Idaho quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson was a bit taken aback by just how composed redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Luton was on the goal line at Arkansas State, a 49-35 Sun Belt Conference loss.
The Vandals scored a touchdown each time Luton led Idaho inside the 20, which included three plays in which the Marysville, Wash. native ran into the end zone unscathed for scores.
It turns out, he was simply rehashing his high school days.
Luton scored three touchdowns last Saturday at Arkansas State, all on option plays. Luton's first and third rushing touchdowns on the goal line were fake handoffs to Penny, where Luton then patiently waited for holes to develop when the defense collapsed on Penny, running in effortlessly.
His second touchdown run was a traditional read-option, where Luton faked to Penny and then immediately pulled it and ran off to his left for an easy touchdown scamper.
None were designed necessarily for Luton to run. Luton was simply reacting as he always in those situations.
"As you could see, because of what he ran in high school on some of the stuff on the goal line in the run game he really has a natural feel for that stuff and really surprised us all on how he found holes and how well he read in some of our zone read game," Erickson said.
The 6-foot-6 quarterback regularly utilized his legs when he was leading the charge in Marysville-Pilchuck's pound-it-out run game. Most defenses would key in on running back Austin Joyner, now a defensive back at the University of Washington, in the red zone.
"I did, kind of the same thing, once we’d get inside the 10 I kept the ball a lot," Luton said. "In high school I had a lot of 3, 4, 5-yard rushing touchdowns."
It was so effective that Erickson eluded to how Idaho could utilize Luton in the red zone in the future.
"That was surprising in a positive, and we’ll down the road utilize him in a lot more situations," Erickson said.
Luton threw the ball only 10 to 15 times per game while in high school and threw 42 passes in his first collegiate start and threw 13 times in relief against USC in Idaho's second game of the season.
"I love throwing the ball. In high school I was always bugging coaches ,'let me throw a little bit more, a little bit more,'" Luton said. "Finally I’m here, I got to throw the ball a lot, I just have to be a little more efficient."
Three interceptions didn't look great on Luton's statline considering starter Matt Linehan, who sat out at Arkansas State with an ankle injury, threw six interceptions through Idaho's first four games.
"There are times he needed to step up in the pocket and then again, as a group we have to stop throwing interceptions," Erickson said. "We can’t turn the ball over like we’ve done. Those kids are just trying to make a play but through experience we have to understand when to force it and when to throw it away and sometimes we just have to take a sack, we can’t throw interceptions."
Idaho is evaluating Linehan's status day by day, but he was throwing and running around a little bit by Tuesday's practice, Erickson said.
In the mean time, Luton will prepare like he is the starter.
"I just prepare like I’m the starter every week," Luton said. "I just prepare to get ready any time, first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter if they need me, if they need to call my number I’m going to be ready like I’m the starter."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Here are some other things said during Monday's media availability.
On how it could help Matt Linehan to have watched from the sideline: "Matt was great, it was almost like having a young rookie coach out there. I think it was really good for him to sit back from a different point of view and see the game and see the adjustments that were made and his feedback was really good for the coaches and for Jake. Both of those young men are different personalities but their great leaders. Matt is a little more vocal when it comes to being a leader, Matt did a great job of getting the guys going when we scored. I thought Matt did a great job."
On how playing against USC helped him prepare for Arkansas State: "It probably helped me a lot, in terms of me making the start and not having it be my first time getting playing time on the field. USC was a great experience as a player, I was able to get out there and just play football again, something I haven’t done since my senior year of high school and got to play in one of the biggest environments of college football."
Wide receiver Rueben Mwhela
On what it was like when Dezmon Epps was double covered: "Definitely, that’s just how it goes. Defenses are always going to target the other team’s best players. Jake (Luton) did a good job of scanning the field, that’s why he saw me open a couple times."
On how he is adjusting to playing time because of injuries: "(In practice I have to) show them that I don’t get fatigued. That will probably be the main concern, is fatigue. It starts in practice I have to make a lot of big plays in practice so they can be comfortable whenever I go out there on the field."