The once crowded, electrifyingly-loud Kibbie Dome had fallen mostly silent as the sounds of spectators filing out filled the void of the thousands of empty seats left by disappointed fans.
And the game wasn’t even over yet.
It was a afternoon to forget for the Idaho Vandal football squad, once masters of their home domain, as they gave up an astounding 844 total offensive yards to the Nevada Wolf Pack in a 63-17 loss.
As the team left the field at the end of the fourth quarter, it was with their heads down and in complete silence. For the first time since 2008, 23 consecutive weeks, the Vandals are the owners of a losing 4-5 record.
“Heartbroken,” said senior safety Shiloh Keo, fighting back tears as he was asked to describe his feelings of the game. “I’ve been here for five years and this game meant a lot to me, because this is a team I’ve never been able to beat. Every time I play these guys I feel a big rivalry ’cause there is a talented guy on the other side of the field sharing the same number as I do.”
The talented player wearing No. 10 on the other side of the field was multi-versatile quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who put his whole array of skill on display in turning Idaho’s defense into Swiss cheese with needle-point precision passing.
“It just hurts,” Keo said, “because they did better than we did.”
Kaepernick, the third-ranking rusher in the WAC despite being a quarterback, hardly had to move his feet the entire game. Given plenty of time in the pocket, Kaepernick unloaded devastating pass after pass against an Idaho defense unable to cover receivers or slow Nevada’s rushing game.
Kaepernick finished the game with 20 completed passes and five touchdown scores, meaning statistically, the almost-certain NFL-bound quarterback made a touchdown pass every four tosses.
Keo said Nevada didn’t win on trick plays or surprising tactics. Instead, they simply came up with the big plays when they had to, a trademark of a good team.
“We spent hours in the film room this week and we knew exactly what they were going to come with,” Keo said. “There were times when we were really slowing them down and they weren’t making the big plays like they normally do, but when their backs were against the wall they came up with the plays and we didn’t.”
When he was forced to move, Kaepernick simply dodged tackles and tossed passes down the field or threw the ball away. For the first time this season, Idaho did not record a sack or a forced turnover, evident to Idaho’s inability to get to the quarterback.
“I’m glad I don’t have to see him (Kaepernick) anymore, and I told that to him too — he is a good player,” said Idaho coach Robb Akey with a smile and a nod. “We got around him some — early in the deal there were some throws he wanted to hit but had to throw away — but was it consistent, was it great? No, not good enough.”
What Kaepernick couldn’t do, Nevada’s rushers could. The Wolf Pack finished with three rushers putting up more than 100 rushing yards and the total offensive yards were a program high for the Wolf Pack. Asked how he felt about the Vandals giving up 844 yards, Akey didn’t mince words.
“Well, do you have a beep button on that camera? If you really want to hear what I think, it’s going to be filled with a lot of words that shouldn’t be put on the six o’clock news,” Akey said. “I’m not happy about it. Am I proud of the numbers? No. But these guys will come and fight back. It’s not acceptable to give up that many yards, but we know how to fix that.”
What little offensive drive the Vandals had was crushed by personal mistakes. One positive from the game was Idaho’s kick-off return, which showed life in averaging more than 31 yards per return.
Idaho had two deep returns that could have set off touchdown drives, totaling 155 yards, but personal fumbles at the end of each play, coupled with a Nevada recovery, put the extra nail in the coffin.
Running back Kama Bailey coughed up one of four Idaho fumbles following a slick 86-yard return, and said the fumbles killed Idaho’s drive, placing the blame squarely on his shoulders.
“That was all on me,” Bailey said, shaking his head with a deflated smile. “As running backs we always talk about ball security, it’s what we stress day in and day out, and I should have had that ball high and tight. It could have been a big play, but it obviously wasn’t — that was all on me.”
Bailey wasn’t the only Vandal caught with butter fingers. In a game where everything seemed to go wrong for the Vandals, everybody from cornerbacks to receivers coughed up fumbles.
For the third time in the past four games, Idaho’s defense has shown an inability to slow down big plays, a concerning trait when No. 4 Boise State comes rolling into town this weekend for the annual BSU/UI rivalry game.
Idaho has given up nearly 500 yards in three of the past four games, giving up 494 against Hawaii, 683 against Louisiana Tech and 844 against Nevada. Idaho’s lone win over the four-game stretch was against New Mexico State at home, where the Vandals coughed up 289 yards to the Aggies.
Those yards quickly turn into points, and Idaho’s inability to keep pace has cost them not only on the scoreboard but in the running game. The Vandals rushing has been atrocious — Idaho ranks 116 out of 120 FBS teams in rushing yards with a paltry 83.2 rushing yards per game. Against Nevada, Idaho rushed for 68 yards, but Akey said it would be unfair to put the blame for the lack of running game squarely on the shoulders of the running backs.
“By looking at the numbers, we are heavy towards the pass and we are for a reason and that is because we are not having success running the ball,” Akey said. “The problem we run into where I felt like we could have some ability to run the ball and make it happen but then we got a situation taking place on the scoreboard and the running game eats that clock up.”
Akey said Idaho’s ability to hang with a team opens up more running options, as the clock no longer becomes your enemy. In addition to making better blocks and opening routes, which Akey said needs to happen, he sees time as a large limiting factor on Idaho’s running game this season.
“We’d like to have had that been a stronger part of the plan and looking at the way things went, and looking at the way things went, it might have been able to,” Akey said referencing a resurgence in Idaho’s running game with Deonte’ Jackson and Bailey finding openings. “By keeping the score a ballgame, that enables us to play things the way we want to, and had that been the case today, I think today those running deals would have looked better.”
The Vandals have little time to shore up their shortcomings, as BSU rolls into town Friday and Idaho fans are hoping for a ball game against not only a fierce rivals, but one of the best teams in the country.
For his part, Akey said he and the squad aren’t folding up the season just because of one bad game.
“The next opponent happens to be the rivalry game, and there is going to be a ton of excitement about that,” Akey said. “The outside world, I suggest you all come and see that thing. Turn it on the TV, come get your tails in the dome and come help us win the rival game by being fired up and being with us.”