Just about everything about Idaho’s performance against Bowling Green last Saturday night was a drastic improvement over the week one 20-3 loss to Eastern Washington – except for the final result. The Vandals left with a 21-13 defeat and are now 0-2 on the year. Not the kind of start that coach Robb Akey probably envisioned, considering that the next three games consists of two BCS Conference teams and a Mountain West bowl team. So don’t be surprised if at the end of the year this game is one that the Vandals look at thinking ‘what if’.
Down 14-6 with 3:36 left in the third quarter it was an ill-timed Dominique Blackman interception that spurred Bowling Green on a touchdown drive to make it a two possession game. After drawing back within one score Idaho WR Jahrie Level fumbled with 3:41 left in the game giving the Falcons an opportunity to run out the clock.
“We did things better, we competed better, our football team united better, we responded to adversity better. We still need to win the damn game that we had an opportunity to win,” Akey said. “Not the finish we wanted, not happy with that. Did we grow? Yes. Do we have room to continue to get better? Yes. And that’s what we’re going to pay attention to. I saw life, I feel like we have grown.”
It won’t get any easier from here. The Vandals will now travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to face an LSU team that dismantled Washington 41-3 last Saturday.
“We’ve got nothing to lose, we’re gonna go pin our ears back, get after it,” Akey said.
More on nothing to lose below. Here are the rest of our notes from Monday’s news conference with coach Akey:
– On if Dominique Blackman’s 30-37 352 yard performance was expected: “He was our starting quarterback for a reason. What you saw with him throwing the football is what we expected. He did a lot of things very well, obviously you’re making some pretty good choices.”
Akey brought up Blackman’s costly third quarter interception saying that those will things Blackman will get better at as he progresses.
“He knew he knew better. He will make the right decision.”
– On how the loss at Bowling Green played out: Akey said he was pleased with the fact that his team was only down a point at halftime though displeased with the way the third quarter played out, noting the Falcons scoring on Blackman’s interception to put them ahead 21-6.
“That was a rough swing there but our team continued to battle, we responded to that adversity, that was a step forward,” he said.
Solomon Dixon’s interception that set up the Idaho touchdown drive was how the Vandals responded.
“Being able to capitalize that was huge, we had been battling our tails off, felt like we were in a good place at that point and time.”
On only 23 rushing yards from Ryan Bass and James Baker: “We were able to move the ball throwing it and that had a little something to do with it,” he said.
The Vandals top two backs only touched the ball 12 times compared to the 45 passes that were called for Blackman (including plays he scrambled out or was sacked on).
“We were able to move the ball throwing it and that had a little something to do with it. In a perfect world I’d like to see as close to a 50/50 blend as you can. I do think we could have had more of a concerted effort to the running game, stuck with it a little bit more,” he said. “The run game is a little bit different, some times you need to bang it away and then you pop those runs, it takes some patience. Six yards is not what I anticipated it to be.”
Akey didn’t discount the possibility of giving Justin Parkins and Todd Handley some looks.
In case you are wondering, Washington runningbacks totaled 50 yards on the ground last week, mostly in the fourth quarter.
On Idaho’s model of scheduling ‘guarantee’ games: Akey says he champions the A-B-C model of a BCS program money game, a comparable opponent and one “where you’re supposed to be the stronger opponent.” He said that he believes games against this caliber of opponent does help.
“I do think that when you’ve gone through (the-preseason) that you’ve seen the whole workings and then you go in to conference play, you know what you’re working with.”
Akey brought up 2005, when he was defensive coordinator at Washington State, when the Cougars went 3-0 to start the year against Idaho, Nevada and Grambling State only to lose seven straight in Pac-10 play.
On the challenges of going to Baton Rouge: “They call it Death Valley for a couple reasons. They are a physical football team, I think a lot of people have lost a game before they ever go in there, and that’s talking about SEC teams,” Akey said. “We aren’t quite an SEC team, though if that conference wanted us we’d be happy to go.”
He goes on: “It’ll be a hell of an experience for our players in that respect. We’ve got nothing to lose, we’re gonna go pin our ears back, get after it. If we don’t win the football game we’re going to make everybody happy because they all told us we couldn’t, and should we play our tails off and make some things happen and you get that opportunity than we can be the favorite football team in America with exception of the state of Louisiana.”
The Vandals hit the practice field Tuesday afternoon, we’ll have more from that.