Idaho coach Robb Akey emphasized his team’s ability to “compete” throughout fall camp and into the regular season. For about two quarters, the Vandal football team did just that against the nation’s second-ranked team before giving in to Louisiana State, falling to the Tigers 63-14 in Baton Rouge.
“There are things within the game that we’re going to build on, that we can build off of and battles within the battle that if you can do it part of the game, you can do it all of the time,” Akey said.
As expected, LSU wasted little time scoring. Junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger hooked up with receiver Kadron Boone for six, Ronald Martin picked off Idaho quarterback Dominique Blackman and on the ensuing drive, Tiger tailback Alfred Blue leaped over a few Vandal defenders to make it a two-touchdown game.
It wasn’t until the Tigers’ next possession that things would become interesting.
Mettenberger’s first mistake came seconds into the second quarter when senior safety Gary Walker intercepted the Georgia transfer and ran it back 94 yards to the LSU one-yard line.
It took Blackman and the offense three plays to hang six on their SEC opponent. The junior sought out a wide-open Michael LaGrone in the end zone to cut the deficit to seven points.
Against a defense that ranked No. 2 in the FBS last season, Idaho was able to tally its highest point total this season.
Despite Blackman’s four interceptions, two of which were run back for touchdowns, the junior was consistent. In his second start, Blackman went 23-26, throwing at a 64 percent clip with two touchdowns.
“I think two of the four were great plays by our defense and the other two we’ve liked to have made better decisions,” Akey said. ”There’s some good things he’s doing, he’s been pretty accurate for the most part, there’s one interception last week and obviously four this game.”
Todd Handley initiated the Vandals’ second scoring drive on his first touch in an Idaho uniform before Blackman strung together six consecutive passes, the sixth a 22-yard touchdown connection with junior college transfer Jahrie Level.
92,177 fans at Death Valley witnessed a stellar defensive showing from the Tigers in the second half as they held the visitors scoreless.
The physical specimens that play for the defending SEC champions wore Idaho out, Akey insisted.
“The size and the mass and the speed that they came with, they wore us down and out there’s no question about it” Akey said. “Believe it or not the No. 2 team in the country is bigger and stronger and faster than we are. Physically they got us, they broke us down.”
Despite the holes that Handley found within the Tiger defensive line, the Vandals’ run game remained stale. Four Vandal backs combined for 39 net yards on 26 carries.The majority of LSU’s offensive success came on the ground, propelled by leading rusher Kenny Hilliard. The Tigers racked up 250 yards on 39 carries. Hilliard and Jeremy Hill had two touchdowns a piece.
Idaho hopes to rebound four days from now when they return home for a clash with Wyoming. The Cowboys reached the New Mexico Bowl last season but are coming off a loss against FCS opponent Cal Poly.
Like the Vandals, the Cowboys sit at 0-3 on the season and have fared similarly against opponents equal to Idaho’s. Wyoming opened the season with a loss at Texas, followed it up with a loss to Toledo and most recently was upset by the Mustangs.
“Is any football team in the country that hasn’t won a game yet got great confidence? I would doubt it?” Akey said. “I would expect that I’ve got a football team that is going to come in here with confidence, and play with confidence regardless of where we’re playing.”
Theo Lawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org