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Idaho will rely on quarterback versatility, disciplined defense against Cal Poly

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 1, 2019

Idaho head coach Paul Petrino coaches players on the bench during a game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho head coach Paul Petrino coaches players on the bench during a game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019, at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – When Idaho began a second year of uncertainty over who would be its quarterback, coach Paul Petrino insisted that in the Big Sky Conference it is often necessary to have more than one.

As the Vandals prepared for their game Saturday against Cal Poly, the coach’s assertion seemed to be borne out.

Senior Mason Petrino won the starting job, but he gave way to junior Colton Richardson against Idaho State after Petrino had absorbed big hits for several weeks. Richardson responded with a career game against the Bengals, 289 yards passing and two touchdowns, before he went down with a leg injury. Redshirt freshman Nikhil Nayar went the rest of the way for the Vandals.

As Idaho came off a bye and pointed toward the Mustangs, Mason Petrino and Nayer were taking the practice snaps with the No. 1 offense as late as Wednesday.

The Vandals’ ability to get it right at quarterback is big as they are riding the momentum of their 45-21 homecoming win over ISU. By running the table, Idaho (3-5, 1-3 Big Sky) could still finish with a respectable 7-5 record, 5-3 in the Big Sky.

The Mustangs (2-6, 1-4) come to Moscow with a league win over Southern Utah and an attention-grabbing overtime near-miss against Montana State, a 34-28 loss on Oct. 5.

Cal Poly is the first triple-option team the Vandals have faced in several years.

“You can’t let the fullback kill you with 4-yard gains,” Paul Petrino said.

The customary ways of defending the option – setting a hard edge and not giving the quarterback a good read on the defensive end, controlling the gaps and pursuing from the back side – still apply.

“You can’t follow the magic of the fakes,” Petrino said.

The Mustangs bring one of the better Big Sky receivers to Moscow. Senior J.J. Koski is averaging 21.4 yards on 32 receptions this year with five touchdowns.

Idaho counters with senior Jeff Cotton. He caught 10 passes for 192 yards against ISU. On the year, he has 59 catches for 748 yards with four touchdowns.

The Vandals lost their best defensive player, and one of the Big Sky’s elite defenders, when defensive end Charles Akanno tore an Achilles tendon against ISU. Leonick Tamba emerged as a capable replacement with five tackles – 2 1/2 for loss – and a pair of sacks against the Bengals.

Petrino said Idaho has been tinkering with its field-goal lineup. Sophomore Cade Coffey has struggled this year, making 7 of 13 kicks with three attempts blocked.

“Hopefully we’ll get that cleaned up,” Petrino said.

The momentum of the homecoming victory and another opportunity to play in the Kibbie Dome, where the Vandals have consistently been a tough out, should be real factors against the Mustangs.

Junior Dylan Thigpen characterized that. After missing a season with a serious knee injury, he ran for a career-high 97 yards against the Bengals.

“If they need 8 or 9 yards, I’ll try to give them 12,” Thigpen said.

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