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Victors of three of their last four games, the Vandals have all of a sudden sprung themselves back into the mix in the middle of the Big Sky Conference. Idaho is 6-6 in conference play, currently good for sixth place.
Second season most important for Idaho, Vandals enter Big Sky Conference play with crucial home games
Idaho men's basketball coach Don Verlin is as anxious as anybody to see what a nine day break from playing will mean on Thursday when the Vandals open Big Sky Conference play against Idaho State at the Cowan Spectrum.
The Vandals last played on Dec. 22 at Northern Kentucky before players departed for a five day Christmas vacation.
Based on the last two days of practice, Verlin admits to some nervousness. But he hasn't understated the importance of conference play to his team.
After all, if Idaho doesn't play well enough over the next three months then there won't be a postseason at all.
Unlike the Western Athletic Conference where every team makes the conference tournament, only eight of the 12 teams in the Big Sky will participate in the Big Sky Tournament. The four teams with the worst conference records will be left out of the tournament, hosted by the regular season conference champion.
Idaho opens Big Sky play with three consecutive home games: Idaho State on Jan. 1, defending conference champions Weber State on Jan. 3 and the favorite to host the conference tournament, Eastern Washington, on Jan. 10.
"What I’ve told our team is that there’s three parts to every season. There’s the preseason, there’s the conference season and the postseason," Verlin said. "Well, basically there’s no postseason if you don’t have a good conference season. Now, the most important of our season is the conference season and these three games at home are very important."
Idaho is familiar with the Bengals, having played its rivals from Pocatello the last two seasons in southern Idaho (both Vandal wins).
Verlin coached for 15 years with Weber State coach Randy Rahe. He said it will help the Vandals be prepared for the Wildcats, saying it'll feel like "an intra-squad scrimmage." The two coached under Stew Morrill at Colorado State and Utah State
A good start at home is imperative to Verlin.
"I think the real key in the Big Sky Conference is the depth of the league. I think every night there’s going to be a battle," Verlin said. "You look around the conference, there’s a number of good teams, a number of veteran teams that really work hard to protect the home court. That’s going to be important in conference play is to protect the home court."
If the Vandals are to come out of the opening weekend of Big Sky play with one or two wins, they will have to improve dramatically on the defensive end of the floor.
In their last three losses the Vandals conceded a combined 31 3-point baskets (on 71 attempts). Many of the misses were open looks. Currently, Idaho ranks No. 331 in the country in Ken Pomeroy's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency metric, out of 351 teams. The metric concludes that, on average, Idaho is giving up 108.3 points per 100 opponent possessions.
"We have to compete harder. We’ve got to get a little more nasty. We’ve got to grind a little bit harder," Verlin said. "We played a lot of games right down to the wire that we haven’t found a way to win. So the thing I’m looking for is a little bit more toughness, a little bit more competitive attitude."
The Vandals tip against Idaho State on Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. in its first Big Sky Conference contest since 1996.
Idaho's bye week produced more drama than some of the Vandals' game weeks have.
But during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, coach Paul Petrino did his best to snuff it out, refusing to address reports that quarterback Chad Chalich (above, in a photo from spring ball) has decided to leave the Vandals' program at season's end and transfer to the University of Montana.
The Vandals, winners of just one of 10 games, close their 2014 football season Saturday with a trip to new Sun Belt Conference member Appalachian State. For more, follow the link to the jump.
This was the flip side of those storybook Senior Day memories.
Idaho hoped to send 19 seniors out on an uptick in their final Kibbie Dome appearance Saturday afternoon. Instead, it was all banana peels and pratfalls for the Vandals, who fell to Troy 34-17 in a Sun Belt Conference game — the Trojans getting three interceptions by Montres Kitchens and a pair of long touchdown receptions from Bryan Holmes (above, beating UI's Armond Hawkins).
For more perspectives on the Vandals' dismal day, jump on the link.
Mike Marboe is a throwback, maybe in every sports sense of the word.
He's the epitome of a durable grinder you simply can't get out of the lineup — he's started all of the 45 games for which he's suited up as an Idaho Vandal after redshirting his first year on campus. But his roots go much deeper. He's a fifth generation Vandal, whose great-great-great grandfather Clancy St. Clair was one of the school's regents.
For more on Marboe (No. 74 above), who plays his final home game at Idaho on Saturday when the Vandals face Troy at the Kibbie Dome, jump on the link.
Tied at halftime. Down a touchdown to start the fourth quarter. Driving. Inside the opponent's 10-yard line.
Poised once again for a possible breakthrough victory against something other than a fellow college football bottom-feeder, the Idaho Vandals instead lost their poise — surrendering the ball on a red-zone fumble and then a long drive that let San Diego State ease away to a 35-21 victory Saturday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium.
If it wasn't a full fourth-quarter meltdown, it was at least a familiar enough narrative that it got under coach Paul Petrino's skin — though he may have contributed to the problem.
For more on the Vandals and their 21st consecutive road loss, jump on the link.
Ah, the November out-of-conference game, college football's favorite non-sequitur. Nothing quite gets the blood running hot like facing what should have been a September opponent two months later.
The Idaho Vandals (1-7) step out of the Sun Belt Conference this Saturday but stay very much in the sun, with a trip to play San Diego State (4-4) at 3:30 p.m. at Qualcomm Stadium. So there's a chance to play in an NFL stadium to jazz up the date, and there's a little family reunion to add sub-text. And, of course, the Vandals will be trying to live down their nightmarish fourth quarter against Arkansas State last weekend.
For more on the Vandals, the link below will take you to page 2.
Somehow, the Idaho Vandals weren't completely out of it early in the fourth quarter with five turnovers to Arkansas State's one. They had weathered two Matt Linehan interceptions in his four pass attempts. They had overcome a crushing fumble by Linehan inside ASU's 10 that was returned 93 yards for a touchdown. And they managed to regain the lead shortly after a David Ungerer fumble on a punt return in the third quarter.
But late in the game, with fatigue perhaps setting in, the Vandals could no longer compensate for their mistakes. They were undone by three more turnovers — eight in all — and seven fourth-quarter penalties in a 44-28 loss to the Red Wolves at the Kibbie Dome.
Instead of a statement Sun Belt win, coach Paul Petrino spent his six minutes with reporters bemoaning how Idaho couldn't finish what it started — yet again. As for the players' reaction, well, the media didn't get to hear what they thought. No UI players were made available after the game.
For more on the 1-7 Vandals, click on the link below.
Now where have we heard this before?
After a bye week that gave them extra time to savor their first victory of the 2014 football season, the Idaho Vandals are deep into prep mode for a run at two in a row when they host Arkansas State on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the Kibbie Dome. And the news from coach Paul Petrino this week? That both Matt Linehan and Chad Chalich (pictured above) figure to see action at quarterback.
For more on the Vandals, the click on the link below.
Nuke LaLoosh, the bumpkin philosopher of "Bull Durham," said it all: "I love winning, man. It's like, better than losing."
If they weren't clear on the concept before, the Idaho Vandals certainly were by Saturday night. RIding plays like Josh McCain's 49-yard touchdown catch of a Chad Chalich pass (pictured above), the Vandals halted a 13-game losing streak, dumping New Mexico State 29-17 to make it a happy homecoming weekend in Moscow.
And for the record, yes, it seemed like genuine joy trumped the relief of ridding themselves of the longest drought in the Football Championship Subdivision, even if it was somewhat tempered by the blow to the head that sidelined starting quarterback Matt Linehan — though no one is saying the "C" word yet.
For more on the Vandals and their victory, follow the link below.
Tom Hennessey is a Vandal legacy, in that his father — also named Tom — was a standout linebacker for Idaho during its stretch as a Big Sky Conference power, specifically in the mid-1980s.
But he'll leave a legacy, too. Though he's played during one of the worst stretches, in terms of the won-lost record, in Vandal history, the one-time walk-on has provided a singular example of hanging tough that some of his younger teammates might want to emulate — even if the program begins to experience success.
For more on the younger Tom Hennessey and the Vandals, whose homecoming game on Saturday against New Mexico State might seem to be a pretty good opportunity break the nation's longest FBS losing streak, click on the link below.
The obvious bad news for Idaho last weekend was the 47-24 thumping from Sun Belt Conference leader Georgia Southern. The kicker was that back East, Massachusetts went on the road and blasted Kent State 40-17 to end a 12-game losing streak — leaving the Vandals alone with the nation's longest FBS losing streak of 13 games.
Better news: it's homecoming for quarterback Matt Linehan (pictured above) and the Vandals.
And the opponent is in something of a tailspin itself. New Mexico State, the Vandals' old partner in the late, lamented football collective of the Western Athletic Conference, comes to Moscow for the 2 p.m. Saturday game, reeling from five straight defeats after a pair of wins to open the season.
For more on the Vandals, follow the link below.
Slow start? Check. Surrendering big plays? Check. Resilience? Check. Inspired comeback? Check. Killing interception? Check, and mate.
The Idaho Vandals followed a familiar scenario Saturday, and once again came up short in a bid for their first victory of the season. Georgia Southern solidified its spot atop the Sun Belt Conference standings, riding a 155-yard rushing day from Matt Breida (above, pursued by UI's Marc Millan, 23, and Tom Hennessey, 30) and the savvy quarterbacking of Kevin Ellison to a 47-24 victory in Statesboro.
The link below will take you to more on the Vandals.
Idaho and Georgia Southern are both in their first seasons in the Sun Belt Conference — well, in the Vandals' case, it's their first season back after a decade away. But that's a long enough absence to qualify Idaho as a newbie, given that no one connected with the program has an attachment to the school's first tour through the league.
In any case, the Eagles seem to have the hang of things already. The Vandals, not so much. The comparison gets a closer look this weekend when the Vandals make another cross-country trip to play the league-leaders in Statesboro.
For more on the Vandals, follow the link.
They had the ball for 41 of the game's 60 minutes. They forced four turnovers. The quarterback had another 300-yard passing effort, and the running game was located for the first time since the season opener.
And once again, the Idaho Vandals come home with a loss.
Behind a 284-yard rushing performance by Terrence Franks, the Texas State Bobcats held off Idaho's bid for its first win of the 2014 season, posting a 35-30 victory at Jim Wacker Stadium in San Marcos in front of 21,345 witnesses.
For more on the Vandals and their struggles, follow the link to the jump.
While he continues to exhort his Vandals to keep grinding and do the little things that should, in time, allow them to pull the program out of its losing spiral, Idaho coach Paul Petrino also has to develop some game-changers. He's found one in Austin Rehkow. Problem is, he doesn't play a marquee position like quarterback or linebacker. He's the punter — the live-to-fight-another-day position.
Still, the sophomore from Central Valley kept matters from getting a lot worse in a hurry during last Saturday's 34-10 loss to South Alabama when the Vandals' offense decided to go south for the first time this year. Yes, he missed a couple of field goals that could have kept things closer, too, but field goals weren't going to save Idaho on this day — and the field position Rehkow's punts provided at least allowed the Vandals to hang in there, whether it was false hope or not.
For more on Rehkow and the Vandals, follow the link.
Idaho's defense didn't get all its problems solved Saturday, or even most of them. But the 27 points it surrendered, in the eyes of Paul Petrino, should have put the Vandals in a position to win their Dad's Day game against South Alabama.
Only the Jaguars blew them out.
The 34-10 pounding administered by the visitors was perplexing on any number of fronts, but mostly in how soundly they whipped the Vandals offense — the bright spot even as Idaho stumbled to losses in its first three games.
For more on the Vandals and their pratfall in the Kibbie Dome, follow the link to the jump.
Among the unlikeliest of breakout stars of the young football season, Josh McCain has become one of quarterback Matt Linehan's go-to targets at Idaho — and a lesson in patience and flexibility in a college athletics culture where often the first reaction of an athlete who doesn't crack the starting lineup is to transfer.
For more on McCain and the Vandals, the click on the link below.
The improvements are there to be seen on the field, though most are incremental. But Idaho coach Paul Petrino and his Vandals are starting to get a little desperate to see the real payoff: in the win column.
Now 0-3 — and 1-14 under Petrino since he became head coach for the 2013 season — the Vandals, Petrino said, are "a couple plays away from being 2-1. That's what's a little frustrating, but it gives you great encouragement for the future.
"But, gosh dang, we need to have it start happening."
The link below will take you to more on the Vandals.
What had the early makings of another step backward for the Idaho Vandals turned into something else altogether.
What it didn't turn into was a victory.
Big plays by a pair of freshmen allowed Ohio University to hold off the Vandals 36-24 on Saturday in Athens, Ohio — dropping Idaho to 0-3 this year and 1-14 in the Paul Petrino erea.
The link will take you to more about the Vandals.
It's one of those back-to-the-drawing board weeks for the Idaho Vandals.
Confident they had something to build on when they came home from their season opener at Louisiana-Monroe, the Vandals instead find themselves picking up the pieces after a nasty lesson delivered by Western Michigan on Saturday in the Kibbie Dome. Coach Paul Petrino dissected the 45-33 loss on Tuesday and looked ahead to another venture into the Mid-American Conference at Ohio University.
The link below will take you to more about the Vandals.
So if a football team gives up touchdown plays of 61, 31, 57 and 39 yards it's possible that it could still survive, if the damage was limited to a few big plays. And if it surrenders 210 yards to a rugged running back, well, that might not be certain death — if they don't give up a bunch of big plays, too.
Except Idaho gave up the big plays and the big yards by the big back, and took a pretty big step back from their first week showing in a 45-33 loss to Western Michigan in Saturday's home opener at the Kibbie Dome.
The link below will take you to more on the Vandals.
It was 30 years ago that Scott Linehan ascended to the starting quarterback's job at the University of Idaho, after an apprenticeship under Vandals legend Ken Hobart.
Now he's the passing game coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys after several coaching stops in the college and pro games — including two-plus seasons as head coach of the St. Louis Rams. And now his son Matt (in photo above) has taken over the family business as starting quarterback of the Vandals, though coach Paul Petrino insists the competition is still open between Matt and Chad Chalich.
For more on the Linehans and Idaho football, click on the link.
After his first collegiate start, redshirt freshman Matt Linehan — the son of another former Vandals quarterback, Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Scott Linehan — shares his thoughts on his performance and other matters.
After losing 11 games by an average of 31 points in his first season as head coach, don't think that Idaho's Paul Petrino didn't see the silver lining in Saturday's 38-31 setback at Louisiana-Monroe.
It's just that he's not in the silver lining business.
Still, the combination of the Vandals' improved play and the fact that they're still looking for a their first win of the season makes him all the more eager for Saturday's home opener against Western Michigan at 2 p.m.
For more on the Vandals, follow the link.
Say, maybe the Idaho Vandals and Florida Gators can play each other on Xbox 360.
It may come to that. Another day passed with no resolution on whether the two teams' game — washed out by rain and lightning last Saturday — will be played on another date this season, or whether the Vandals will get the $975,000 payday they were counting on for their trouble.
For more on the Vandals, follow the link.
They couldn't get the game played on Saturday night, which immediately raised questions whether it will get played at all. But an announcement on whether Idaho and Florida will reschedule the 2014 season opener that was first declared "terminated" and then simply "suspended" due to lightning and unplayable field conditions could come today.
For more on the Vandals and their scheduling dilemma, click on the link.
What everyone else in college football calls "body bag games" are something entirely different to guys like Richard Montgomery and Jacob Sannon.
Of course, there isn't an underdog out there who thinks he's auditioning to be a victim.
Click on the link for more on the Vandals.
Call it resolution or call it compromise, but the big question dogging the Idaho Vandals into the first week of the college football season — who's the quarterback? — has been answered.
It's both of them.
More on the Vandals below.