It wasn’t the start to the season that the Idaho Vandal football team wanted when it lost 45-28 to Ohio Thursday night at the Kibbie Dome.
But, as with all losses, there are always good performances from players who were on the losing side.
One of the bright spots for the Vandals that came out of the loss was the excellent performance by sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan. That’s right, excellent.
He looked very comfortable in the pocket and stepped into most of his throws which showed he was confident and not worried about the rush.
Despite being sacked four times, Linehan never seemed rattled. He planted his right foot in the ground and threw the ball with purpose almost every throw.
Linehan completed 35 out of 47 of his passes for 285 yards. That’s about a 74 percent completion percentage, which is outstanding.
He threw one touchdown and two interceptions, but those interceptions shouldn’t concern Linehan and the coaching staff.
The first one came after it bounced off a receiver’s hands and was returned for an Ohio touchdown. The second interception happened on the last play of the game in a Hail-Mary attempt.
One of the most important skills a quarterback can have is the ability to not turn the ball over. Besides the two interceptions, which, again, the first one wasn’t Linehan’s fault and the other one was just out of desperation. Linehan secured the ball well.
Linehan also showed he can use his legs to pick up yards. He rushed for 35 yards, including a 17-yard gain. If defenses have to respect the fact that he can run when the pocket collapses, then that will only help the Idaho offense down the road.
Another positive that came out of the game for Linehan is he found his favorite target in senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps. The Sacramento, California, native caught 14 passes for 148 yards. Those numbers would have made fantasy football owners very happy.
I predict Linehan will lead the Sun Belt Conference in passing yards this season and Epps will top the receivers in the conference with receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.
Idaho throws the ball a lot and Linehan proved against Ohio that he can put up big numbers in the passing game.
As for Epps, the conference will take notice of his talent but even if opposing defenses start paying more attention to him, he is still quick enough to get open and find those empty areas in zone defenses to settle down in and make receptions.
Linehan and Epps will continue to progress and mesh together so they should be able to rack up plenty more yards as the season moves forward.
Linehan also found a rhythm toward the end of the game with junior-receiver-turned-tight-end Deon Watson. Watson had five catches for 48 yards and one touchdown. He also caught the two-point conversion from Linehan.
Linehan looked impressive in his first start of the season and he is still an underclassman. He set the standard high for his next start, which will be against eighth-ranked USC Saturday in Los Angeles.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CabezaGarrett