Saturday’s nonconference football game between visiting Idaho and Missouri is a reset button for somebody.
The host Tigers are looking to jump-start the second half of a dismal season with an expected homecoming win over the two-touchdown underdog Vandals.
Idaho has come up short in four close games, including one-possession affairs in its last two outings against an improving Louisiana-Lafayette and Sun Belt Conference defending co-champion Appalachian State.
Now, going against Southeastern Conference member Missouri, the pressure could be off. The Vandals should feel free to dial up every exotic blitz, double reverse and halfback pass in football.
Vandals coach Paul Petrino has told his Vandals to embrace the experience of playing on a big stage and enjoy it. An upset could change momentum for Idaho, which badly needs validation it is better than its record.
The key matchup could be between Missouri’s defensive line, which Petrino calls its strongest unit, and Idaho’s running game, featuring the Sun Belt’s leading rusher, Aaron Duckworth, with 552 yards on 94 carries, nearly 5.9 yards per carry.
Overall, the Tigers are giving up an average 498.7 yards a game, a statistic inflated by the 696 they gave up against Georgia, which is 7-0 and ranked third in the country.
This could bode well for Vandals quarterback Matt Linehan’s ascent of Idaho’s all-time passing records. Linehan stands fourth in career passing yards with 9,991. He is 73 yards from catching Nathan Enderlee, in third place. Doug Nussmeier’s is Idaho’s all-time passing leader with 10,824 yards.
Linehan is coming off a 13-for-21 game for 167 yards and two touchdowns against Appalachian State. For the season, he is averaging 212 yards per game, with nine touchdowns against four interceptions.
One of his favorite targets, senior Jacob Sannon, has 102 career receptions and is three catches away from breaking into Idaho’s top 20. He has established single-season highs of 36 receptions for 370 yards.
Linehan’s Missouri counterpart, Drew Lock, has been inconsistent but occasionally spectacular. He lit up Missouri State in the Tigers’ lone victory with a school-record 521 yards passing, tying the SEC record with seven touchdowns. Against Georgia in Missouri’s last game, Lock hit Emanuel Hall for four TDs on passes of 48, 58, 63 and 63 yards,
“They are going to take some shots at us,” Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss said. “They’ve done it every game. They like to throw deep.”
Elliss said the Vandals may have learned a powerful lesson from their 23-20 loss to Appalachian State, a game Idaho led 20-0. “There’s something you can take from a game like that to use and get better,” Elliss said.
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