When Idaho hosts UNLV on Saturday, Vandals coach Paul Petrino believes his team is more likely to face the Rebels who took UI to overtime last year than the team that got rolled 43-40 by 45-point underdog Howard last week.
“They’re a good team,” Petrino said of UNLV. “It took us until the last play to beat them last year. I expect it to come down to the last play again.”
Even amid the disappointment of its shocking first-game loss, UNLV managed to score 40 points and probably left more on the field with an undisciplined 90 yards of penalties. Stern attention to detail in practice this week could probably fix that. More problematic is a Rebels defense that gave up 43 points, 355 yards rushing and 220 yards passing to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that finished 2-9 last year.
An inability to get lined up correctly, shoddy tackling and simply getting beaten by better athletes are possible reasons for the Rebels’ defensive shortcomings. But Petrino points to another cause.
“They were lined up right,” he said. “They got caught by a really hot, young quarterback who can make plays.”
Howard’s Caylin Newton, a freshman and the younger brother of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 140 yards and another touchdown.
The Idaho coach’s assessment is fair enough. But Idaho also has a hot quarterback.
Matt Linehan could become the Vandals’ all-time passing leader this year. In Idaho’s season-opening win against Sacramento State, he threw for a pair of touchdowns and 163 yards.
Jacon Sannon was the target of Linehan’s first scoring pass of the season. It was one of his four catches for 42 yards.
Sannon said UNLV played predominantly zone coverage in the defensive backfield against Howard, which he expects to see Saturday. Last year, the Rebels tried to match up with UI receivers man-to-man.
“If they do come out in a man, as a receiver, I’m going to be happy,” Sannon said. “I don’t expect anybody to guard me man-to-man.”
Aaron Duckworth led the Vandals with 144 yards rushing and a touchdown in the opener. “Our offensive line run blocked really well, but we’ve got to improve our pass protection,” Petrino said.
Against UNLV, a Vandals defense that has been romping since spring ball might have to incorporate some patience that could run counter to its headlong ways.
The Rebels are a zone read team. The traditional antidote is a gap control defense that doesn’t present the offense any angles it can exploit.
UNLV had an imposing running attack against Howard, with Lexington Thomas rushing for 151 yards, Charles Williams 93 and Armani Rogers 82. Rogers also threw for 220 yards.
“We’ve got to be gap sound,” Petrino said. “Between the running backs and the quarterback, if they hit a hole and you’re not in it, they are going to get a big play. We’ve got to be sure we are in our gaps.”
Junior linebacker Ed Hall thinks Idaho can play a steady gap control defense without sacrificing its pressing personality.
“You’ve got to be disciplined, maintain your gap,” Hall said. “But fly to the ball. It’s gap control, but we’re always flying to the ball. If you can squeeze that gap, squeeze that gap.”
The Rebels hope a projected starter, Kendal Key, can make his season debut against the Vandals after recovering from a knee sprain. But Williams is likely out at running back with an ankle injury.
Last year’s overtime win over UNLV helped set the course of Idaho’s 9-4 season, Petrino said. The game looms in similar importance this year.
UNLV was one of several teams for which Idaho developed a game plan last spring, updated it in preseason camp and polished it up this past week.
For UNLV, the stakes are just as high. A season of high expectations hit the rocks against Howard. The Rebels may be almost desperate to get well against Idaho and avoid a 0-2 start.
It doesn’t get any easier after this. UNLV’s next game is against second-ranked Ohio State.
Tailgating affected by fire restrictions
Tailgating for Saturday’s game may be affected by fire restrictions. Because of unusually dry conditions and heightened fire danger, the Moscow Fire Department and UI Safety and Security Division have announced a ban on open flames on the UI campus.
Camp fires and fire pits are prohibited, and motor vehicles cannot venture off designated roads. Stage II fire restrictions also limit smoking to designated smoking areas, but the UI campus is already tobacco free.
Fires fueled solely by liquid petroleum or LPG fuels are permitted, as are gas grills located on nonflammable surfaces, like parking lots.
“We understand this can be disappointing for some guests,” said Moscow Fire Chief Brian Nickerson. “However, our concerns are for individual safety and mitigating problems to the best of our ability. We will continue to monitor and evaluate for each event moving forward.”