MOSCOW — You can’t include it in the long-running blotter of “forgettable losses” that Idaho’s football program has endured.
Offensive spectacle like this is downright hard to come by.
Let’s break down some figures in the 31-7 bludgeoning suffered by the Vandals on Saturday against sixth-ranked Sacramento State in a tired Kibbie Dome:
Average out all of Idaho’s possessions, and you get 3.9 plays for 13 yards — whoa, one first down per drive? Very nice for UI (4-7, 2-5 Big Sky) and its offensive-minded head man.
It doesn’t really tell the whole story for a team that went three-and-out six times, coughed it up twice and had Cade Coffey swing his punting leg eight times. Subtract a single solid drive and one in garbage time, and you’re left with an average series of three plays for 5 yards.
Now average out the time of possession on every Vandals drive, and you get one minute, 41 seconds — oh yeah, draining the clock. That’s their M.O., of course.
Here’s an offensive snapshot: short run, short run, incompletion. Or: short run, sack, short completion. You get the point.
Check out the first eight drives during which Idaho’s complex, incredibly hard-to-defend offense graced the field. One time, it had six whole plays. The other seven? It stayed splendidly consistent with no more than three snaps apiece.
In all, Idaho ran 55 plays and had the ball for a meager 24 minutes, Sac State 87 and 36 minutes. Note: UI repped 54 plays against top-10 Penn State of the FBS in a 72-point loss to open and foreshadow the season.
If you don’t count Power Five opponents like those Nittany Lions, Idaho’s 194 total yards were its fewest in a game since 2005.
On Sept. 24 of that year, the Nick Holt-led Vandals compiled only 153 on Dad’s Day in a 24-0 loss to Hawaii.
You know, it took me a bit to find that. It’d probably take another week or so to dig up the last time UI had 16 or fewer yards when the halftime horn sounded. It was probably in 1915 or something, against, I don’t know, Gonzaga?
Saturday was remarkable in how bad it was — a memorably lifeless offensive outing to all but cap the complete Big Sky collapse over the last two years under Petrino, who “thought we were gonna play a lot better.”
Instead, UI’s offense fell back to the Big Sky cellar in a fell swoop, Petrino heard some boo-birds and all those joyless onlookers who want him gone felt their claims substantiated. ... It was too extraordinary of a crash to overlook.
Petrino hoped the absence of injured receiver Jeff Cotton could be offset with that rushing game the Vandals love to pride themselves on. Bad news — that whole group appeared uninspired and ready for the check, like they just want 2019 to end already. They had 61 rushing yards, including a 35-yarder.
“It was like two steps, BAM, and they were on us,” Petrino said of the (likely) historically bad first half. “Second half, we did a little bit better job of picking (pressure) up, and that allowed us to make a few plays (178 yards, 75 on one drive).”
Sac State’s premier FCS defensive line ravaged the UI trenches that’d been hyped like they could play with the league’s elite. Quarterback Mason Petrino, unpopular in his last Kibbie showing, wasn’t fast enough to scramble past the Hornets, and he didn’t have the arm to make the tough throws and ignite something.
At one point midway through the third, the Vandals miraculously trotted downfield on a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive, sparked by the defense. UI was still somehow in it, then decided posthaste to get back to its forte of the day. That being, a punt, followed by a bottled-up run on a must-have fourth-and-1 run deep in its own territory.
“We just needed to make a couple more plays,” Paul Petrino said.
Or, a whole lot of plays, particularly that one, the last breath of life.
For many, a 17-point deficit early in the fourth isn’t a foregone conclusion. For Saturday’s Vandals, who couldn’t get on or stay on the field, it might as well have been 50. That fourth-and-1? Might as well have been an inside run on fourth-and-13.
To be fair, this was a healthy mix of Sac State being a playoff contender, a dominant group that’s competing for a Big Sky title, a team that’s just plain better than UI. It was also UI featuring debatably the league’s most limited offense. That’s not debatable when Cotton is missing.
And to be frank, Idaho’s lack of offensive versatility and fireworks — confined behind a non-QB quarterback, conservative calls and sure, injuries — has doomed an obviously improved defense, and has been the root cause of five Vandal losses that have overshadowed some individuals sitting among the conference’s best.
Especially this loss, the ugliest offensively of the year, of the last two years, of ... it’s been a long time.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.