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Sports >  Idaho football

Optimism aside after two competitive FBS losses, Idaho football still has plenty to work on

Sept. 14, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 14, 2022 at 7:12 p.m.

Idaho’s Anthony Woods looks for running room against Washington State during the Cougars’ 24-17 win in Pullman on Sept. 3.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho’s Anthony Woods looks for running room against Washington State during the Cougars’ 24-17 win in Pullman on Sept. 3. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Trevan Pixley Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – Are these the same ol’ Vandals?

Looking at Idaho’s first two games, the consensus was the Vandals were going to roll over and die. That sounds harsh, but given Idaho’s history, it was a fair assessment.

The Vandals came away only losing by a combined three touchdowns. Even in defeat, optimism is in the air in Moscow – and the timing couldn’t be better, with the home opener against Drake on Saturday.

When is a moral victory OK?

When coaches throw out the word “moral victory” in any capacity, it begins to turn heads.

Idaho coach Jason Eck never has used that phrase, but he did say in Monday’s news conference he feels Idaho has turned the corner from being a below-average team to an average team.

The two close losses against Power Five opponents have to be considered something, if not a moral victory. The games – an opening 24-17 loss at Washington State and Saturday’s 35-22 loss at Indiana – injected more optimism into a fan base that has been waiting for it.

The scoreboard has given reason for fans to be optimistic, but have the Vandals produced enough on the field to warrant the optimism?

Obvious problems

Through optimism and excitement, reality will always find a way to rear its head.

Luckily, this week the Vandals will play Drake, which is 0-2 and lost to NCAA Division II Missouri S&T 17-14 in overtime Saturday. If there is an easy win, one could classify this game as one. But if the Vandals don’t clean up their problems, they will easily be attacked by top-tier Big Sky teams.

The first major issue Idaho faces is the big boys up front with perimeter blocking. Idaho’s struggle to get any push up front or on the edge has made its run game a near nonfactor.

Credit to offensive coordinator Luke Schleusner for his commitment to the run despite the issues. It’s taken a load off redshirt freshman quarterback Gevani McCoy. But if the run game produces poorly the same way it has the first two weeks, allowing McCoy to throw the ball 40 or more times might be worth trying.

When Indiana took its first lead of the game during the third quarter, the Vandals ran the ball three consecutive times for 6 yards and had to punt.

This is where the contradiction starts to slide in. It is impressive the Vandals have kept it close where it counts, but they clearly got outclassed by a larger school. Idaho won’t have to play anymore Football Bowl Subdivision defensive lines this season, so the run game could gain some traction.

Adjustments are make or break

If football games were 30 minutes, the Vandals would be one of the best teams in the nation. They’ve struggled making second-half adjustments.

Adjustments are what teams with 85 scholarship players will do better than a Big Sky team. But again, if this is a symbol of the future, then close, crushing defeats could be coming.

Eck joked that his halftime speeches could use a little work. Whatever happened, things have to change. The Vandals have come out of the locker room playing not to lose instead of playing to win.

While keeping games close against Power Five opponents is impressive, there are some issues that need to be fixed. If they don’t get rectified, the Vandals are going to be the same team they have been … except the scores will just look closer.

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