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Injuries building, confidence slipping as Vandals try to sort out 0-4 start

What a difference two weeks make.

Rewind the University of Idaho’s football season a couple weeks and the Vandals had found a starting quarterback and the offense and defense were displaying promising signs. Whatever momentum was built up at that point has been washed away after a 34-6 drubbing at Washington last week and a dismal 24-0 home loss to Hawaii on Saturday night.

The fragile Vandals (0-4) are trying to remain positive, but they have a long injury list and a shortage of confidence.

“We should have come out and won, but you have to stay positive when things are going like this,” said receiver Daniel Smith, whose night was cut short when he suffered a concussion on a crunching mid-air hit from Hawaii’s Tanuvasa Moe. “I’ll just try to pick the team up and let them know there’s another week coming on.

“We should be fine. We just have to come out and have more fight. We gotta win; we gotta win.”

Hawaii welcomed Idaho to the WAC by dominating the Vandals on both sides of the ball. And remember, the Warriors were picked in the preseason to finish in the middle of the WAC pack.

Idaho was torched for 364 yards passing, many of those coming on yards after the catch by the Warriors’ quick receivers, but the defense could hardly be blamed for this loss. Idaho’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown since the fourth quarter of a 34-31 loss to UNLV on Sept. 10. The unit made what amounts to a cameo appearance against Hawaii, making just 10 first downs, 2 of 13 third-down conversions and possessing the ball for only 21 minutes and 22 seconds. Hawaii ran 26 more plays and held a 17-minute edge in time of possession.

UI quarterback Steve Wichman had to deal with a crumbling pocket several times, but he also acknowledged missing some reads and he misfired on occasion when receivers were open.

“You saw some good things, then you saw some bad things and you have to get rid of those bad things,” Wichman said. “I know it sounds like the same story over and over every week, but we have potential to be good. We just have to realize that. The defense gave us a spark and offensively we didn’t contribute the way we wanted to.”

The Vandals essentially have two seniors who see playing time on offense — Antwaun Sherman, who is in the rotation at running back, and receiver Wendell Octave, who dropped a first-down catch Saturday and has just seven receptions in four games.

“We show flares,” Wichman said. “At UNLV we did some great things and scored a lot of points, and then games like (Hawaii) and Washington it’s an inconsistent balance.”

UI defenders, like the receivers, had a case of the dropsies, mishandling three potential interceptions.

“We knew what they were going to run,” middle linebacker Cole Snyder said. “We had three dropped picks, one by me, (Dan) Dykes and Tone (Taupule). The opportunities are there; we’re just not making plays right now. I don’t know if that’s confidence, but we’ve got to come out next week and start playing like we have been.”

UNLV, Washington and Hawaii secured their only victories of the season against Idaho. UNLV lost 31-24 Saturday to Utah State, which visits the Kibbie Dome this Saturday.

The Vandals continue to do things that follow losing teams around like a nagging cough. They always seem to be stuck in poor field position — three times inside their 12 against Hawaii. They are averaging 54.8 yards rushing per game. They’ve given up 16 sacks and made only six. They’ve missed field goals at crucial times. They’ve shown vulnerability in the secondary, not a good trait in the pass-happy WAC.

The Vandals are beat up on the offensive line and the absence of key playmakers — Smith on Saturday night, running back Jayson Bird (broken collarbone), tight end Luke Smith-Anderson (spleen) — is taking a toll. Safety Jevon Butler missed the Hawaii game because of a death in his family.

Still, head coach Nick Holt refused to use injuries as an excuse to explain away Idaho’s laundry list of problems.

“When you get shut out, I guess it does,” Holt said when asked about the impact of a depleted offensive line. “But those guys have to suck it up. They’re good enough to block those guys.

“Hawaii ran the same offense they do week in, week out,” Holt added. “You give them all those opportunities in the first half… . that offense will eventually score some points. The time of possession is just ridiculous. We go three-and-out. The best defense against that offense is to have an offense yourself, and we didn’t have a good offense today.”

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