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Idaho Football

‘We are a tough bunch to cover’: Idaho’s offense humming under first-year coach Jason Eck

Idaho quarterback Gevani McCoy throws a pass against Eastern Washington in the first half at the Kibbie Dome on Saturday in Moscow.  (James Snook/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho – Idaho expects success

every time its offense takes the field.

Averaging 36.1 points per game, the Vandals have the fifth-best passer in the Big Sky Conference in redshirt freshman Gevani McCoy and the second- and third-ranked receivers in Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson.

Hatten had 52 receptions for 716 yards and a conference -leading and 12 touchdowns, averaging 13.8 yards per catch for Idaho (6-3 overall, 5-1 Big Sky).

Jackson is right behind him with 40 receptions for 780 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 19.5 yards per catch.

Jackson, a compact 5-foot-7, 165-pound sophomore who is one of the fastest Vandals, expounded on the challenges they present an opponent.

“Are you going to double cover me or 80 (Hatten)?” he asked. “He’s going to go up and get a ball. I’ll beat them with speed.”

Hatten, a sturdy 6-2, 205, said, “We are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. But we are compatible. We play off each other awesome. Do you put a guy over me or risk J.J. running by him for a 70-yard touchdown?”

Vandals coach Jason Eck picks up the point and outlines the dilemma for defenses. Do you put a safety over Hatten or cheat him toward Jackson?

“You can’t double cover both,” he said, repeating the dilemma Idaho presents to opponents.

Choosing your poison still isn’t safe. In a 48-16 win last week against Eastern Washington , the Eagles tried for much of the first half to contain Hatten with single coverage. He responded with a school record-tying four touchdown receptions. That was on the heels of a three-touchdown game against Sacramento State the week before.

“We like him 1-on-1 against anyone,” Eck said.

Jackson’s highlights this season include lighting up Washington State with five catches for 110 yards and Northern Colorado with six catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Idaho also has incorporated him in the running game with plays in which the Vandals try to get him to the corner. On three carries against Drake he had 72 yards.

“We’ve been great buddies ever since we got here,” said Hatten, a redshirt sophomore. “We’ve both had ups and downs with injuries.”

Jackson made his debut for Idaho in the 2021 spring season but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game. That spring season was a breakout opportunity for Hatten, following a successful freshman season in 2019 when he caught 10 passes for 181 yards as a tight end. In the six spring games, he made 43 receptions for 613 yards and three touchdowns. But the following fall, his season was cut short after four games with a shoulder injury.

“This is the first year we’ve had a chance to play together,” he said.

“We’re both good route runners. We are a tough bunch to cover.”

Jackson said the two have come to terms with the fact they have to share touches.

“We don’t let it get in the way of our relationship. I love playing with him,” he said of Hatten.

With a pair of prodigies , Eck said Vandals coaches resist the temptation to overwhelm Jackson and Hatten with every pass play invented.

“We run a lot of the same stuff over and over again,” he said. “We’ll dress it up, change the formation, use motion. It looks new to the defense, but the sight picture for the quarterback and receivers is the same.”

Hatten also credits McCoy with much of their success. He has completed 156 of 232 attempts, a 67.2 completion percentage, for 2,032 yards with 23 touchdowns against five interceptions.

“Vani is putting the ball right on us,” Hatten said. “The offensive line is also playing great. We would not be this successful without all the pieces to the puzzle.”

The Vandals entertain UC Davis in their final regular-season home game Saturday. The Aggies (5-4, 4-2) are on a four-game win streak.

“This is going to be a big challenge for us this week,” Eck said. “We are going to have to score points. We may have to win this game 35-31.”

Maybe so, but the Vandals’ offense has the receivers to do it.