Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now
Idaho Football

Young Idaho offense appears ready to keep Vandals in Big Sky contention

By Peter Harriman The Spokesman-Review

MOSCOW, Idaho — Coming out of spring football, Idaho head coach Jason Eck is no doubt pleased his starters look to be worthy successors to the team that reached the quarterfinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs last year.

Also, in 15 workouts and the spring game, no Vandals suffered any season-ending injuries.

But heading into summer, Eck is still waiting for a couple of shoes to drop.

For one, like all of his contemporaries coaching college football, Eck is on pins and needles as the volatile roster churn of the transfer portal plays out for the next few weeks.

The second issue is unique to Idaho this year. A Moscow Police investigation into a fight at a party in February that left a University of Idaho student injured, allegedly at the hands of a Vandals player, and that prompted a Vandals booster group in southern Idaho to cancel an annual fundraising event, is still ongoing as the spring semester nears a close.

“It is kind of hanging over our heads,” Eck said after the spring game Friday. “I would like to get it resolved.”

As a football coach, Eck said he is wired to come to grips with issues and settle them expeditiously. He expressed frustration but not criticism over the pace of the police inquiry.

“I’m not an investigator,” Esk said. “So far, no one has been charged. I hope it gets resolved soon.”

The portal cost the Vandals All-Big Sky Conference linebacker Paul Moala a couple of seasons ago after Moala went through spring workouts with Idaho then abruptly transferred to Georgia Tech. Despite a couple of harrowing instances for the coach this spring, the roster remains intact, except for a walk-on player who decided to seek a lower division of college football to get playing time. Eck understands that.

“I had two starters this week say, ‘Coach Eck, are you going to be in your office?’ … This time of the year, your heart sinks. One of them said, ‘My cousin wants to walk on,’ and asked about that. The other said, “I want to make sure my flight is right (returning to Moscow after an end of the semester break in May). (So far), I hope we have everybody back.”

The portal, of course, works both ways. Because of that, Eck said he may move spring ball to earlier in the semester next year, so Idaho players contemplating leaving can make that decision sooner and provide flexibility to the coaching staff.

“I have had pretty good players reach out and say, ‘I’d really like to come,’ ” Eck said. “But I have to tell them, ‘I don’t know if I have a scholarship for you.’ We may move up spring ball next year.”

The spring game Friday, won 35-21 by the starters and key backups over the second and third-team reserves, despite spotting them a 14-point lead, showed why the No. 1s are the No. 1s.

The first-team defense, especially, overwhelmed the reserves. Their offensive line could not keep the starters out of the backfield. The starters amassed 10.5 sacks, led by linebacker and edge rusher Zach Johnson and defensive lineman Aamari Notice with 2.5 each. Linebacker Jaxton Eck also made an interception and returned it for a touchdown.

The starting offense, despite having no seniors, looks like it can replace All-America and All-Big Sky Conference receivers Hayden Hatten and Jermaine Jackson, who graduated; All-Big Sky running back Anthony Woods, now at Utah; and Jerry Rice Award winner, All-Big Sky and third-team All-America quarterback Gevani McCoy, now at Oregon State.

Redshirt sophomore Jack Layne led the starters, completing 17 of 26 passes for 186 yards, with one touchdown pass and one TD run. Deshaun Buchanan, with six carries for 31 yards; Nate Thomas, five carries for 29 yards; and Elisha Cummings, six carries for 12 yards with a 23-yard TD reception, showed the running game, particularly between the tackles, remains productive. Jordan Dwyer, five receptions for 94 yards with TD; Mark Hamper, three catches for 48 yards; and tight ends Alex Moore, five catches for 37 yards and Mason Mini, two catches for 15 yards and a touchdown, left little doubt the Vandals still have a passing game.

Dwyer’s TD, a 46-yard strike from No. 2 quarterback Jack Wagner, was impressive, since he had to split double coverage to make the reception.

As the likely successor to Hatten and Jackson, Dwyer said, “I’m ready for it.”

Dwyer last year was used to getting about 30 snaps a game. Eck said Dwyer told him at the spring game, “I’ve got to get in better shape.”