Depending on how much you can really learn from a spring game, Idaho would appear to be unstoppable on offense next season.
In the annual Silver and Gold game in the Kibbie Dome that concluded spring practice Friday, the Silver team first offense, led by senior quarterback Matt Linehan, rolled to a 70-20 advantage over the Gold team second defense, a margin so ridiculous coach Paul Petrino whistled the affair to a conclusion with 13 minutes to play.
Senior wide receiver Jacob Sannon connected with Linehan for three touchdowns, and junior running back Isaiah Saunders scored and ran for impressive yardage on close to 20 carries, though no official statistics were released. On the opening series of the second quarter Saunders battered the Gold defense for eight yards, seven yards and eight again on three straight plays, running through sophomore safety Gunnar Amos and sophomore linebacker Aaron Pue on the final carry.
An imposing offensive line sealed off pursuit from outside linebackers and simply shoved everyone in the middle of the field back about five yards to give the ball carriers an almost unfair head start. Linehan never seemed to have to throw under pressure. At the start of spring practice, Petrino had said identifying five consistent linemen was a priority.
After the Silver and Gold game he said “we’ve got four. Four’s good. We’ve just got to get that fifth guy.”
Petrino singled out senior tackle Jordan Rose, redshirt freshman center Connor Vrba and sophomore guard Zion Dixon as having a successful spring.
“The offensive line definitely competed today,” said Rose. He took it upon himself to set an example for mastering technique, drive blocking “and how to play violent. That’s how the UI line plays, violent.”
Even though Linehan operated unhampered, Rose saw room for improvement in pass blocking. However, “the run blocking was very good. We came off the ball and hit them in the mouth.”
Last year, Linehan watched spring practice while recovering from a leg injury. This year, “Matt had a really good spring,” according to Petrino. “He’s just bigger and stronger, has a stronger arm. The sky is the limit for Matt.”
Petrino also said Sannan is carrying over a breakthrough that began last season. Linehan added “he wants to be one of the best wide receivers here. He won’t tell you that. He’s too modest, too nice a guy, but he gets on that field he is a stone cold killer.”
Linehan said five years of working with Sannan is paying off. Sannan agrees. He said he is better at finding seams in zones and sitting there waiting for a pass. “Matt knows when I am about to sit.”
In addition, he says he has improved at tracking deep balls and running after the catch.
“I’m more confident out there catching the ball. I just feel everything comes naturally now.”
At halftime, Petrino was surprised by his father, who presented him the Sun Belt Conference coach of the year award.
“I didn’t know anything about that. They kept that a secret. It was a very special moment,” Paul Petrino said.
Last year’s seniors were presented rings for their victory in the Famous Idaho Potatoes Bowl. The mother and the wife of the late Jace Malek were also given rings. Malek never played a down of football for Idaho after being diagnosed with cancer before his freshman year, and he died two years ago. But his example as a student coach while he fought the disease has become part of Vandal culture.
“He’s part of us,” Linehan said. “I wish he was here to see it, but I know he’s looking down. He got his ring.”
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