MOSCOW, Idaho – Back by popular demand following a postponement and a bye, the 1-1 Idaho Vandals are ready to resume their unique pandemic football season before the loyal 3,000 fans who will be admitted to the Kibbie Dome.
Idaho will face Southern Utah (1-2) on Saturday.
When last seen on March 6, the Vandals lost to UC Davis 27-17 while missing nine starters due to COVID-19 issues. Things must have deteriorated following that game, because the Vandals postponed their scheduled March 13 game at Northern Arizona until April 17.
This is life in a pandemic.
“We had enough people to play, so we played. … They set rules … you go by them. … That’s how you get by in life,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
The Big Sky Conference has a defined procedure for determining when games must be postponed, UI athletics director Terry Gawlik said. It involves consultation among sports medicine and athletics administration officials at affected schools.
The Vandals had largely dodged a COVID outbreak since September, Petrino said. But without a notable change in their routine, they were swept by the coronavirus before the UC Davis game.
“It’s a different world, a different year,” Petrino said. “No one can ever explain a pandemic.
“You still worry about it when you have got to play with all freshmen in your offensive line, but that’s just what you do.”
Following the postponement and bye, the Vandals will continue to be short three or four players against the Thunderbirds, Petrino said.
He declined to say whether any of the missing Vandals were quarterbacks.
Through its win against Eastern Washington and loss against UC Davis, Idaho has gone with graduate transfer Mike Beaudry, who is 49 for 82 for 532 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Petrino said the numbers reflect that Beaudry had four freshmen blocking for him against UC Davis, when he completed 27 of 37 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
During their bye week, the Vandals never worked out as a complete team because of the COVID restrictions.
In the week leading up to playing Southern Utah, they have held regular practices, Petrino said.
The Thunderbirds have also had their own issues, but Petrino said they could easily be undefeated. SUU lost to NAU 34-33 on the final play to open its season and suffered another late-game setback against Idaho State (26-24), before dominating Cal Poly 34-24 two weeks ago.
SUU is led by quarterback Justin Miller, who has thrown 10 touchdowns against a single interception and has a 72% completion rate.
“He does a good job of taking what the defense gives him, and he gets rid of the ball quick,” Petrino said.
“(Miller) just makes sure he makes the right decision every time,” Vandals safety Tyrese Dedmon said. “He is very careful with the ball.”
Miller plays behind a big offensive line and regularly operates under center. Dedmon said he expects to see a steady stream of play action, run-pass option and slip screens from the Thunderbirds.
SUU also has size across the defensive front, Petrino said. Its safeties are physical and the defense tries to force matters.
“They try to definitely make you attack them,” Petrino said. “They sit on some routes, try to take some things away.
“Their linebackers run well, and their safeties make a lot of plays. They want to challenge things.”
“Their safeties are a big key for us,” Vandals tight end Connor Whitney said. “They determine what we get for coverages, and blitzes, too.”
Whitney was among the players who sat out against UC Davis.
“It kind of just shows everything can be gone in the blink of an eye,” he said.
Whitney said the realization has emboldened the Vandals to play with increased urgency and an appreciation for the opportunity to suit up.
“Every chance we get to go out there, we’re more excited,” he said.
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