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Idaho hoping to follow up Eastern Washington upset with Big Sky-opening win at Northern Colorado

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 27, 2019, 7:08 p.m.

Idaho’s Aundre Carter (22) celebrates a play with Michael Noil (2) during a game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho’s Aundre Carter (22) celebrates a play with Michael Noil (2) during a game against Eastern Washington on Sept. 21, 2019 at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Its most recent road win occurred in its Football Bowl Subdivision finale, 24-10 against Georgia State on Dec. 12, 2017. So, as Idaho looks hopefully at its Big Sky Conference schedule from the perspective of a 2-2 record, getting a victory outside the Kibbie Dome is job one.

“It’s real important,” Vandals coach Paul Petrino said. “We’ve got to get a conference road win. It’s the first thing I brought up Sunday night” in Idaho’s first practice following a 35-27 victory over Eastern Washington last Saturday. “If we want to be champions, we’ve got to get road wins.”

The win over EWU didn’t count as a conference game, so the Vandals hope to break into the winning side of Big Sky standings Saturday at Northern Colorado. The match in Greeley is not only the conference opener for Idaho, it marks the first time the teams have met. The Bears have been in the Football Championship Subdivision’s Big Sky Conference for 12 years; however, Idaho was an FBS program for 22 years until returning to the Big Sky last season.

Northern Colorado is still in search of its first victory this year. It was overmatched but not overwhelmed by San Jose State 35-18, before being lit up by Washington State 59-17, and Sacramento State 50-0. But the Bears steadied themselves in a close 14-6 home loss to South Dakota a week ago.

“They’ve got a good defense,” Petrino said.

The Bears are “big, tall and long” across the front line, according to Petrino. Senior running back Milo Hall, a transfer from Wyoming two years ago, led the Bears in rushing with 757 yards last season. He has 283 this year on 85 attempts and has scored two touchdowns.

“He ran well against WSU,” Petrino said.

One of Hall’s TDs came on an 11-yard run against the Cougars.

UNC could have its hands full trying to contain a Vandals offense featuring one of the Big Sky’s elite receivers, Jeff Cotton (38 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns), and running backs Aundre Carter (53 attempts, 246 yards and four touchdownTDs) and Roshaun Johnson (51 attempts 239 yards and two TDs). Senior quarterback Mason Petrino has completed 111 of 71 passing attempts with 2 interceptions for 724 yards and TDs. He has also run for a score.

Cotton has been driven, in games and practice, to the point where his coach has reduced his practice workload.

“I do have to hold him back from himself,” Paul Petrino said. “I started doing that two weeks ago.”

Idaho’s defense has also stepped up lately. Linebacker Charles Akanno is the FCS National Defensive Player of the Week, chosen by STATS LLC and College Sports Madness, and he is the Big Sky Player of the Week following his nine tackles, three pass breakups, forced fumble and three quarterback hurries against EWU. Linebacker Tre Walker leads the Big Sky with 11 tackles per game.

EWU countered Idaho’s fierce pass rush in the second half by speeding up the tempo of play and by going with quick throws off a one-step or no-step drop.

“We’ve got to get it fixed,” Paul Petrino said.

He said getting the defense aligned quicker would not be a huge task.

The Vandals were also without five injured players against EWU, including starting offensive lineman Conner Vrba, starting defensive end Kayode Rufai, and starting cornerback Sedrick Thomas. All or most should be back against Northern Colorado, Paul Petrino said.

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