MOSCOW, Idaho – COVID-19 was the University of Idaho’s toughest opponent last spring. It kept the roster in flux all season, including in a 27-17 loss to UC Davis, memorable for all the wrong reasons because the Vandals had to play without nine starters due to COVID protocols.
But the handful of face-covered faithful who watched Idaho’s lone public preseason scrimmage Saturday in the Kibbie Dome and no doubt noticed the absence of All-America linebacker Tre Walker, fellow starting linebacker Fa’Avae Fa’Avae, standout wide receiver Hayden Hatten and others can breathe a sigh of relief through their masks.
No one missed the scrimmage for any reason other than scheduled rest or to give minor injuries a chance to heal, according to coach Paul Petrino.
The cast on hand provided plenty of highlights.
With Hatten out, transfers Mekhi Stevenson and Terez Traynor were in sync with quarterbacks C.J. Jordan and Mike Beaudry all day. Jordan found Traynor for a touchdown and senior tight end Connor Whitney for two more, including a play that covered 65 yards.
“It doesn’t matter who throws to me. It’s fun to mix it up with both of them,” Whitney said.
Petrino said both quarterbacks were dominant.
“It’s always good for a young guy to have a tight end to go to,” he said of freshman Jordan and the reliable Whitney.
Based on the scrimmage, every Idaho quarterback will have a choice of tight end targets.
In addition to Whitney, All-America tight end and fullback Logan Kendall, Montana senior transfer Trase LeTexier and freshman Jake Cox all contributed. Cox, notably, caught a touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy, adjusting his route with a spin in the end zone to get to the ball.
“Tight end is one of our strengths, for sure,” Petrino said.
Running might be another. Freshman Elisha Cummings has a top gear that could challenge most Big Sky Conference defensive backs. He outran defenders for a pair of touchdowns of 30 yards or more. Vandals 250-pounder Aundre Carter did not play, but Roshaun Johnson and All-Big Sky kick returner Nick Romano gave Idaho robust running inside.
Zach Borisch, who rushed for 205 yards against Eastern Washington as the Vandals’ emergency quarterback last spring, showed he still has quickness and uncanny balance.
He has also improved throwing on the run and accurately hit receivers 20 yards downfield, even though he had a couple of passes dropped.
Petrino has said Idaho is creating a quarterback package tailored to Borisch.
If the scrimmage was any indication, it will afford Borisch run-pass capabilities. He lined up a number of times with two tight ends and a fullback.
Even the Vandals’ defense, though, sees him as a run-first threat. At quarterback, Borisch regularly looked at as many as nine players within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
McCoy also got a handful of series in the scrimmage. He made it seem easy in the first one, dropping a pass over a linebacker into the arms of Michael Noil, who angled from the middle of the field to the corner and sprinted for a touchdown.
As many highlights as the offense provided, it did not overshadow freshman defensive back Colbey Nosworthy, of Coeur d’Alene. Nosworthy intercepted Jordan, who had tried to thread the needle between two defenders. He also broke up a pass in the end zone from Borisch to wide receiver Alex Moore, and stopped a pair of runs on the goal line.
“I had a great time. It was a super fun day,” Nosworthy said.
The scrimmage also gave Idaho a chance to see Kendall on both sides of the ball. He responded by catching a short touchdown pass from Beaudry and he pitched in on a few reps to give a shorthanded defensive line an improved pass rush.
“He’s a strong young man,” Petrino said of Kendall. “He caves things down when he’s blocking, and when he’s on defense you can’t block him.”
For all the disruption it caused Idaho, COVID may finally show a silver lining.
No one who played last spring lost a year of eligibility, and the Vandals got many young players into real games, not just typical spring scrimmages.
“They had end-of-the-game experiences,” Whitney said. “The are ready to come in if their number is called this year. The more live reps you get in a game, live, it helps even more.”
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