Well, well. Some folks might have expected Idaho to fare well in its opener. But who could have guessed the Vandals would come out firing like they did at New Mexico State? A three-touchdown lead turned into a 21-6 win — and the first season-opening victory for UI in a decade.
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There were noteworthy achievements galore for the Vandals. Not only was it their first opening victory since 1999, but also coach Robb Akey’s first road win (the last came in 2006). And the much-maligned UI defense from previous years mustered a first-half shutout for the first time since 2005.
For more on the banner effort, click here for the Idaho release and here for the AP story.
What to make of the victory? Well, first off: The Vandals had to win this considering their schedule from here on out, and they came through — especially in third-down situations early in the game. They started 5 of 6 on third downs, none bigger than Nathan Enderle’s 48-yard floater to Preston Davis after rolling out of the pocket on the team’s first scoring drive. Davis made a nice grab, and Daniel Hardy followed with a 6-yard TD catch in the corner of the end zone.
While the offensive production tapered off in the second half, the defense was impressive. Sure, it gave up some meaty chunks of yards — but NMSU averaged just 3.2 yards per carry (for a total of 107 yards on the ground). The play of the interior defensive line was very solid and freed up JoJo Dickson (11 tackles) and Paul Senescall (9 tackles) to roam from their linebacking spots.
And what to say about Princeton McCarty? He continues to be a sparkplug as an uber-shifty tailback. His comical 67-yarder will be probably make national highlight reels — not because of his dash but because of his self-induced trip right before the goal line. Still, McCarty is developing a track record against the Aggies, and it’s a positive sign for Robb Akey and Co.
Enderle was what you probably have to expect — not terribly accurate (11 of 21 with a ghastly interception that appeared to be targeted to no one in particular). But he was poised in the aforementioned third-down plays, and he helped get the offense revved up early on.
It's also telling that no receiver had more than two catches. The Vandals are going to disperse the ball this year after being so reliant on Eddie Williams the past couple seasons. I still think Preston Davis and Daniel Hardy (two guys who figured so prominently in the first drive) have the chance to rise above the pack. But because of depth, they might not get that chance.
Lastly, it must have been an odd feeling for most of the Vandals; they're usually the ones falling behind the Aggies were. It's not a big shock that Idaho did exhibit any sort of killer instinct to put NMSU away earlier. But as Akey said afterward, "It does feel great. I'm happy for my players. I'm happy for tonight."
We’ll have much more through the Labor Day weekend. So make sure to check back.