MOSCOW, Idaho – This is their bowl game.
The Idaho Vandals are playing out the final game in a 4-6 season. But instead of finding themselves in a Big Sky Conference outpost in early winter, today the Vandals are in the sun, at a storied stadium and facing a nationally ranked Southeastern Conference opponent.
Several current Vandals seniors were on hand for one of the most unusual incidents in Idaho’s football history. In August 2014, following a three-hour weather delay, Idaho finally kicked off to Florida. Lightning immediately descended, chasing the teams from the field after that one play. Two more hours of torrential rain made the field unplayable, and the game was declared a no contest. It’s being made up today.
Their brief interlude at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp,” though, made a powerful impression on the Vandals.
“It’s going to be loud,” said cornerback Dorian Clark, who grew up a Gators fan.
“I could not hear myself think. I got a headache,” he said of standing on the sidelines as a freshman four years ago.
“It still seems like the loudest environment I’ve been in,” Idaho leading receiver David Ungerer said. “I remember feeling never more ready to play a game in my life than that one.”
Idaho coach Paul Petrino has history in The Swamp. The Arkansas teams on which he was an assistant played there.
“It’s going to be a great experience for our players,” Petrino said. “It’s a really cool atmosphere to play in The Swamp.
“In The Swamp, they’re pretty angry at you.”
Florida, 7-3 under first year coach Dan Mullen, 5-3 in the SEC, has roared back from a disappointing 4-7 campaign in 2017. The Gators are 13th in the College Football Playoff rankings and 15th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
The Gators rushed for 367 yards in a 35-31 victory over South Carolina last Saturday, part of a 528-yard offensive effort.
Florida is led in rushing by Jordan Scarlett, with 629 yards this season. The junior is not big at 210 pounds, but he ran for 159 yards against the Gamecocks.
He is closely followed by Lamical Perine, with 609 yards for the season. Feleipe Franks has completed 56.9 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Vosean Joseph keys Florida’s defense. The junior linebacker has 75 tackles this season, including eight for loss, and four sacks.
For Idaho, Ungerer is having a career year with 66 catches for 692 receiving yards. He has 1,048 all-purpose yards, and is Idaho’s 17th all-time receptions leader with 119. With a big day against the Gators, he could overtake former teammate Jacob Sannon, in 13th place with 125 career catches, and Eric Yarber, who played for Idaho from 1984-86, in 12th place with 129 career receptions.
With his third 100-yard game of the year last week against Montana, senior Isaiah Saunders became Idaho’s 10th all-time rusher with 2,155 yards. He is within 91 yards of climbing to seventh place, ahead of Princeton McCarty, who rushed for 2,245 yards from 2008-2011. Saunders has long runs this year of 60 yards against Montana and 43 against North Dakota.
The Vandals will probably be without sophomore quarterback Colton Richardson again. He missed Idaho’s past two games after being injured against Eastern Washington, and was not at practice on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Mason Petrino, who split quarterbacking duties with Richardson this year, threw for a career-best 310 yards against the Grizzlies and two touchdowns. He also ran for a third score.
Petrino is Idaho’s passing leader for the year with 1,863 yards and 14 touchdowns, against six interceptions.
Senior linebackers Kaden Elliss, Idaho’s sack leader with seven this season, and Ed Hall, with 47 total tackles and an interception, will also close out standout seasons for the Vandals against Florida.
The Gators are favored by 39 1/2 points. For any hope of a Vandals upset, Paul Petrino is ready for anything.
“We’ve got to come up with different ways to give them a chance,” he said, indicating that Idaho could empty the playbook.
“You might see it all,” Petrino said.
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