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.
Not the least among the reasons for Petrino's heightened sense of anticipation: playing in the Kibbie Dome. After lightning helped wipe out the opener at Florida and delayed play at Monroe by more than two hours, the Vandals can be assured Mother Nature won't mess around with this one -- unless, say, a mudslide blocks the Broncos' bus.
Plus, there's that territorial imperative.
"This is our home and we need to defend it as much as we can," said quarterback Matt Linehan. "We want teams to fear coming here."
The Broncos are a team in much the same straits as Idaho -- looking for success, and an identity. Both teams were 1-11 a year ago. Both showed signs of improvement in their openers -- WMU dropping a 43-34 decision at Purdue. The Broncos have a durable running back in Jarvion Franklin, who gashed the Boilers for 163 yards and three touchdowns, while elusive receiver Daniel Braverman caught 10 passes for 130 yards. Another receiver, Corey Davis, was Mid-American Conference freshman of the year after catching 67 balls in 2013. The Broncos were within three of Purdue, 37-34, with 8:11 to play, only to watch the Big Ten club put together a clinching 75-yard drive.
Idaho was even closer to a breakthrough.
"Coming off the field the other night, we're a lot closer than we were -- we're real close to getting this program where we want it," Petrino said. "But we've got to take the next step, win the fourth quarter and win our home games."
With the game tied at 31 and less than two minutes to play against ULM, the Vandals had a holding penalty wipe out a 13-yard gain on first down and short-circuit a potential go-ahead drive -- then surrendered a 73-yard drive for the Warhawks' winning TD.
"We either needed to win it or go into overtime," Petrino said. "There's no way (with the game tied), when you have the ball with 2-something left, that you should end up getting beat. But that's just part of the growing, of learning how to win."
Other notes from Petrino's weekly press conference:
--- Petrino was more than just upbeat about Linehan's performance. The redshirt freshman, in his first college game, competed 55 percent of his passes and threw for 324 yards "and if guys don't drop the ball he throws for 400." He was most impressed by Linehan's "leadership and poise." And though he was sacked four times, Petrino said the offensive line "probably played its best game since I've been here."
--- Though he'd insisted for two weeks that both Linehan and sophomore Chad Chalich would see time, Petrino went the distance with his starter -- mostly, he said, on the hot-hand theory. He didn't suggest that would change Saturday, though he had some counsel for Chalich. "I told him after the game that the guy who had the most snaps at quarterback last year was (backup) Taylor Davis," Petrino said. "It's a long season and it's a contact sport. You just have to keep improving every day."
--- Petrino also didn't expect running back Jerrel Brown to get nearly four times as many carries as his teammates at a position where a committee approach seemed likely "but he was playing really good and we just kept him in there and kept feeding him." The coach did allow that he wanted Richard Montgomery, who's pulling duty at both receiver and running back, to get "four or five more touches" a game, and that would involve using him as a runner more.
--- And then there were the penalties: 12 for 119 yards. "The penalties pre-snap are ridiculous," Petrino said. "That can't happen. Sometimes where you get better between games one and two are with that, but it can't happen and those guys ran their tails off (in practice) for it. Some of the hustle penalties -- well, I can't say it or I'll get fined. But you can't get mad at a guy for something he doesn't do, let's put it that way."
--- It appears there won't be any help for the defensive line forthcoming from one of Petrino's most significant recruits. Defensive tackle Alfonso Hampton didn't make the trip to ULM and Petrino told the Lewiston Tribune that Hampton is ineligible and unlikely to play this season.
"We'll see," Petrino told the newspaper.
Hampton, whose early suitors included Florida State, Oregon and USC, played his first football at Southwestern College in California, and was ranked as ESPN's No. 9 junior college prospect. He was a late arrival to fall camp at Idaho as he tried to put his academic house in order, but even before the opener at Florida Petrino said he expected 6-foot-4, 345-pound Hampton to play 20-some snaps in the line rotation.