help on the play.
“As a defense, we got to play together,” junior defensive end Maxx Forde said. “We didn’t do that at times today and it hurt us.”
The loss stings even more, Forde said, because it was the final home game for 17 seniors. But Petrino had less flattering words for the senior class.
“It’s always a sad day when it’s the last game for the seniors,” the first-year coach said. “I thought a few of them would step up and play harder, to be honest with you.”