It was a tale of two halves Saturday night at the Kibbie Dome when the Idaho Vandals faced the Sun Belt defending champion Georgia Southern Eagles.
The Vandals stayed with the Eagles in the first half as Idaho headed into halftime with a 16-13 deficit, but ultimately, the Eagles proved why they ran the table in conference play last season. The Eagles dominated the second half and won the game 44-20 in front of a rowdy Dads’ Weekend crowd.
Despite the loss, Idaho should be encouraged by its early play that kept the first half even.
Idaho knew Georgia Southern was going to run the ball a lot, which usually translates to burning a lot of clock. However, Idaho owned the time of possession battle in the first quarter, holding the ball for 10 minutes, 27 seconds. The Eagles only held the ball for 4:33.
While Idaho held onto the ball for much of the quarter, it didn’t produce many points. In fact, the Eagles outscored the Vandals 10-3, but by keeping the ball, Idaho prevented the dangerous Georgia Southern running attack from stepping onto the field.
The Vandals held the ball for almost half the first quarter on one drive. Idaho consumed 7:14 of clock on its 15-play, 93-yard drive that ended with an Austin Rehkow 18-yard field goal.
Idaho sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan threw the ball very efficiently in the first quarter. Linehan completed seven out of 10 passes for 82 yards.
The Idaho defense played pretty well in the first half. The Vandals gave up 16 points but they did an excellent job of stopping the Eagles on third down and holding them to field goals.
Austin Rehkow’s punt was blocked after Idaho’s first drive went three and out. Georgia Southern recovered the ball at the Idaho 15 but the Vandal defense stepped up and forced the Eagles to kick a field goal.
Georgia Southern only converted two out of its six third-down opportunities in the first half.
The Vandals also received some aggressive play out of a couple of their defensive backs. Sophomore safety Jordan Grabski and sophomore defensive back Armond Hawkins each made 10 solo tackles during the game.
The Vandals caused two turnovers. Sophomore cornerback Dorian Clark made an amazing interception near the sideline in the first quarter and senior linebacker Broc Westlake recovered a fumble in the fourth quarter.
The biggest performance of the night came from senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps. Epps caught eight passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. The Sacramento, California, native leads the nation in receiving yards per game with 154.7. He also leads the Sun Belt and is second nationally with 11 receptions per game.
Georgia Southern earned the win by a good margin of victory — yet there were still some things for Vandal fans to smile about Saturday night at the Dome.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CabezaGarrett