MOSCOW — With eight starters missing, it felt like a matter of “when” for the University of Idaho football team.

When would a deeper and more experienced UC Davis outfit capitalize on its opponent’s absences, and flip the momentum in the Aggies’ favor? When would the young Vandals’ tanks begin to deplete?

For a while, No. 19 Idaho kept the visitors’ potent offense grounded, commanding the time of possession column and stringing together stops to build a pair of 10-point leads.

But by the midway point of the third quarter Saturday, the Aggies had discovered their gear, while the Vandals’ advantage and earlier liveliness withered away en route to a 27-17 Big Sky loss at the Kibbie Dome in front of a limited attendance of about 3,000.

“We did a great job (controlling the game) in the first half, but we’ve got to finish the full four quarters next time,” UI fullback Logan Kendall said.

Still, it’s hard to blame the Vandals (1-1) for their apparent burnout. They started three freshmen on the offensive line. Their most experienced blockers, juniors Logan Floyd and Matt Faupusa, were scratches.

UI also was without starting defensive backs Jalen Hoover and Jaxon Woodward, and its team captain at nose tackle in Rahsaan Crawford. Tight end Connor Whitney and punter Cade Coffey weren’t present either.

Receiver Jermaine Jackson and center Chad Bagwell, both of whom sustained injuries in Idaho’s defeat of Eastern Washington last weekend, remained sidelined too.

Idaho coach Paul Petrino said he was not permitted to speak on the reasoning for the missing contributors, but he had some encouraging words to offer regarding the replacements.

“It says a lot for our last recruiting class,” Petrino said. “There were a lot of young guys out there playing their hearts out.”

UC Davis clearly had the edge in energy by the game's later stages, and took its first lead with 7:12 remaining, adding an insurance touchdown a possession later. Throughout the second half of their season opener, the Aggies thrived on jet sweeps and quick-hitter throws.

They marched 75 yards on 14 plays in about five minutes, scoring on a 7-yard dart from new quarterback Hunter Rodrigues to Jared Harrell to snip the deficit to 17-14 late in the third.

UC Davis whisked UI’s offense off the field on back-to-back series, and Rodrigues nickel-and-dimed the Aggies back into the red zone, supplying their first lead with an 11-yard bullet to Carson Crawford (eight receptions, 120 yards, two scores) at the 7:41 mark of the final period.

Another Idaho 3-and-out ensued, and the Aggies kept the rock on the ground throughout a game-sealing, seven-play, 74-yard scoring drive. UI quarterback Mike Beaudry was then picked off by Davis linebacker Connor Airey on an errant throw over the middle.

Idaho’s offense didn’t manage a first down in its final five drives — from 4:28 in the third quarter to the bitter end. UI was 8-for-13 on third downs before then.

The Vandal ground game was snuffed out after halftime, and Beaudry started to feel the heat from Aggie pass-rushers. He often settled for short tosses into traffic.

“We had a couple of third downs in that fourth quarter, and even late in the third, where we maybe ran our routes just a yard incorrect,” Petrino said. “So just little things of everyone doing their jobs right.”

Super-fast, super-elusive running back Ulonzo Gilliam posted 146 yards on 26 carries (5.6 yards per) to spearhead a UC Davis rushing game that outgained Idaho’s 202-109.

“You’ve gotta win your gaps,” Petrino said of UC Davis’ speed-oriented, misdirection-heavy offense, which gashed UI for three touchdowns in five possessions in the second half. “There were times we didn’t. That hurt us.”

With a green line of protection, Beaudry often had to look for escape routes. He broke a few nifty scampers, finishing as the Vandals’ rushing leader (44 yards).

Beaudry was sacked just once, and completed 27 of 37 passes for 236 yards, one score and two picks. The first interception was costly — it came right before halftime, when he forced a ball into double coverage at the goal line.

Rodrigues was on the money. He was kept clean all day in his pocket, and dazzled on intermediate throws, passing 23-for-29 for 243 yards and three touchdowns to help Aggies coach Dan Hawkins, formerly of Boise State, improve to 9-1 all-time against Idaho.

A 47-yard field goal from Logan Prescott capped UI’s first series, and the Vandals opened up a 10-0 lead late in the second when Beaudry hit Kendall on a 19-yard play-action rollout pass. Kendall rumbled through one tackle, spun out of another and dove in.

The Aggies answered the bell with a sequence of chunk gains and a 25-yard jump-ball touchdown reception by Crawford.

Idaho ran 44 plays against UC Davis’ 23 in the first half.

Petrino said he “called the game trying to take care of those freshman O-linemen,” employing the use of quick balls and perimeter runs.

“I’m super proud of them, but when we have that lead, we gotta win,” Petrino said. “That starts with me.”

Added Kendall of the O-line: "Those young guys did a great job. All week in practice they stepped up. I tried to let them know: 'You guys block some of the best defensive guys every week at practice. So, you're ready.'"

The Vandals re-extended their edge to 10 on their first drive out of the break. Running back Nick Romano snagged a 49-yard reception on a wheel route to set up Beaudry’s 9-yard quarterback keeper.

Hayden Hatten led UI in receiving for the second straight week, totaling 74 yards on eight grabs.

Tre Walker piled up 19 tackles, including a punishing hit in the backfield on a broken double-reverse play to stall a fourth-quarter Aggie series. Idaho’s front seven also forced a turnover on downs at the goal line on UC Davis’ first drive, but the Vandals' presence in Davis' backfield declined in the second half.

A fresh-faced UI secondary had its resilient moments. New defensive backs Tommy McCormick and Awan Parker made one-on-one pass break-ups on deep shots to halt two Aggie series down the stretch. But Idaho ultimately couldn’t hold down UC Davis’ experience, precision and bursts of speed.

“We knew the situation we were going into, but there's no excuses," Walker said. "I think back to my first game as a freshman. You just have those jitters. But kudos to all of them. They stepped up to the plate.”

UC Davis 0 7 7 13 — 27Idaho 3 7 7 0 — 17First Quarter

IDHO: FG Prescott 47, 08:06

Second Quarter

IDHO: Kendall 19 pass from Beaudry (Prescott kick), 04:22

UCD: Crawford 25 pass from Rodrigues (Gomez kick), 01:40

Third Quarter

IDHO: Beaudry 9 run (Prescott kick), 09:04

UCD: Harrell 7 pass from Rodrigues (Gomez kick), 04:28

Fourth Quarter

UCD: Crawford 11 pass from Rodrigues (kick failed), 07:41

UCD: Larison 9 run (Gomez kick), 03:12

UCD IDHO

First downs 29 19

Rushes-yards 43-202 28-109

Passing 279 236

Comp-Att-Int 24-30-0 27-37-2

Return Yards 18 58

Punts-Avg. 2-49.0 4-45.8

Fumbles-Lost 3-0 0-0

Penalty-Yards 3-35 2-20

Time of Possession 29:46 30:14

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: UC Davis, Ul. Gilliam Jr. 26-145, La. Larison 10-66, Hu. Rodrigues 6-13, Ja. Harrell 1-(minus 22). Idaho, Mi. Beaudry 8-44, Ni. Romano 9-32, Ro. Johnson 4-21, Ki. Martinez 2-7, Dy. Thigpen 3-3, Lo. Kendall 1-3, Tr. Walker 1-(minus 1).

PASSING: UC Davis, Hu. Rodrigues 23-29-0-243, Ca. Crawford 1-1-0-36. Idaho, Mi. Beaudry 27-37-2-236.

RECEIVING: UC Davis, Ca. Crawford 8-120, Ja. Harrell 4-55, Mc. Castles 4-51, Kh. Vaughn 5-35, La. Babb II 1-14, Ul. Gilliam Jr. 1-2, Bl. Thorpe 1-2. Idaho, Ha. Hatten 8-74, Ni. Romano 3-61, Cu. Haywood 8-39, Mi. Noil 2-22, El. Lilly 2-19, Lo. Kendall 1-19, Ro. Johnson 3-2.

UC Davis 27, Idaho 17

Stars of the game

UC Davis running back ULONZO GILLIAM popped UI for 5.6 yards per carry, totaling 145 to pace an up-tempo Aggie offense that found its fluidity as the game progressed. Junior Aggie quarterback HUNTER RODRIGUES, in his first collegiate start, excelled on short/intermediate routes, passing 23 of 29 for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Idaho linebacker TRE WALKER continued his defensive tear, registering 19 tackles — the most by a Vandal defender since 2011 — and helping UI’s front seven halt two drives in which the Aggies reached the Vandal red zone. Quarterback MIKE BEAUDRY started efficiently (completing 12 of his first 15 passes) and picked up three early third downs with his legs, but his production diminished as UC Davis’ defense grew comfortable against a young UI O-line.

Turning point

A second straight UI 3-and-out early in the fourth quarter opened the door for UC Davis to claim its first lead. The Aggies, who found a flashy rhythm on offense in the period prior, soared downfield, with Gilliam picking up 5 yards a try and Rodrigues flicking short, on-target passes that always seemed to go for extra yardage. An 11-yard Carson Crawford TD reception at 7:41 put the Aggies on top, deflating Idaho and signaling the outcome.

Up next

The Vandals will play their first road of game of the spring season, facing Northern Arizona at noon Pacific Saturday in the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff.

Clark may be reached at cclark@lmtribune.com, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 627-3209.