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Defense, wide receivers make standout plays in Idaho’s first scrimmage

Idaho  linebacker Christian Elliss, right,  and  Tre Walker  chat as they move between drills during a practice Thursday  at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho linebacker Christian Elliss, right, and Tre Walker chat as they move between drills during a practice Thursday at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – In the competitive manner of brothers, Kaden and Christian Elliss kept a running tally of their respective exploits as members of the Idaho Vandals’ defense last season.

So when Christian learned his older brother was credited with a pair of tackles in the New Orleans Saints’ preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings on Friday, it was natural for him to set the bar higher.

In Idaho’s first scrimmage of the preseason Saturday, Elliss, from his outside linebacker position, broke hard on a ball Mason Petrino was trying to throw out of bounds. He got to it on the sideline and got his feet down inbounds for the pick.

“Luckily, coach has been emphasizing effort,” Elliss said. “I happened to get my feet inbounds and caught it.”

Idaho coach Paul Petrino has relished Idaho’s defensive depth this season. He said it allows players to go all out on every play.

“It was nice to see the defense fly around, play with excitement and execute,” Petrino said after the scrimmage.

Taking advantage of an offense that has only one goal-line play installed so far, the defense also stopped the offense several times inside the 5-yard line. But the defense didn’t entirely rule the day.

The scrimmage opened with Jeff Cotton getting single coverage in the end zone from Mujeeb Rufai. Petrino found him in the corner with a 6-yard scoring pass. It was the first of Cotton’s four touchdown catches in the scrimmage.

“I thought defense was really good on third down, and I thought offense made big plays. Now offense has to be better on third downs, and defense can’t give up big plays,” coach Petrino said.

“It’s the best position group,” Cotton said of the receivers. “When we’re at our best, the team is at its best.”

In the scrimmage, the Vandals worked on first down at the 20-yard line situations for the first hour before going to long-field scenarios. Petrino and Colton Richardson took the majority of snaps at quarterback, as they did last season, although redshirt freshman Nikhil Nayar accounted for a pair of touchdown passes to freshman Sean McCormick and redshirt sophomore Cutrell Haywood.

Cotton deflected inquiries into which QB should start.

“We have to catch the ball from whoever throws it,” he said. “They all can make the same throws, but Colton has a little more zip on the ball.”

Cotton and Haywood have been stars of Idaho’s early preseason practice. Cotton said it reflects the effort each has put in since last spring.

“We’re constantly in each other’s ear,” he said.

The Vandals open at Penn State on Aug. 31.

“We’re ready to play right now,” Haywood said.

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