MOSCOW, Idaho – Three-quarters of the way through a nearly three-hour scrimmage on Saturday, Idaho quarterback Chad Chalich’s throwing shoulder started to tire.
This was understandable on a number of levels. After all, Chalich and Matt Linehan took all the snaps during the 190-play scrimmage – the first of the spring for the Vandals. And the redshirt sophomore from Coeur d’Alene missed the last five full games of 2013 after injuring that same shoulder.
“It’s just something I have to fight through and get in the training room and keep getting it stronger,” Chalich said.
Understanding how Idaho coach Paul Petrino likes to scrimmage – fast, long and intense – Chalich wasn’t complaining about the marathon session at the Kibbie Dome. He and UI’s other returners know what to expect two years into Petrino’s reign.
So when the coach whistled for a break to mark the end of the first half of the scrimmage after 110 plays, no one was taken aback like they were at the first scrimmage of spring last year.
“At halftime this year, we kind of expected it to be halftime,” defensive end Maxx Forde said. “Last year, the first time he called halftime, I thought it was going to be over and he called, ‘Halftime!’ and I was like, ‘Wow.’ ”
Chalich and Linehan traded spots with the first and second units, each showcasing an accurate arm at times and the ability to scramble to make plays. Petrino didn’t want to say who had the better day before watching film of the scrimmage, but both QBs called the competition for the starting spot even after five of 15 spring practices.
Perhaps because of Chalich’s recovering shoulder, Linehan attempted nearly twice as many passes as his counterpart. He completed 40 of 62 passes for 484 yards and four TDs. Chalich, though, had the more explosive day, going 22 of 34 for 394 yards and seven scores.
“I think it’s a level playing field right now,” said Linehan, a redshirt freshman. “I think me and Chad are right there neck and neck. But someone’s going to have to separate yourself by the end of spring ball.”
Petrino had said he ideally wanted to see the offense and defense trade salvos. But for a good part of Saturday, the offense made the bulk of the big plays.
There was a 51-yard strike from Chalich to Josh McCain for a touchdown in which McCain snagged the ball out of the air over 6-foot-3 cornerback Desmond Banks. There was a wide-open Dezmon Epps hauling in a 32-yard touchdown over the middle from Linehan.
A few series later, running back Jerrel Brown juked several defensive backs en route to a 35-yard score.
And that was just three of the 20 touchdowns the offense scored.
But still, Petrino liked what he saw from the defense at the start and when he challenged them to buckle down.
“I thought the defense came out in that very first scripted blitz pickup and really did some nice things and got after them,” he said. “… There were a lot of big plays (for the offense). At times too many big plays.”
Many of those big plays came from McCain. The newly converted receiver had five touchdown catches, cementing his status as the biggest surprise of spring camp.