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Sports >  Idaho football

Tuned in on takeaways: Getting greedy is becoming Idaho football’s mantra

Sept. 15, 2022 Updated Thu., Sept. 15, 2022 at 6:15 p.m.

Washington State running back Jaylen Jenkins loses control of the ball and fumbles as he is wrapped up by Idaho linebacker Mujeeb Rufai during the first half Sept. 3 in Pullman.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State running back Jaylen Jenkins loses control of the ball and fumbles as he is wrapped up by Idaho linebacker Mujeeb Rufai during the first half Sept. 3 in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Trevan Pixley Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – The Idaho football team? Actually, it’s more like the Idaho Futbol Club.

In the first two games of the season, the Vandals have notched five turnovers.

What exactly is their method? Getting “shots on goal.”

“Shots on goal is just throwing your hands at the football when you’re trying to make tackles,” Idaho sophomore safety Tommy McCormick said. “The more shots we’re taking on the ball, the more takeaways we’re going to get.”

The drill, named after a soccer statistic, has worked wonders for an Idaho defense that forced just 12 turnovers last season. Two games into this season and the Vandals are almost halfway to that mark.

Idaho’s secondary has been the main producer, forcing 80% of the takeaways.

McCormick has two turnovers (a forced fumble and an interception), sophomore cornerback Murvin Kenion II knocked the ball loose against Indiana and redshirt sophomore Mathias Bertram leads UI with two forced fumbles.

“Our recipe for winning football games is winning the turnover battle,” Idaho coach Jason Eck said. “We put a premium on turnovers. They’re game-changing plays. When you play really good offenses, you’re not just going to shut them down so when you turn the ball over that makes a huge impact.”

The Vandals’ secondary went mostly under the radar all offseason and fall camp.

When talking about the defense, the eyes tend to go to the linebackers, a group with two Power Five transfers. Granted, the linebacker play has fit the bill as Fa’avae Fa’avae forced and recovered a fumble Sept. 3 against Washington State.

That style of play is almost expected because of the “star power.” The secondary doesn’t have that kind of experience except for Marcus Harris, who is an Oregon State transfer. He is fourth on the team in tackles, has three pass breakups and scored Idaho’s only defensive touchdown, a 45-yard fumble return against the Cougars.

“We’ve really built a chemistry in the secondary,” McCormick said. “We communicate with each other really well, and I think that’s why the improvement is happening so quickly.”

McCormick already has seen quite a leap from Year 1 to Year 2. He won Idaho’s defensive player of the week for his performance against Indiana, an effort in which he had six tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.

“We’ve only given up one 20-yard-or-more play in the first six quarters this year,” Eck said. “The secondary’s biggest problem so far has been making second-half adjustments.”

The group did stay solid against Washington State, allowing Cameron Ward to go 25 for 40 for 215 yards passing.

Last week, the Vandals held their own in the first 30 minutes against Indiana’s loaded receiver room, limiting Connor Bazelak to a 6-for 17 effort for just 47 yards passing in the first half. But in the second half, Bazeleak found his stride, going 10 for 12 for 148 yards and a score.

“We need to come out with the same kind of fire that we have in the first half,” McCormick said. “We came down a little bit in that third quarter against (Indiana) from where we were. We need to keep that fire and play like how we play.”

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