Throughout fall camp, one thing has been echoed from most of the Idaho Vandal football players — get to a bowl game.
“It’s time to get a bowl ring this year,” senior defensive end Quinton Bradley said. “We had a players meeting before fall camp, and everybody understands we got no time to play (around) no more … Follow the lead, don’t be a straggler and get with the program.”
It’s a program that hasn’t had too much success in recent years, let alone earn a bowl berth — which was back in 2009, when the Vandals defeated Bowling Green, 43-42, in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Since then, it’s been pretty bleak.
In the five seasons since the H-Bowl, Idaho has gone a combined 11-49, with six of those wins coming in the 2010 season.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino, who took over the program prior to the 2013 season, has gone a combined 2-21 in his first two seasons as head coach.
With the lack of wins in recent years, sophomore quarterback Matt Linehan said the team needs to have a winning mindset.
“That’s the mindset we want — we’re not even thinking of losing anymore,” he said. “You get the losing mindset, you’re going to lose … we gotta go in there like we can win any game. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we don’t care who it is. We’re out there thinking we can compete with anybody in the country.”
Now entering his third year with Petrino, Linehan said he has grown a lot closer to his head coach.
“I’m starting to understand more of what he wants from me and the offense,” Linehan said. “It’s important that we maintain that relationship. He’s been great … he’s starting to trust me a little bit more. He’s going to get on it but that’s just how he is, that’s his coaching style and I’ve gotten used to it and I think it works.”
In his first season as the Vandals’ signal caller, Linehan had his fair share of ups and downs. The son of former Vandal quarterback, Scott Linehan, passed for 2,540 yards, 11 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
“It’s important that I feel more comfortable, more relaxed back there and understand that I’m not rushing everything and I’m not just forcing anything,” Linehan said. “That happened last year, and it got me a couple times.”
Petrino said his quarterback has looked more confident in fall camp.
“I think he’s just more confident, period,” Petrino said. “He’s more confident because he understands the offense more and he understands defenses more.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Bradley said everyone is getting better, which is due to the up-tempo practice the new coaching staff implemented when it arrived in 2013.
“Everybody is getting better,” Bradley said. “You can’t come out here and not get better. I mean we go too fast, we go too hard, we go too long not to excel. This type of practice is working for us.”
The Vandals’ defense will need to be better this season if the team wants to accomplish its goal of going to a bowl game. The unit gave up an average of 37.3 points per game last season, which was ranked 114th in the country.
Petrino said there is no magical quick fix, and the team needs to work hard everyday to get better.
“We want to go to a bowl game,” he said. “That’s why you play college football, that’s why you coach college. I’ve been lucky enough to have been to a lot of them — it’s time for us to go to one together … I think we’re on the right track and it all has to start on that opening game, on Thursday night.”
The Vandals will start their quest for a bowl game against Ohio at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3 in the Kibbie Dome.
Korbin McDonald can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @KorbinMcD_VN