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Vandals go Power 5 hunting again

| September 10, 2022 1:15 AM

Tonight, Idaho at Indiana, 5 p.m. TV: BTN. Radio: 92.5 FM, 1080 AM

The Idaho Vandals didn’t appear too beat up from last week’s season-opening loss at Washington State.

Other than, possibly, all the fans slapping them on the back after the FCS Vandals played the FBS Power 5 conference Cougars close in a 24-17 defeat.

Earlier this week, first-year Idaho coach Jason Eck said he was happy how his players competed, fought hard and gave the Vandals a chance to win at the end of the game.

“That being said, we didn’t win the game,” Eck said. “We have to get better; we have to improve. This is going to be a much tougher challenge against Indiana … It’s going to be a tougher environment, a bigger crowd, harder trip. Last week was a glorified home game – you slept in your own bed. Now we’ve got a three-hour flight across the country."

Tonight, Idaho ventures into Big Ten territory to face Indiana (1-0). The Hoosiers scored a touchdown with 23 seconds left to beat Illinois 23-20 last Friday in a conference game. Indiana was outgained 448-362, and netted just 32 yards rushing.

“Now I think we’ll have Indiana’s attention. Their coaches will be able to use us playing tough against Washington State as motivation. My message to the team is, we’ve got to improve a lot this week. We have to play much, much better than we did, and I think we can play better.”

Still, you take your moral victories wherever you can get them. And in recent years, the Vandals need all the wins they can get.

Idaho hasn’t played Power 5 teams close in recent years.

“I just think you build on the positives,” Eck said. “We knew we had to win the turnover battle to win the game, and we did that, 3-2. (Washington State) coach (Jake) Dickert complimented us on how hard we played on defense.

“The resilience that we showed, the mental toughness to fight back when things didn’t go our way. That’s something bad teams don’t do.”

Also on the bright side, most mistakes the Vandals made in the opener are fixable. They weren’t completely outmanned, which often happens in these games.

“Like I told the kids, we had a lot of accountability issues in the game where we didn’t execute,” Eck said. “Two of their big plays offensively were busts — where we had two guys cover one receiver and one guy doesn’t cover the other receiver and he was wide open. It wasn’t like it was a huge talent issue.

“On offense, I was disappointed with the false starts. First and goal at the 8, and we have a false start. We have first and goal at the 13 and end up kicking a field goal. We had another one at fourth and 4, and there’s a lot of plays you can run on fourth and 4. So it’s fourth and 9 and we get stopped.

“They weren’t talent issues; those were execution things,” he added. “It’s easier to fix that stuff than to get your team bigger, stronger and faster in a week.”

Still, he has noticed more of a buy-in after the close call at Pullman.

“We had a large contingent of the team who really believed that we were going to be a lot better, and believed we are going in a different direction than Idaho has gone in the past,” Eck said. “But I don’t know if everybody did. But we’ve had some evidence that everybody’s on board now. The last two days (Monday and Tuesday), we’ve had nobody late for weights. We haven’t had a lot of days when nobody’s been late for weights.”

While money games against FBS schools are a necessity for schools like Idaho, which needs all the paychecks it can get, Eck said he would rather play a game like this at a school on the West Coast.

“Not a game I love on our schedule,” Eck said. “I’d rather play a team in an area where we recruit. Though there are great players in Indiana, and if you want to send us film we’ll look at it, but that’s not a major recruiting area for us.”

Idaho played at Indiana last year, losing 56-14. But the Hoosiers’ quarterback (Michael Penix Jr.) is now playing at Washington, and both the coordinators are new — though Eck pointed out head coach Tom Allen calls the defensive plays.

“We have to play much better (this week),” Eck said. “We need to run the ball better, take some pressure off the passing game. We need to do better on first down so we don’t have as many third-and-longs.”

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