MOSCOW, Idaho – Where most see a tough home test against a team that disposed of Idaho last season, Idaho’s third-year coach Paul Petrino sees a game which could turn a program’s fortunes around with a simple win.
Idaho will host a Thursday night season opener against Ohio on Sep. 3, a game Petrino says his team will spend almost every fall practice thinking about and preparing for when practices begin tomorrow at 6 p.m.
All college football teams use their allotted fall practice time to prepare for their season openers. Petrino, however, feels the importance of a winnable season opener at home for a program coming off of three consecutive one-win seasons and one without a season-opening win over an FBS program since 2009.
He explained the potential impact of winning that game on Monday afternoon while meeting with the media in his pre-fall press conference.
“I think the excitement of having the opening game at home on Thursday night against a team we think we’re going to beat, I think that’s going to be a big turnaround game for the program, to be honest with you,” Petrino said. “ … That’s a game where we need to work hard all camp and believe we’re going to win and it’s going to be a big game to start turning things around here.”
Almost all practices will include scout team work for the starting offensive and defensive units to prepare for Ohio’s schemes. Sprinkled in for the defense will be scout team looks at Wofford’s wishbone offense and Georgia Southern’s triple-option attack, Idaho’s third and fourth opponents of the season, respectively.
For the first time in Petrino’s tenure, he feels like the talent gap between his team and the competition has, generally, shrunk. For him, wins in the Sun Belt Conference are possible sooner rather than later.
“I think there’s some games you line up and (a large talent gap) happens,” Petrino said. “I think that probably was my first two years here. I think this year it’s going to be a time where it’s not and that gives us a chance to win a lot of games.”
Petrino believes improved quarterback play could be one of the main factors in helping Idaho make the necessary strides to exceed most people’s expectations.
Incumbent starting quarterback Matt Linehan weighed in at 220 pounds this week, more than 15 pounds heavier than at the start of last season. The bulkier the better for Linehan, who was sacked 39 times last season.
Though, it is his 18 interceptions he’ll need to improve on in order to ward off redshirt freshman competitor Jake Luton.
“You always have to make sure you keep going (with competition),” Petrino said. “I think Jake has an unbelievably high ceiling to be a very good player. In this day and age of college football you better have two or three guys ready to go, to be honest with you.”
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