If Idaho coach Paul Petrino has his way, the lumps Idaho takes in 2013 will pay off by the time his football program enters the Sun Belt Conference in 2014.
The lumps have been plenty. Idaho is coming off a 61-14 thumping at the hands of No. 21 Fresno State, moving Idaho’s win-loss record to 1-5 on the season. About 15 true and redshirt freshmen have played roles for Idaho throughout the season, perhaps explaining the growing pains.
“Right now it’s a little unrealistic to think you’re not going to have little peaks and valleys with the people that we’re playing until we improve the whole team,” Petrino said. “So it’s a process of getting better every single week. In the future, hopefully that’s next year, we won’t have peaks and valleys.”
Starting quarterback Chad Chalich, a redshirt freshman, hit a valley last Saturday when he threw three interceptions — the first three of his collegiate career. It didn’t help that he was sacked six times. Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr took advantage of Idaho playing two true freshman on the defensive line when he led the Bulldogs on touchdown drives on their first five possessions.
“We’ve had to (play the freshmen). Between injuries (and) the numbers we’ve had, those guys have had to play,” Petrino said.
Idaho will get a taste of next season’s Sun Belt schedule on Saturday when it travels down to Jonesboro, Ark., to face Arkansas State.
Despite its current 2-3 record, Arkansas State is a program that knows how to win. It’s coming off consecutive 10-win seasons, which is why the school is on its third coach in three years. After Hugh Freeze jumped to Ole Miss after 2011 and Gus Malzahn jumped to Auburn following last season, it’s former Boise State and Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin looking to get back to .500 before getting into the heart of their Sun Belt schedule. The Red Wolves will be in Idaho’s division in the Sun Belt next season.
“It’ll be good to go down and find out where we’re at,” Petrino said. “They’re a good football team, and we can judge ourselves and where we’re at and see how much better we have to get to have a chance to win it next year.”
The Red Wolves have lost three of their last four games, dropping a 41-19 game at Missouri and a 31-7 loss
For a redshirt freshman, a game like last Saturday’s was only a matter of time. Chalich came into last Saturday’s game having completed at least 56 percent of his passes in every game and not having thrown an interception. Against the Bulldogs, he only completed 43.8 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions. His quarterback rating was 61.6.
“He’s got a lot to learn. He’s got to learn to get rid of the ball and not take sacks, he’s got to learn to not turn the ball over and do those things,” quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson said.
Erickson praised the things Chalich has done right this season, but said that it’s still a process with a young player.
“Obviously one thing that he’s shown through spring football and fall camp is his toughness, his physical toughness and his mental toughness,” Erickson said. “So I’m very proud of him for that, he’s a gym rat, he wants to get better.”
That toughness could go a long way for Idaho with backup quarterback Josh McCain out with a shoulder injury. Senior Taylor Davis will step into the backup role on Saturday.
Sean Kramer can be reached at email@example.com