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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vandals off-key in loss to South Alabama

John Blanchette Correspondent
MOSCOW, Idaho – Here’s what kind of Saturday it was for the Idaho Vandals: When the request-a-song promotion went up on the Kibbie Dome big screen and the winning title was announced, the band struck up another tune altogether. But at least it still sounded good. Down on the field, however, there were plenty of sour notes in another drubbing – a 34-10 loss to the University of South Alabama that dropped the Vandals to 0-4 and produced the first real pratfall of the season for Idaho’s prolific offense. The Jaguars sacked quarterback Matt Linehan seven times and held the Vandals to just 269 yards as Idaho’s return to the Sun Belt Conference got a little rockier. “They just worked us,” Vandals coach Paul Petrino said. “There’s no other way of putting it.” And though he was decidedly more upbeat about the defensive effort (“probably good enough to win”), the Vandals continued to give up damaging big plays and commit pointless penalties – and in the process made another struggling offense feel good about itself. Last week, Idaho surrendered 36 points to an Ohio team that hadn’t scored that many combined in its first three games. This time, the Jaguars (2-2, 1-1 Sun Belt) more than doubled their season total, though one touchdown came on a staggering pick-six by Montell Garner just two plays after USA had jumped out to a 7-0 lead. That was one of three deciding junctures in a game that never much seemed in doubt. The Jags’ defense had already flexed its muscle by forcing two punts when USA’s Claude Garrett beat cornerback Jayshawn Jordan for a 51-yard touchdown pass 11 minutes into the game. Linehan fired back with a 22-yard strike to Josh McCain, but the two were on different wavelengths the next play – Linehan throwing short, McCain going long – and Garner took the interception 59 yards to the end zone. “The corner was (playing) off, so Matt anticipated he’d run the hitch,” said Petrino, “and Josh thought the guy jumped it and kept running. If (the corner) starts off that deep, Josh has got to run a hitch.” The Jaguars added two more field goals – one just before half, aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Idaho’s Quinton Bradley on a third-down stop that would have forced a punt. But more damaging was USA quarterback Brandon Bridge’s 54-yard scoot up the middle for a touchdown three plays into the second half, boosting the lead to 27-0. Idaho finally put together a drive but fizzled in the red zone and had to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Austin Rehkow. And then the defense rose up – Chris Edwards picking off a deflected pass, and Jordan pouncing on a fumble. But the Vandals got just seven points on a Linehan-to-McCain slant and a Rehkow miss, and any chance to swing the momentum died. Even when he wasn’t being sacked (by seven different defenders), Linehan was often being chased, and the Vandals took three holding calls trying to beat back USA’s pressure. “I’m not sure they tricked us,” Petrinot said. “Most of the time we knew what it was, but they just beat us – or we had receivers who were ‘hot’ and didn’t get to them right away.” After three straight 300-yard games, Linehan settled for 239 on 25-40 passing. Again, the running game was little help – four backs combined for 69 yards. And the Vandals have surrendered 79 points in two home games, and have played better football on the road. “I don’t understand – I told (the players) that doesn’t make much sense to me,” Petrino said. “Maybe we played two better teams at home, I don’t know. But it shouldn’t be the case.”