MOSCOW — First-half yardage totals aren’t charted in the record books, but it probably would surprise no one if Idaho’s football team snapped some sort of century-old record Saturday.
The Vandals had logged an impressively bad 16 yards by the time intermission rolled around.
To compare: Their opponent, sixth-ranked Sacramento State, had 15 first downs and 298 yards at that stage, and by virtue, a comfortable advantage.
It’d be an understatement to say the writing was on the wall. It was painted across most Idaho possessions, and across the pained faces of the 6,108 fans who’d arrived to celebrate a senior class that generally fares well at home.
The Hornets’ star-studded defensive front throttled tepid UI, and their offense capitalized on short fields and drained the Kibbie Dome clock to dismantle the Vandals 31-7 and move closer to their first Big Sky title.
“Bottom line is: Their defensive line whupped our offensive line,” said Idaho coach Paul Petrino, whose team dropped to 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the conference. “You can try to cut it 8,000 different ways, but when you get whipped up front that bad, you’re gonna struggle.”
In all but a series or two, the Vandals were booted quickly off the field. They turned it over twice, went three-and-out six times and got Cade Coffey’s leg ample work with eight punts.
Sac State (8-3, 6-1), which leads the Football Championship Subdivision in sacks — and is fourth in tackles for loss — was too swift for a UI offensive line lacking injured starting center Logan Floyd. Running back Aundre Carter had nowhere to go, and with standout receiver Jeff Cotton sidelined with an injury sustained last week against Montana, quarterback Mason Petrino toiled in furnishing much at all.
The heavy-set rushing game Idaho prides itself on was obstructed to the tune of 61 total yards. UI was outgained 409-194.
“I thought we could use double-team blocks, use guys pulling and angles that we’d execute better, and we didn’t,” Paul Petrino said. “They were just playing with great quickness and pad level, and beating us, and getting penetration.”
It would’ve been a lot worse if not for Idaho’s defense. It got the Hornets’ high-powered, well-rounded offense off the field four times straight to open the second half.
“I thought we did a decent job in covering them,” Paul Petrino said. His defense pressured crafty Sac State quarterback Kevin Thomson, holding him to 17-of-36 for 187 yards.
“We gotta do a better job offensively of helping them.”
On the second of those stops, Thomson mishandled a snap on fourth down at UI’s goal line, collected it off the turf, but had the ball knocked out and backward by safety Tyrese Dedmon before the Hornets landed on it to end the drive.
Along with a first-quarter interception, it was Dedmon’s second forced turnover. Unlike his first, he was repaid for his work.
The Vandals’ offense, slightly rejuvenated, more than doubled its output on a 35-yard stop-and-burst by Dylan Thigpen. It set up a high-arching 24-yard touchdown pass from Mason Petrino to single-covered Cutrell Haywood, snipping the edge to 24-7.
Despite trailing Sac State in yardage total by almost 300, the Vandals still were in it.
“We hadn’t played well at all, and we were still in the game,” Paul Petrino said. “Then we came out and got a score, and we were really in the game.”
Two series later, they were decisively out of it.
Early in the fourth, on fourth-and-short from its own 31-yard line, Paul Petrino knew his team couldn’t squander any more possessions. He called for a loaded, power run with Carter. Instantaneously, his blockers collapsed in on him.
“They took out the pulling guard,” Petrino said. “We got beat right there.”
Said tight end Connor Whitney: “If we would’ve gotten that, we would’ve had a chance to go down and score. ... That was kinda a turning point for them.”
Sac State grinded out the rest of the game with hard-running backs Elijah Dotson (109 yards, two scores) and BJ Perkinson (140 total yards, one touchdown), both of whom were leaned on as the Hornets milked the clock throughout.
UI’s secondary was tested with deep balls, but stayed disciplined, so Sac State went to quick outs and a methodical ground attack.
“They kinda beat us at our own game,” Whitney said. “With them holding the ball that long, that gets our offense off the field, keeps our defense on it, wears them down.”
Mason Petrino, who went 15-of-24 passing for 133 yards, was sacked three times and faced continuous pressure in the first half. Additionally, two snaps came early, and zipped through the senior’s hands. One fumble was lost, leading to a short touchdown run by Dotson to go up 14-0 early in the second after Josiah Erickson fought Petrino off on the ground.
It was a play characteristic of UI’s languid offense, which lost possession on its second play from scrimmage. Carter plowed over Hornets nickel Marcus Bruce, but had the ball kicked from his grasp by Bruce, lying beneath.
With just 20 yards to go, Thomson compiled a simple scoring drive. Shortly after, consecutive sacks produced another short field, and Perkinson followed his blockers in from 24 out to put Sac State up 24-0 with 54 seconds until that memorably bad halftime.
“They just had our number,” Whitney said.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.
Sac State 31, Idaho 7
Stars of the game
* Sacramento State’s defensive front, spearheaded by All-American GEORGE OBINNA, terrorized a battered Vandals offensive line with persistent breakthroughs, three sacks and six tackles for loss. At halftime, Idaho had minus-17 yards rushing (61 total) and its quarterback, MASON PETRINO, had nowhere to go.
* Hornet running backs ELIJAH DOTSON and BJ PERKINSON combined for 196 yards and two touchdowns. The offense was put into their hands as Sac State aimed to wear out UI’s defense with long-lasting drives. The Hornets won the time-of-possession battle 36:10-23:50.
* Idaho safety TYRESE DEDMON intercepted Sac State quarterback KEVIN THOMSON once, then forced another turnover on a goal-line stand to lead a defensive backfield that didn’t let a lot get past it.
Idaho’s defense had continued to give the offense chances, and on a fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter, it felt like the Vandals’ last one. At UI’s 31-yard line, Paul Petrino called a special, heavy-set run to Aundre Carter, who had his blockers pushed in on him to silence any inklings of a late rally.
Idaho (4-7, 2-5 Big Sky) will close out another dreary league season against Northern Arizona (4-7, 2-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Flagstaff’s J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome.