For 30 minutes last Saturday night in Baton Rouge the Vandals seemed to be, somewhat, going tit for tat with the No. 2 (or No. 3, depending on your preferred poll) team in the nation. Twice the Vandals pulled to within a touchdown in the first half after LSU had ample opportunities to put the game away. Twice the Vandals battled back and made a statement. Both the 94-yard interception return from Gary Walker that set up Dominique Blackman’s first touchdown pass of the game to make it 14-7, as well as the seven-play 81-yard drive capped off with a 22 yard touchdown pass to Jahrie Level that made it 21-14.
Unfortunately for Idaho, football games are sixty minutes.
Idaho went in to the half down 28-14, but 35 unanswered second half points from the Tigers gave everybody the game that was pretty much expected.
“There are things within the game that we’re going to build from. Battles within the battle that if you can do it part of the time I think you have an opportunity to do it all the time,” coach Robb Akey said. “I’m not big on saying ‘this was great’ because if it was great the score wouldn’t have read like it did.”
Despite giving up a touchdown to end the first half, the Vandals once again had an opportunity to pull within a touchdown in the third quarter after forcing LSU to punt on the opening possession of the second half. LSU defensive end Lavar Edwards pulled down a Blackman pass at the line of scrimmage and ran it in from 23-yards out to make it a 35-14 game.
“The way that we took the field and started the game, our guys showed and our guys competed and we played physical for as long as we could against an opponent like that,” Akey said.
The talent differential between the two teams was on full display in the second half when the Tigers kept bullying Idaho in the trenches on both sides of the ball, scoring four rushing touchdowns while holding the Vandals to only 21 yards on the ground in the second half.
“Did I have some guys that battled their tails off until they couldn’t any longer? Yes. But that’s it. It is what it is. You play a game for sixty minutes and that’s the only thing that matters,” Akey said. “The size and the mass and the speed that they came with…they wore us down and out there’s no question about it.”
There’s only so many moral victories Idaho can pull away from a 49-point loss, even if the team that they lost to will likely be playing in a January bowl game.
The biggest moral victory though is that Idaho’s next opponent is perhaps its most winnable remaining out of conference game. On Saturday the Wyoming Cowboys will come in to the Kibbie Dome with the same 0-3 mark as Idaho – and in similar fashion. The Cowboys have dropped a ‘guarantee’ game to Texas, lost close to MAC opponent in Toledo and lost week to Big Sky opponent Cal Poly.
Considering the combined 0-6 record of both teams one could imagine two teams pulling out all of the stops for a season saving victory. Akey said that he doesn’t think desperation will play a part in this game, pointing out the growth he believes his team has made over the last three weeks.
“I don’t see it as being desperate,” he said. “The way I look at it is our football team is ready to make something happen. I’m anxious to be playing an opponent that’s more along the lines of like us.”
Here are the rest of our notes from Akey’s Monday news conference:
On the end of the first half when the Vandals punted back to LSU, who scored with 37 seconds left to go up by two touchdowns: “You trade shots and made some things happen with the No. 2 team in the country. It’s 21-14 and we got an opportunity where we’re calling a timeout trying to make sure we (have) enough time when we get the ball back, and our defense gets us the ball back.”We get an opportunity to go down and even the score so you’re going to battle it out for a half, to see who can win with the No. 2 team in the country. There are some things you can build from within that, certainly.”
Which led in to thoughts about the second half: Akey said what hurt them the most was “in the blink of an eye” going down four scores, referring to Lavar Edwards pick six five minutes in to the half and Kenny Hilliard’s 71-yard run eight minutes in to the half which gave LSU control of the game.
Akey also mentioned LSU’s 10 play 74 yard touchdown drive that culminated in a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter in which LSU ran the ball eight times to assert their physicality and will on the Vandals. That score put LSU on top 56-14.
“They got big and ran the football. Believe it or not the No. 2 team in the country is bigger, stronger, faster than we are.” he said.
On Dominique Blackman’s four interceptions: “I think two of the four were great plays by their defense, I think two of the four we’d like have like to made a little better decision of throw. Four interceptions, I don’t care who you’re playing against is unacceptable and he’ll be the first one to tell you that also.”
On visiting Ken McRoyal’s grave the day prior to the game: “For the guys that went I do believe it was a positive,” he said. “I gotta believe it helped provide closure for some of our guys.”
“They got to where they were telling some stories. It was upbeat, which I think was a good thing. It helped us…it’s probably one of those things that’s necessary when you have the opportunity to do it.”
Not every player went, as it was a player’s choice to go, Akey said. Some of McRoyal’s family was also there.
On the team’s record and confidence level: “The confidence level, that’s one of the things that I talk to my team about. There’s a few things that we’ve got to make sure that we do control. Our mental fortitude and the toughness we go about those things,” he said. “Our attitude and our expectation. That’s one of the things that you battle. It’s hard to come off a scoreboard the way that scoreboard read.”
“Is any football team in the country that hasn’t won a game yet have great confidence? I would doubt it. This football team, we’ve been able to point out, and certainly that is my challenge as the coach, is to make sure the guys do see how the parts have come together and how if we will do things the right way, the things that have become better…That’s what I think enables us that opportunity.”
– Not much to report on injuries. Akey said that two players might be questionable to play this Saturday, and that two that weren’t able to play Saturday against LSU might be able to play against Wyoming. CB Tracy Carter is one of the players that didn’t start against LSU.
– Akey said that RB Todd Handley will be involved in the running game going forward. Handley had six carries for 20 yards against LSU, including a 14 yard run off left tackle in the first carry of his collegiate career.
“Hopefully he’ll challenge those other guys, push them a little bit more also,” Akey said.
– Akey said he’d like to see some more consistency out of Starting X receiver Najee Lovett. Lovett had eight catches for 105 yards against Eastern Washington, but only has six catches for 44 yards in the last two games combined.