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Sports >  Idaho football

Idaho expects trickery from UC Davis in Big Sky opener for both teams

Idaho coach Paul Petrino shouts to his team during the second half  against Fresno State on Sept. 1 in Fresno, Calif. (Gary Kazanjian / AP)
Idaho coach Paul Petrino shouts to his team during the second half against Fresno State on Sept. 1 in Fresno, Calif. (Gary Kazanjian / AP)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho fans looking for a good, old-fashioned Aggies-Vandals hatefest – removed one degree – are going to be disappointed. Coach Paul Petrino won’t take up the banner.

When Idaho travels to UC Davis at 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Vandals will face a team coached by Dan Hawkins, who led Boise State from 2001-2005. Petrino and Hawkins ran into each other at the Boise airport in 2013 after Petrino got the Idaho job and was waiting for a flight home to Arkansas.

They talked and exchanged phone numbers. When Petrino was slogging through one-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 as he worked to change the Vandals culture on the field, in the classroom and in the community, Hawkins, who was coaching in the Canadian Football League, offered steady support.

“My first few years here he was really good to me,” Petrino said. “I was raised to treat people the way they treat you. He treated me great.”

The two faced each other on the field once at the 2004 Liberty Bowl. Petrino was Louisville’s offensive coordinator when the Cardinals met Boise State. The Cardinals climbed out of a 31-21 halftime hole, slowed down BSU’s potent attack and overtook the Broncos 44-40, in good measure by force feeding a hefty dose of 250-pound tailback Michael Bush to the Broncos in the fourth quarter.

Never a bad idea, and Idaho’s stable of big backs, led by Isaiah Saunders (136 yards and two touchdowns in 35 carries), might reprise the tactic against the Aggies.

A remorseless Idaho ground game would limit opportunities for a Davis offense led by quarterback Jake Maier that has already thrown for 1,016 yards in its first three games. A favorite target is wide receiver Keenan Doss. Through three games he has caught 28 passes for 232 yards.

“The first thing they want to do is spread you out,” Petrino said. “We’ve got to limit (Doss’) touches and definitely limit his yards after the catch.”

Hawkins’ fondness for gadget plays that were a fixture of his tenure at Boise State continues at Davis. A hook-and-lateral broke open a close game against San Diego in the third quarter and allowed the Aggies to romp to a 54-21 win on Sept. 8.

“They make you work on that stuff all week,” Petrino said.

Idaho, though, has been practicing such tricks all year. The Vandals have shown wildcat and a double pass in practices but have not employed them in a game. Idaho is also coming off a bye and had the additional week to prepare.

The Vandals will continue to go with two quarterbacks. In two games, Mason Petrino has completed 23 of 35 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions, and Colton Richardson has hit on 12 of 24 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions.

The Aggies are 2-1, with wins over San Jose State and San Diego. They hung tough with seventh-ranked Stanford in a 30-10 defeat.

Today’s game is Idaho’s first foray into the Big Sky Conference as a league member in 22 years.

“It’s a huge game, exciting,” Petrino said.

Getting a conference victory on the road against one of the Big Sky’s better teams would be an auspicious way for the Vandals to mark their return to the Football Championship Subdivision. Even if it’s not against Boise State.

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