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The Front Row with MARK NELKE November 14, 2010

| November 14, 2010 8:00 PM

Last season, during Idaho's uplifting run to its first bowl game in 11 seasons, the Vandals found a way to win close games - and in games where they got way down, at least went down battling.

This year, not so much.

Idaho lost a game it should have won at Colorado State, and couldn't stop Louisiana Tech in a loss in Ruston. The past two weeks, in front of the home folks, the Vandals not only lost to Nevada and Boise State, but were way outmatched in both, getting outscored by a combined 115-31.

"It's not fun. This football team, we've got to force a personality into it," Idaho coach Robb Akey said after the Vandals fell behind 28-0 after the first quarter en route to a 52-14 loss to fourth-ranked Boise State on Friday night at the Kibbie Dome.

"Adversity, we're not dealing well with right now. That football team we had last year, coming into the season, did it know how to win was the big question. It found out it could win, and it became a team that took on a personality of thinking it could overcome anything. This football team's got a different makeup. While there are a number of good players that are back ... I do have expectations of us performing better than we are right now. We have not dealt with the adversity of getting ourselves down."

THE ONLY thing "nasty" about Friday night's game was the score. As for "inebriated," well, it was a Friday night in Moscow. The Vandals might have shown their most fight before the game, when it came out to midfield and jawed at the Broncos as they ran onto the field. The pregame posturing almost looked scripted, the two teams woofing at each other in the middle of the field with no real danger looming.

Two years ago in Moscow, Boise State's Doug Martin carried the team's sledgehammer - a reward for the best hit on special teams in the previous game - and promptly slammed the hammer into the Vandals' "I" logo at midfield.

Earlier this week, Boise State coach Chris Petersen vowed that wouldn't happen again, and sure enough, as Gabe Linehan led the Broncos onto the field with the hammer, he and his teammates were steered toward the BSU bench by Bronco assistant coaches.

Idaho losing to Boise State is not exactly breaking news. Line the two teams up on the field, and the Broncos are bigger, faster, stronger, better.

Akey understands this. In his fourth season in Moscow, he's trying to get his program to the level of Boise State, and Nevada, and Hawaii - Idaho's last three opponents.

"This is our fourth season of building a program and building depth," Akey said. "Fortunately we have better depth than we've had before. We've been able to survive some of these injuries better. We played a great football team today, we played a very good one last week and we played a good one the week before. They're deeper into the building of their programs at this point in time. We've got to get up there.

"If we're going to be a good football team, we've got an opportunity to prove it, because we can win three games and go to a bowl, or we can not, and we can let the outside world be right."

CRAZY AS it sounds after three one-sided losses, but if Idaho (4-6, 1-4 Western Athletic Conference) can win its last three games, the Vandals would be bowl eligible for the second straight year. And it's not that much of a longshot. If Idaho doesn't stumble this Saturday at Utah State, its game at Fresno State in two weeks could be the deciding one, as Idaho's regular season finale is against lowly San Jose State at home.

"We just have to stay together," Idaho defensive end Aaron Lavarias said. "We can't have guys cashing it in. We just have to do what we did last year, which was, we never look at the scoreboard, we just play hard, and just do our job.

"Those are all teams that we think we can get after," he added. "We have good confidence going into our last three games, even though we've run into some trouble these last few games."

And if the Vandals can put together a three-game winning streak - after losing four of their last five games - the painful memories of the past three weeks will have faded, at least a little bit.

"Three and oh, three and oh," Akey said to the media as he wrapped up his news conference Friday night. "Don't give up on us."

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via e-mail at mnelke@cdapress.com.

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