MOSCOW, Idaho – At the end of October, a football season looks different than it does in the preseason days of August.
Idaho went to work in August with hopes of winning its first conference title since topping the Big West in 1998 and qualifying for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Losses to nationally ranked conference foes UC Davis, Eastern Washington and Montana have dashed those dreams, but Idaho (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky) still has a winning season in its grasp if it can close with a flourish and win its final four games.
The run to a winning record begins Saturday when the Vandals play host to Northern Arizona.
Here are three things to watch in Idaho’s bid to salvage its season.
1. Beware Barriere 2.0: EWU quarterback Eric Barriere, the Big Sky’s all-time leader in career total offense, torched the Vandals for 600 yards passing, threw for seven touchdowns and ran for another in a 71-21 rout Oct. 16. Northern Arizona also boasts a formidable passer. RJ Martinez lit up Southern Utah with 417 passing yards and five touchdowns and also ran for 65 yards and two scores in a wild 59-35 win the same day Barriere had his way with Idaho. Martinez also had a big game against Idaho State with 369 yards passing and three touchdowns in a 48-17 win.
Idaho could neither get pressure on Barriere nor cover the Eagles’ receivers. The Vandals have got to do a better job on Martinez to defeat the Lumberjacks, who are sitting at 3-4 on the year, 2-2 in the Big Sky.
2. Get the receivers involved: Except for a 68-0 demolition of Simon Fraser in the season opener, the Vandals haven’t stunned anyone on offense. But Idaho has a rotation of pass catchers anyone in the conference would envy. Breakout star Terez Traynor, a Western Kentucky transfer, leads the Vandals with 383 receiving yards and a touchdown. Mekhi Stevenson, a senior transfer from UNLV, has come on with 129 of his season’s total of 164 receiving yards and his lone touchdown coming in Idaho’s two most recent games. Jermaine Jackson has recovered from a knee injury suffered in his first game last spring. He has worked his way back with three catches in Idaho’s last three games, and with his game-changing speed intact he could be on the point of prompting Vandals fans to remember why they were originally excited to see him.
3. Who is taking the snaps? Since their top two quarterbacks, CJ Jordan and Mike Beaudry, were injured against UC Davis and Portland State, respectively, the Vandals have gone with sophomore Zach Borisch, a change-of-pace runner, and freshman Gevani McCoy.
Borisch has run for 283 yards and a pair of touchdowns in three games but has thrown for only 126 yards. McCoy still is learning and has drawn praise from Idaho coach Paul Petrino for having an “it” factor. But he has thrown four interceptions to go with his one touchdown.
Beaudry, a senior transfer from Connecticut, with 776 passing yards, a 65% completion percentage and three touchdowns to his credit this season, was back at practice this week. If he can go against the Lumberjacks, Idaho has prospects of either winning big or staying in contact in a shootout and pulling out a win at the end.
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