Not so long ago after a stream of 41-to-34-type football games, the joke was that there was no ‘D,’ or defense, in I-d-a-h-o. These days, there’s not only a ‘D’, but that ‘O’ is starting to look like a zero.
The Vandals crunched Portland State 46-0 on Saturday before an announced crowd of 12,128. It was Idaho’s first shutout since 1993 and the first Kibbie Dome doughnut since Dennis Erickson’s troops blanked Montana 38-0 in 1985.
Heck, in 1985, Idaho defensive end Nick Alexakos was in grade school, roughly the last time he visited the end zone in a Pop Warner game. Saturday, against PSU, Alexakos recovered a fumble in the end zone, blocked a field goal and co-blocked a punt with Garner Moody that led to James Durrough’s 26-yard return for a TD in the fourth quarter.
“Our goal is (allowing) 14 points, but really the goal is always a shutout,” Alexakos said. “You gotta love it.”
Idaho’s defense and special teams nursed the offense through another red-zone crisis, essentially scoring nine points as the Vandals led 15-0 at half. Leading 6-0, Moody and Tim Wilson sacked PSU quarterback Jimmy Blanchard in the end zone for a safety.
Minutes later, Mike Roberg, a freshman from University High in Spokane, sacked Blanchard and forced a fumble that Alexakos recovered in the end zone.
Meanwhile, the offense produced just two Troy Scott field goals despite favorable field position and attempted trick plays, such as a flea-flicker and a halfback-option pass.
Scott also missed a 42-yard field goal that hit the left upright. Later, Portland State lineman Charles Gilmore, a thorn in UI’s offense throughout the opening half, swallowed up running back Jerome Thomas on fourth-and-goal at the 1. “I kept telling the offense, ‘The defense is playing good, we’ve got to get some points and do something to keep the defense going,”’ Idaho wide receiver Deon Price said.
The Vandals, held to 10 points last week by Air Force despite penetrating the opponent’s 25-yard line five times, finally broke the red-zone blockade in the second half, thanks to some adjustments by the coaching staff and to Price’s dance-floor moves.
Quarterback Brian Brennan, stung by three dropped passes in the first half, went 4 for 4 to cap a 52-yard drive to open the third quarter. The capper was a 6-yard TD pass to Antonio Wilson and the Vandals led 22-0.
Brennan found Ryan Prestimonico open over the middle for a 30-yard scoring play on Idaho’s next drive.
“They were squeezing really hard and taking away the inside run,” coach Chris Tormey said. “We were able to get the ball on the perimeter with play-action in the second half.”
Late in the third quarter, Brennan lobbed a strike to Price, who unleashed a series of fakes, spins and leftover moves from the disco era on PSU’s cornerback. Perhaps Price was trying to stay in tune with the K.C. and the Sunshine Band song that had boomed from the Dome speakers between plays.
“I was just trying to make him miss,” said Price, whose dance led to a field goal.
Now, not everybody was sold on Idaho’s defense. It should be noted that PSU, of the Big Sky Conference, played without four of its top six linemen. And the Vikings’ offense also shot blanks in a 35-7 loss last week against Fresno State. PSU scored on a fumble recovery.
“We ate up these corners up all night,” PSU receiver Art Williams said. Better check Webster’s on that definition of ate, Art.
True, PSU receivers did slip past defensive backs on occasion, but that shortcoming went unnoticed because Idaho’s pass rush usually was eating up Blanchard and second-half QB Tyson Parsons.
Idaho allowed only 166 yards, its fewest since Eastern Washington’s 132-yard output in 1995.
“We’re a bunch of average guys when we play individually,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “But when we play together, we’re pretty good because we’ve got good team speed. We’ve got great, great chemistry as a team and on defense.”
And exceptional dancing ability.
The Vandals (1-1), which came away injury free, won’t return home until Oct. 4. UI is at Idaho State Saturday. PSU (0-2) has a bye week before facing Eastern Washington.
Idaho 46, Portland St. 0
Portland St. 0 0 0 0 - 00
Idaho 6 9 14 17 - 46
UI-T. Scott 28 FG, 10:11.
UI-T. Scott 33 FG, 00:15.
UI-Team safety, 5:43.
UI-Alexakos 0 fumble recovery (T. Scott kick), 2:58.
UI-Wilson 6 pass from Brennan (T. Scott kick), 12:52.
UI-Prestimonico 30 pass from Brennan (T. Scott kick), 6:44.
UI-T. Scott 20 FG, 14:49.
UI-Durrough 26 blocked punt return (T. Scott kick), 12:06.
UI-Dean 14 run (T. Scott kick), 4:39.
PSU UI First downs 13 21 Rushes-yards 28-20 39-121 Passing 146 279 Comp-Att-Int 13-37-0 20-35-0 Return Yards 207 100 Punts-Avg. 11-36.6 5-42.4 Fumbles-Lost 5-2 0-0 Penalties-Yards 9-84 8-51 Time of Possession 24:38 35:22
RUSHING-PSU, Dunn 8-40, Johnson 3-14, Clemons 7-14, Blanchard 8-(-29), Parsons 2-(-29). UI-J. Thomas 22-79, Dean 1-14, Ah Hi 6-13, Alderson 7-12, Brennan 3-3.
PASSING-PSU, Parsons 6-19-0-60, Blanchard 7-18-0-86. UI, Brennan 18-28-0-265, Dean 2-6-0-14, Alderson 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING-PSU, Williams 4-44, Bryant 3-42, Harris 3-40, McVeigh 1-14, Allen 1-10, Dunn 1-(-4). UI, Price 4-103, Prestimonico 4-60, Pankratz 3-40, Wilson 3-29, J. Thomas 2-16, Ah Hi 1-13, Taylor 1-10.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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