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Vandals’ offense sputters in defeat to Bulldogs

Idaho RB Princeton McCarty and the Vandals generated just 55 yards of total offense in the second half Saturday. (Associated Press)
Idaho RB Princeton McCarty and the Vandals generated just 55 yards of total offense in the second half Saturday. (Associated Press)

MOSCOW, Idaho – By now, it’s more than an occasional occurrence. The Idaho offense slips into hibernation mode, the defense grows frustrated and weary, and the Vandals’ opponent pounces.

It happened again Saturday in a 48-24 loss to Fresno State, only this funk was more inexplicable than others through the first month of the football season.

The Vandals, in their WAC opener with 15,110 at the Kibbie Dome for Dads’ Weekend, looked ready to go toe-to-toe in a shootout with the Bulldogs. They led 14-10 in the second quarter and were down by just a touchdown at halftime.

Then the collapse began. Idaho (1-3, 0-1) punted four times to start the third quarter – while FSU’s cushion grew to 34-17 – before safety Quin Ashley intercepted Bulldogs first-year quarterback Derek Carr.

Two plays later, though, UI quarterback Brian Reader went back to pass with the pocket collapsing and lost the ball as he started his throwing motion. FSU’s Nat Harrison picked up the fumble and pranced 40 yards for a touchdown – the play was reviewed and upheld – with 4 seconds left in the third.

“That hurt,” Vandals receiver Armauni Johnson said. “People can sit back and say it didn’t, but that hurt. … Pretty much we were done after that.”

The Vandals generated a meager 55 yards of offense in the second half. After halftime, Reader was 6 of 17 for 67 yards and the rushing game – which showed flickers of promise early – had minus-16 net yards

“Personally, there’s some throws that I should make that I’m not making right now,” Reader said. “And that definitely doesn’t help.”

The vibe was much different in the first 20 minutes. Reader started 9 of 12 and engineered two crisp touchdown drives.

Early in the second quarter, after three catches from tight end Michael LaGrone, Princeton McCarty took a handoff, bounced to the outside and cut back to make a Fresno State defender miss near the goal line. The slick 18-yard TD run gave the Vandals a 14-10 edge.

But Carr, the younger brother of former FSU star David Carr, and receiver Jalen Saunders gashed the UI secondary a few minutes later for a 51-yard TD connection. That started a 31-3 surge from the Bulldogs.

“It wasn’t like there was some magic voodoo that they threw out there on the field,” UI coach Robb Akey said. “That wasn’t the case. We just didn’t execute quite as well in the second half.”

The Vandals’ problems in pass coverage started well before they unraveled in the third quarter.

Saunders caught all five of his passes for 142 yards in the first half. He was part of an FSU receiving corps that had its way down the field with cornerbacks Matthew Harvey and Aaron Grymes.

The Bulldogs’ top three wideouts each hauled in grabs of at least 33 yards, and rugged tailback Robbie Rouse – held in check for much of the game – carried the ball 11 times for 72 yards during a 14-play, 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter


Idaho tailback Ryan Bass was unable to play because of what Akey termed an “internal” injury. … LaGrone, the Vandals’ leading receiver with five catches, left the game with a leg contusion.

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