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Jason Eck credits Idaho’s buy-in, belief in near-upset of Washington State, longtime friend Jake Dickert

Sept. 4, 2022 Updated Mon., Sept. 12, 2022 at 10 a.m.

Idaho Vandals head coach Jason Eck celebrates with his players during the first half of a college football game on Saturday at Martin Stadium in Pullman.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho Vandals head coach Jason Eck celebrates with his players during the first half of a college football game on Saturday at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Jason Eck is Idaho’s first-year head coach and, evidently, somewhat of a historian when it comes to the Vandals’ football program.

At some point between accepting his new job in December and Saturday’s season opener at Washington State, Eck set aside time to dig up the Vandals’ results against Power Five opponents.

What did his findings reveal? In 2021, the Vandals lost at Indiana 56-14 and Oregon State 41-0. In 2019, the program suffered a 79-7 blowout loss at Penn State. The 2018 season, Idaho’s first year as an FCS program, produced two more lopsided defeats: 79-13 at Fresno State and 63-10 at Florida.

If Eck went back far enough, he would’ve discovered that Idaho hadn’t played a one-score game against a Power Five opponent since 2011, when the Vandals lost 21-20 at Virginia in overtime. Since then, Idaho had lost 11 games against Power Five opponents by a margin of 48.2 points.

“I don’t know if anybody on our team has been around for playing a Power Five team close,” Eck said.

There’s reason to think it could happen on a more regular basis after the Vandals took a two-score lead at Gesa Field, went into halftime tied at 10-10 and came 28 yards short of sending Saturday’s game against the Cougars into overtime, ultimately losing 24-17 in the 92nd Battle of the Palouse.

In nine consecutive losses to WSU, Idaho’s closest margin of defeat was a 38-26 loss in 2005. In the last two games – played in 2016 and 2013 with Idaho still toting FBS status – the Vandals lost 56-6 and 42-0.

“I give these players a ton of credit for buying in and believing they could win, come in here and have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter,” Eck said.

A far-fetched possibility nearly became reality late in the fourth quarter when WSU kicker Dean Janikowski missed a chip-shot field goal with less than a minute to play. Trailing by seven points, Idaho’s offense took over on its own 20-yard line and Gevani McCoy completed passes to Jordan Dwyer, Jermaine Jackson and Roshaun Johnson, moving the Vandals to WSU’s 28-yard line before McCoy’s final pass was intercepted by Cougar linebacker Daiyon Henley.

“I was super excited, it was definitely hats off to our defense for that,” McCoy said. “They played hard all game and to come up with that huge stop was pretty crazy, so I was just super excited to get back on the field with our offense and have a chance to win the game.”

Idaho’s defense came up with opportune stops for four quarters, twice turning the Cougars over in the first quarter and producing a third fumble in the fourth quarter. Defensive back Matthias Bertram forced two fumbles and former WSU linebacker Fa’avae Fa’avae was responsible for another. Oregon State transfer Marcus Harris cornerback scooped up the second WSU fumbled before racing 45 yards the other way for UI’s first touchdown.

Midway through preseason camp, Eck urged Idaho’s defensive players to create more “shots on goal,” suggesting more strip attempts would lead to a higher turnover count.

“We’re just attacking the ball more and it just shows you practice how you play,” Harris said. “So that was our goal was just get the ball out however many times you can.”

Idaho’s four-win team last season finished the year at minus-13 in the turnover column.

“Defense is not just about stuffing people, if you can get the ball back that’s even better than stuffing them and getting field position for the offense,” Eck said. “I couldn’t be happier, that’s something we’ve got to be big at.”

Idaho’s near-upset made for an amusing postgame exchange between Eck and first-year WSU coach Jake Dickert, longtime friends who worked on the same staff at Minnesota State and then again at South Dakota State. They’d been communicating on a somewhat-frequent basis in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s game.

“I told him all along, ‘My plan in this game is to make you look bad so now Wisconsin will take you lightly. You can upset Wisconsin next week.’ We’ll see if that plays to fruition,” Eck said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for him, he’ll do a great job and good friend of mine. Was happy we could battle with him and make this a helluva game.”

I don’t know if anybody on our team has been around for playing a Power Five team close.” Jason Eck Idaho football coach
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