MOSCOW, Idaho – That notion about a football team’s greatest improvement coming between its first and second games?
It’s true often enough. It’s just not an absolute.
In fact, Idaho coach Paul Petrino saw but one absolute in the 45-33 shelling his Vandals absorbed at the hands of Western Michigan at the Kibbie Dome on Saturday.
“You can say whatever you want about it,” he said, “but they just kicked our butt.”
Jarvion Franklin, the Broncos’ bullish freshman running back, gashed the Vandals for 210 yards and three touchdowns, and quarterback Zach Terrell hooked up with receivers on three more long scores as WMU sucked all the emotion out the dome, where 14,721 had tickets for the Idaho home opener but substantially fewer showed up.
It was certainly a come-down from UI’s near-miss a week earlier against Sun Belt Conference foe Louisiana-Monroe, when the Warhawks needed a long drive in the last minute to pull out a 38-31 decision.
“I was really expecting a lot better effort,” Petrino admitted.
At times he got it on offense. Freshman quarterback Matt Linehan, in his second start, passed for 362 yards and three scores, and scrambled for another.
But he also threw a second-quarter interception with the Vandals 12 yards from the end zone that wound up irretrievably flipping the game because Idaho’s defense couldn’t get a meaningful stop.
The Vandals (0-2) were already down 11 points at the time, and WMU’s Ronald Zamort — who sniffed out a slant pattern — ran the pick back 57 yards. Two plays later, Franklin crashed off left guard, found no secondary defensive help to elude and rumbled 39 yards for a 35-17 lead.
“I thought it was going to be open and just telegraphed it a little bit,” Linehan said.
With that kind of cushion, the Broncos (1-1) had no qualms about simply saddling up the 220-pound Franklin, part of what ESPN ranked as the best recruiting class in Mid-American Conference history. He had eight carries in a 63-yard drive – all on the ground – that ate up seven minutes to open the second half, producing an Andrew Haldeman field goal.
Linehan orchestrated a terrific drive to answer – hitting 6 of 7 passes, including an 8-yard flip to tight end Justin Podrabsky for a touchdown. But again the Idaho’s stoppers stumbled – the return team letting Darius Phillips take the kick to midfield, and the defense surrendering two third-down conversions, including Franklin’s 7-yard TD run.
In all, the Vandals gave up eight plays of 22 yards or more – the carnage started with a short pass Corey Davis turned into a 61-yard touchdown on WMU’s first play – and seven in the 10-15 range.
Asked if his team took a step backward, Petrino didn’t flinch.
“Probably,” he said. “It feels like it.
“You’re not going to be close if you don’t get any stops. Offensively, we played pretty well most of the game. But we were fighting for our lives to get first downs and to score. Then we get down there one time and throw a pick, and then settled for a field goal one time. And we never stopped them.”
He did insist that the Vandals “are still a way better offense than we were last year.” But running back Jerrel Brown, who had a career-high 117 yards last week, never got going and finished with 44, and Linehan paid the price with an amped-up WMU pass rush the second half.
Still, he connected on some biggies himself — 62 yards to speedy Richard Montgomery in the second quarter, and a 75-yarder to converted quarterback Josh McCain for the game’s last score.
“We have to do a better job of just fighting to the end, and that includes myself,” Linehan said. “We have to do a better job of coming back from mistakes.”
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