MOSCOW, Idaho – A few minutes remained in Saturday’s game when Steven Matlock started to dance on the sideline – a full-body gyration that included the Idaho center pretending to be a trumpet player in the UI marching band that was playing behind him.
It was the perfect time to let loose: The Vandals led by 39. Matlock and other starters were getting rare rest in the fourth quarter. A small party had broken out for the few thousand left at the Kibbie Dome.
Who knew the Vandals had this kind of performance in them? Coach Paul Petrino sure didn’t.
Behind a 476-yard passing day from quarterback Matt Linehan, the Vandals clobbered New Mexico State 55-23 to post their most convincing win over an FBS opponent – and their most points – since 2003.
“I think guys just kept playing hard and in no way did I think we were going to beat them like that,” Petrino said. “I thought it was going to come right down to the end. Because that’s how I think we’re going to have to win games this year.”
After the rout of the Aggies in front an announced 10,278 – actual attendance was closer to 6,000 – Idaho (4-3, 2-1 Sun Belt) needs two more wins to become bowl-eligible. It hasn’t been over .500 this late in the season since 2010.
For the first time this year, Linehan and the Idaho offense put together a performance that they thought they were capable of in the preseason. The redshirt junior completed 29 of 36 passes and had five TDs (four passing, one rushing).
His 476 passing yards were fifth most in program history and second most for an Idaho player at home behind Ken Hobart’s 527 in 1983.
“I think just we were staying confident in ourselves,” Linehan said. “It was just confidence in every phase of the game — running, passing, just all that stuff. Protections were good. O-line has done a really good job the last two weeks. I don’t think that gets said enough.”
Three UI wideouts – Alfonso Onunwor, Deon Watson and Jordan Frysinger – had 100-plus receiving yards for the first time since 2010 and the Vandals totaled 651 yards.
The Idaho offense had hit the 30-point mark twice this fall, but it hadn’t put a complete effort together. Petrino likened what he’s beginning to see to last year, when it took the first six games before “we really started executing better.”
“Matt was playing well. Guys were making plays for him, we were protecting well, everybody was catching the ball and running with it well,” Petrino said. “It was fun calling plays today.”
And it wasn’t just the Vandals’ offense. New Mexico State, led by the Sun Belt’s top passing quarterback in Tyler Rogers, found the end zone on its first two possessions … then managed just a field goal for more than three quarters of action.
How much did the Vandals have it rolling?
- Austin Rehkow didn’t punt until the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
- The Vandals dominated time of possession. They held the ball just under 39 minutes, thanks in part to converting 8 of their first 11 third-down attempts.
- In the third quarter, the banged-up Idaho defense dropped Rogers three times for sacks in the span of four plays. The Vandals finished with five sacks after netting a combined five QB takedowns coming into Saturday.
“I want to give a lot of credit to our DBs, because a lot of (our sacks were) coverage sacks when (Rogers) was trying to scramble or something,” said defensive lineman Tueni Lupeamanu, who had one sack.
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