LINCOLN, Neb. — An entire week of preparation for the Vandals evaporated in nine seconds.
Down by only 17 points, senior quarterback Nathan Enderle’s arm failed him, his receivers dried up, and in the span of nine seconds of possession, the Nebraska Cornhuskers put up 21 of their 38 points in a 38-17 win over the Vandals today, giving Nebraska its 500th home win.
“I guess everybody was right, we couldn’t beat those guys today,” said Idaho coach Robb Akey. “We gave the ball away, interceptions for touchdowns. That’s a damn good football team over there — they are ranked sixth in the country for a reason — and against a football team like that you can’t turn the ball over that many times. That really killed us.”
Over 85,000 fans, more than five times the capacity of the Kibbie Dome, saluted the Vandals as the team took the field following a performance of Idaho’s fight song by the University of Nebraska pep band. Enderle, who is from North Platte, Nebraska, received the warmest greetings from fans excited to see their home quarterback again.
On the field, the Cornhuskers showed Enderle little love, blitzing Idaho’s offensive line and putting up seven sacks on Enderle and fellow quarterback Brian Reader.
When not on his back, Enderle was busy running and dodging from closing linesmen. In the rare occasion Enderle got time in the pocket, his receivers would be well defended and covered.
Akey said the Nebraska defense covered Idaho’s receivers, but also said he expected more from the team on the offense.
“We’ve got to do more than put 17 points up,” Akey said. “If there is an interception for a touchdown so be it. Our defense goes back on the field and they have the opportunity to get an interception. We have the opportunity to create fumbles and our specialty teams have the opportunity to produce — we win as a team, and when things don’t go well, we lose as a team.”
At the onset of the game, it looked as if Idaho would able to hang with Nebraska toe-to-toe. Both teams started off slowly and while Idaho was unable to penetrate Nebraska’s end-zone, the Cornhuskers had equal trouble, tallying only one touchdown and a field goal halfway through the second quarter.
Then the paradox — in the second half of the second quarter, Nebraska had only nine seconds of possession, yet in those nine seconds, they broke the game open.
Nebraska’s Helu Roy got things started on a nine-second drive, exploiting a collapse in Idaho’s defensive line by making a 58-yard dash to the end zone, while Nebraska’s defense delivered the killing blow by picking off Enderle on the next two plays, returning both interceptions for touchdowns.
Idaho’s offensive line was out for the better part of 12 minutes in the second half and junior linebacker Rob Siavii said it was hard for the defense to sit on the sidelines and watch the game slip away.
“It’s really tough, you keep telling yourself you wish your defense could be taking in those points,” Siavii said. “Just seeing that happen, it hurts on the inside.”
In addition to interception troubles, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez hounded Idaho’s defense all night, mixing up running plays and passes with deadly efficiency. Safety Shiloh Keo said the defense had trouble focusing on the Martinez and the running backs. It showed on the stats sheet — Nebraska rushed for an eye-opening 360 yards and piled on 111 passing yards.
“He has a great supporting cast and it’s not just him out there,” Keo said. “There are ten other guys out there doing their jobs — it helps when the defense they are going up against are making bad reads and not setting up well.”
Akey said while Enderle threw the picks, not all the blame should be laid on his shoulders.
“Sometimes the quarterback throws the ball in a bad spot, sometimes the protection isn’t what it needs to be, and sometimes a ball is in the air that either player can go get and the more physical players get it,” Akey said. “Your starting quarterback gets too much praise when things go well, but when things go wrongly, he always gets too much blame — I’m not going to put it all on him right now.”
Idaho’s Trey Farquhar nailed a 34-yard field goal at the end of the half to put the only points Idaho could muster in the first half. The Vandals entered the locker room down 31-3.
Idaho’s defense caught their second wind, holding the Cornhuskers to only one touchdown play the second half. Enderle hooked a two-yard pass to Michael LaGrone for a touchdown in the third, and Brian Reader added Idaho’s final score in the tail end of the fourth period, connecting with Armauni Johnson on a 19-yard drive, but the hole was too deep for Idaho to recover.
“What beat us the most was our reads and miscommunication,” Siavii said. “We fixed that at half time and came back out in the second half and got things done the right way.”
Akey said despite the loss the Vandals should come away with a greater understanding of what it takes to win against top-tier teams. With nobody giving Idaho a fighting chance, the Vandals went out and proved they can stay competitive against one of the best teams in the nation.
Consider this: had Idaho not thrown two picks in the second quarter, the Vandals would have gone into the game down 17-3, and finished the game with a 24-17 loss.
Idaho’s defensive effort in the second half was not lost on Akey or Keo, both of whom said there are plenty of positives to take away.
“Defensively, we walk out of here with our heads up, but in the end, it’s still about that win-loss column,” Keo said. “We have some good things to work off — we did some great things defensively, but we got to look at those early plays that cost us early in the game.”
The lessons came at a cost — Idaho lost four players to injury, and Akey confirmed after the game the Vandals will be without Marcel Posey (ACL) for the rest of the year.