Jake Luton's first collegiate start began about as well as he could have hoped. He drove his team 75 yards down the field, accounting for 45 of those yards through the air, capping it with a handoff to Elijhaa Penny who barreled into the end zone to put the Vandals up 7-0 over Arkansas State on the opening drive.
The rest of the night proved to be more of a learning curve for the redshirt freshman from Marysville, Wash.
Luton finished the night 24 of 42 for 166 yards and three interceptions to go with his three rushing touchdowns in a 49-35 loss to the Red Wolves in Sun Belt Conference play.
"I thought he did some good things, he competed his tail off," Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. " ... The more experience he gets, the better he’ll read some things."
Both Idaho (1-4, 0-2 SBC) and Arkansas State were without their starting quarterbacks due to injuries. Idaho's Matt Linehan was in a boot on his left foot following last Saturday's loss to Georgia Southern. He was in the boot as recently as Thursday night, a day before the team traveled to Arkansas.
Arkansas State was without the services of Fredi Knighten and relied on James Tabary.
The starting quarterback didn't matter much, however, with ASU's ability to run the football all over the Vandals.
Warren Wand negated Idaho's 7-0 advantage with a 59-yard run through Idaho's defense into the end zone. Michael Gordon negated Idaho's 14-7 advantage, thanks to a Chris Edwards interception return for a touchdown, with a 50-yard burst.
Gordon ran for 229 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. Arkansas State had 333 yards and six touchdowns on the ground as a team.
Idaho has conceded five touchdown runs of at least 50 yards over its last three games.
The game was effectively over when Arkansas State scored touchdowns on the two drives following Gordon's 50-yard burst, both starting from Idaho punts. The Red Wolves never came close to relinquishing their 35-14 lead. Idaho never came any closer than within two touchdowns.
"I was proud of the way our guys fought," Petrino said. "We made some mistakes that you can’t make but as far as the will to fight and how hard they played, I was proud of that."
If you're looking for positives, it's Idaho going a perfect 4 for 4 in the red zone. Luton capped off three of those with short touchdown runs. Two of them were perfectly executed fakes toward Penny, drawing the defense toward the big senior back while Luton simply follows him into the end zone. The other was a read-option where Luton veered off and scored on the bootleg.
Linehan was suited up during the game, perhaps indicating that he could be ready to play following Idaho's bye week.
Idaho played with a number of injuries to key contributors such as NT Ryan Edwards, CB Jayshawn Jordan, Kevin Shelton, David Ungerer and Leonard Hazewood.
The Idaho Vandals Radio Network reported that Idaho only had 19 defensive players available on Saturday.
"They had injuries too. I don’t think you can ever make excuse about injuries," Petrino said. " ... We don’t have a whole lot (of depth) right now. You play with the guys you have out there, you don’t make excuses and you play as hard as you can."
Idaho plays at Troy following the bye week. The Vandals are next at home on Oct. 24 when Louisiana-Monroe travels to Moscow for Homecoming.