For third time in as many years, Petrino has QB competition
When Chad Chalich made a big play last spring, it was usually Matt Linehan leading the celebration — sprinting down the sideline while pumping his fist to celebrate a play he had no part in.
The two were battling to be Idaho’s starting quarterback, and Chalich’s biggest competition appeared to also be his No. 1 fan.
A year later and nothing has changed — except maybe Linehan’s new favorite quarterback, Jake Luton.
“The kid has got a cannon,” Linehan said of the 6-foot-6, 218-pound redshirt freshman. “That kid’s arm is one of the best I’ve ever seen … (Players) like that don’t come around a lot. He’s got a lot of talent and there’s a bright future for him.”
When Chalich transferred to Montana, Linehan became the oldest quarterback on Idaho’s roster. It put him in the same position Chalich was in last season — a sophomore trying to fend off a redshirt freshman for the starting job.
Once again, the Vandals have a quarterback competition.
“It doesn’t need to be made a big deal of,” said Idaho coach Paul Petrino of the quarterback battle. “Every competition is always open. I don’t know of anyone that has a job yet, so they all have to just keep battling and keep competing and we’ll see who gets it done.”
Linehan had the opportunity to get the job done last season, but struggled to stay consistent. He tossed more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (11), and seven of those interceptions came in the fourth quarter.
When Linehan made a mistake last season, quarterbacks coach Bryce Erickson said it took a while for him to get over it.
“When you’re in the course of a game, there’s a lot of things that can happen — that’s why the game of football is so beautiful,” Erickson said. “You’re gonna have adversity … but the definition of a man’s character is how he deals with adversity and how he comes back right after a bad play and picks his team up and makes a good play.”
Erickson said he’s noticed a change in Linehan, and the sophomore has done a better job overcoming bad plays this spring compared to when he was a freshman.
“The funk isn’t lasting as long as it did,” Erickson said. “At times last year, something bad happened, it would be seven or eight plays and would just continue to not be good. This year, when it’s maybe been a bad play, we get right back on track.”
Along with becoming more consistent, Linehan said he spent the offseason trying to get bigger, faster and stronger.
Linehan, who stands at 6-foot-3, said he added about 13 pounds over the winter and now weighs 210 pounds after playing at 195pounds over the course of the season.
“I think that just helps me with being able to take the extra hits,” Linehan said of the weight gain. “Also, just building the muscle. I feel faster, I feel stronger and feel like I can make more throws than I did last year.”
While Linehan worked to become more of an all-around quarterback, Erickson said both he and Luton bring something different to the table.
“Obviously, Matt’s got some experience and that showed this spring,” Erickson said. “Then Jake, the more reps he gets the better he’s gonna continue to get. He’s getting more familiar with the offense and where to go with the football.”
Linehan might have the upper hand in most categories, but Luton’s arm strength is unmatched.
Sophomore wide receiver David Ungerer remembers the first time he caught a Luton pass.
“We did a one-day camp with each other going into our senior years of high school,” Ungerer said. “He threw to me all day long and my hands were beat, it was terrible. He had this old football and every time he throws the ball it’s coming in hot.”
Luton didn’t get to throw much in high school, though. As the quarterback for Washington’s Marysville Pilchuck High School, Luton spent most of his playing time handing the ball off.
Historically, Marysville has been known for its run-heavy offense. It wasn’t rare to see Luton only pass the ball 10 times per game in high school. Idaho averaged 40 passing attempts per game last season.
Linehan has witnessed many impressive throws from Luton this spring and each time he celebrates as if he threw it himself. He said the competition between him and Luton hasn’t affected their relationship on or off the field.
“We’re really good friends,” he said. “We’ve got a good relationship off the field and when we’re working on it … He’s going to make me better and I’m going to make him better.”
Heading into the Silver and Gold Spring Game, which will be held at 6 p.m. Friday in the Kibbie Dome, Petrino said both quarterbacks will spend time with the first team.
However, Erickson said the starting job won’t be on the line Friday night.
“It’s a competition, and nothing is given here at the University of Idaho,” he said. “They’ll be competing from now until that first game against Ohio.”
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com