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Idaho looks to rebound from Penn State rout with home opener against talented Central Washington

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 6, 2019, 6:28 p.m.

Idaho head coach Paul Petrino talks with quarterback Mason Petrino  during the first quarter against Penn State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (Barry Reeger / AP)
Idaho head coach Paul Petrino talks with quarterback Mason Petrino during the first quarter against Penn State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. (Barry Reeger / AP)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Penn who?

A Big 10 tidal wave of talent that washed over Idaho in a 79-7 rout against Penn State in the Vandals’ season opener is giving way to Idaho’s home opener against Central Washington Saturday today.

The game against an accomplished (8-3 last year) Division II opponent should afford Idaho a talent advantage somewhat akin to what the Nittany Lions enjoyed over the Vandals.

Repairing the psychological damage from that debacle to be ready for the Wildcats was the first step in pursuing the season’s first win for Idaho coach Paul Petrino.

It happened. It’s over. Learn from it, seemed to be the general theme he was advancing this past week.

“That’s part of life,” Petrino said.

The Nittany Lions gave the Vandals a close look at high-quality football, and Petrino believes the final score does not reflect the fact Idaho players won some individual battles.

“It wasn’t like five guys getting beat every play. It was a guy here and there,” he said. “We are going to take the great experience of playing there, playing against a really good team, and hopefully it will make us better.”

The Vandals came out of the game largely uninjured, although several unnamed players were day-to-day leading up to the CWU game, Petrino said.

Idaho will also have available three players suspended for the first game for violating team rules. Outside linebacker Christian Elliss will start. Sean Tulette and D.J. Lee are on the two-deep roster at offensive tackle and wide receiver, respectively.

Quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson are both expected to play, although neither had much success against Penn State. Petrino was 11 for 17 for 91 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Richardson was 5 for 9 for 50 yards.

Jeff Cotton was Idaho’s most reliable weapon against Penn State with six catches for 83 yards, including a long of 38.

The Wildcats are opening ntheir season against the Vandals, and this is the first time the teams have met.

In CWU, Idaho will see the product of a new coaching staff. Chris Fisk was the Wildcats’ offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator since 2016. During his tenure, CWU went 26-7, with two conference titles and one trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs. He was named head coach this year after Ian Shoemaker left to become Eastern Washington’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.

Fisk, a Pocatello native, has long been familiar with Big Sky Conference football.

Against Idaho, the Wildcats should feature a competent defense led by a pair of senior linebackers. Donte Hamilton (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) had 87 tackles last season, with three sacks and two interceptions. Tevin Gray (5-11, 205) had three sacks with four picks. Both were first-team Great Northwest Athletic Conference selections.

Coach Petrino also pointed to defensive backs Tyren Sams, a senior cornerback, and Marcus Schimmelfennig as capable defenders. Schimmelfennig, a 5-10, 190-pound senior safety, made 115 tackles for the Wildcats last year.

On offense, the Wildcats feature 1,000-yard rusher Michael Roots. The junior also scored 10 touchdowns in 2018 as the Wildcats averaged 47.7 points and 540.9 yards per game.

Like Idaho, CWU has quarterback issues this season and will be led by one of four newcomers. Weber State transfer Branden Miles will compete to start with redshirt sophomore Christian Moore and redshirt freshmen Tai-John Mizutani and Canon Racanelli.

“Nobody will know who the starter is until we go out to Idaho and go out for that first play,” Fisk said in an interview with the Ellensburg Daily Record.

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