Kaden Elliss was a little bit confused at first why his teammates were so excited to have back-to-back games and to have a 3-4 record. Well, he thought, all that means is Idaho lost four games. And that bothers him.
But he started to understand what Idaho's 27-13 homecoming triumph over the University of Louisiana at Monroe really meant when he applied the context of what his upperclassman teammates had gone through the last three seasons.
"We were just talking in there, some of the seniors were saying ‘We’re 3-4.’ To me, it still sounds like we lost four games and that upsets me," Elliss said. " ... To hear them talk about how excited they are right now and their Instagram posts and talking about one game at time, but possibly getting to a bowl game now and really working, it’s fun listening to them and playing with them and trying to do it for them."
Indeed, Idaho has accomplished something it hasn't done since 2009 — it's won two consecutive football games. And for the first time since 2010, a year Idaho went 6-7, it's won more than two football games.
To put Idaho's now 3-4 (2-2 Sun Belt Conference) season in context, the Vandals have won three games total the last three seasons combined.
"Two games in a row. Especially for us, for the people who haven’t been here since 2011, to win two games in a row is unheard of since I’ve been here, it’s more exciting, everybody is happy," senior Quinton Bradley said. "It makes it worth it, staying through all the hurt and the bad seasons, it makes it finally worth it when you work so hard and you get to experience wins and success. Everybody wants that and the things we’ve been through and the things we’ve been through, it makes it worthwhile."
Here are the key stats
- Elijhaa Penny had a career-high 184 rushing yards on 36 carries. This was the first game in which he looked good both running between the tackles and running off tackles. He was elusive, broke tackles and was able to get runs into the second level. He's not going to be a home run threat, but he significantly helps this offense build drives and set up passes down the field when defenses have to pay attention to him.
"It felt good, but you got to give a lot of credit to the offensive line, making them holes and getting me one on one with a lot of people so I can break tackles, it feels good to know I’m in the books for the Vandals," Penny said. "I don’t even look tired, I’m not tired at all, I feel like I can play another game, really. I guess all the offseason work, it paid off, all the eating right, all the working out and the extra work I put in."
- Matt Linehan hit the air for 315 yards and three passing touchdowns, but started the game quite terribly. Linehan put the ball on the ground twice, gifting ULM 10 points and keeping a game that Idaho dominated a close affair. Things didn't look very good for Linehan when he threw a pick into the end zone late in the second quarter.
Linehan's response to the pick was finishing 13 of 22 for 206 yards and three touchdowns of 36, 34 and 23 yards.
Petrino on Linehan's performance: "He just kept fighting. He just kept grinding, kind of like everybody else on the team did. He just kept fighting and fighting and grinding. And they got us on a couple of those blitzes. They showed it one way and they rolled it, brought it the other way. We got them back on two checks. The touchdown right before the half, we got them back and the other big play to Trent Cowan down the middle and then the two touchdowns to Deon Watson. Those were all against the same blitz, to be honest with you. They got us a couple times early and Matt did a good job and sometimes against that kind of stuff, you've got to stand up and take a smack right in the mouth and make the play anyway and I'm just really proud of them, they did a good job."
- Jake Luton played only one snap, a read-option rush for no gain in the first quarter in the red zone. He has four rushing touchdowns on the season.
Jace Malek awarded game ball
Paul Petrino awarded the game ball to Jace Malek, a Spokane native who was diagnosed with cancer while orally committed to the Vandals. He now serves a student-assistant due to his inability to play.
It was an emotional moment for all, especially Petrino when asked about it after the game.
"That's what it's really all about. There's not a whole lot of more special kids than him. You know what I mean? And everyone in this room, I'd appreciate sooner than later, to get to know him. Maybe write something great about him."
Quinton Bradley's response: "It was nice, I told him he still sucked at fantasy football though," Bradley joked. "It was nice, he deserves it, he’s been through a lot, he still continues to go through a lot. Seeing him happy is a good feeling."
Dallas Sandberg's response: “Jace is kind of an inspiration. I got a cousin with the same situation. He’s an inspiration to me and what Jace does for this program and how he comes in with a smile on his face every day... I’m speechless about it. He builds this program so much and he’s just an inspiration to have around here. It’s awesome.”
Elijhaa Penny's response: "It meant a lot actually, yesterday coach Cink told us about him, told us what was going on with him and, you know, any time you get a player like that who played football, played sports and didn’t get to play anymore, he’s on the sideline just watching and knowing he could contribute to this team, you feel for him. Him getting the game ball, that was real cool."
Matt Linehan's response: “It was awesome, man. It’s a great feeling. He does a lot for us. He’s provided a lot of inspiration for our program. I’m never going to forget about him as I go forward through life. What he’s gone through, then to continue to have a smile on his face every day, despite what he’s going through, it’s pretty incredible. He’s a great kid and I love him to death.”
The Idaho defense has gone from the punching bag of this team to its rock in just two short weeks. After giving up over 40 points a game, the defense has conceded just 29 points over the last two weeks combined.
Khalin Smith's move from tight end to BUCK linebacker has something to do with it. Smith was constantly in ULM's backfield creating havoc, which allowed Kevin Shelton to move from BUCK to a defensive tackle position. Marc Millan, who was a BUCK before, moved back to his WILL linebacker spot which then allowed Chris Edwards to move back to his safety position which he played last year.
Idaho finished with one sack and six tackles for loss and only conceded three points to ULM on drives that didn't start off an Idaho turnover. ULM only netted three yards on two drives it started off fumbles inside Idaho's 15-yard line.
"That’s how it should have been, you know," Bradley said of the defensive narrative. "Everybody is tired of the media always saying bad things about us and, when we’re out there on that field we don’t see that. We see that somebody wasn’t in their gap that play, we see somebody got the wrong call and gave up a big pass. When we all get back here and watch the film and see simple mistakes that we caused, it hurts. Now that people are seeing how well our defense is doing, it’s exciting. It’s a change of pace."
That's all for now. I should have more early next week.