The gray skies and gloomy weather reflected the feelings of many Vandal fans Saturday morning.
The Idaho football team’s second straight road game against a Pac-12 opponent ended with a 56-6 loss to Washington State in Pullman. The Cougars earned their first win of the season against a Vandal team that failed to find the end zone.
“Special teams was bad and offense wasn’t very good either,” said Idaho head coach Paul Petrino. “That all just goes back to me. I’ll put it on me and we got to start getting back to work and getting better.”
Washington State took a break from their pass-heavy offense and focused on defense and the running game. Cougar running back James Williams made the most of his first collegiate start and rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown.
“When I get my opportunity, I’ve got to make the most of it. My mindset is that I’m trying to make big plays on every run I have,” Williams said.
Cougar quarterback Luke Falk tossed the ball for 226 yards and three touchdowns.
Idaho junior running back Aaron Duckworth ran for 49 yards, and junior quarterback Matt Linehan threw for 172 yards. Sophomore linebacker Tony Lashley had 10 solo tackles, the most of either team.
Idaho’s defense made a statement early in the game by forcing the Cougars to punt on the first possession. A mishandled snap and a dropped pass kept the Vandals from scoring a touchdown. Idaho settled for a 42-yard field goal by Austin Rehkow. The kick gave Idaho the first points of the game and a 3-0 lead over the Cougars.
In response, Williams brought the Cougars to midfield with two consecutive runs of nine and eight yards. Falk scrambled to the right and threw a 50-yard pass to wide receiver Kyle Sweet before stepping out-of-bounds. Williams capitalized the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, putting the Cougars up 7-3.
Idaho took the ball inside Cougar territory but settled for a second field goal. Rehkow’s kick was blocked by Cougar nose tackle Robert Barber, and cornerback Marcellus Pippins snatched the ball and took it 72 yards for the Cougars’ second touchdown.
“What really killed us was that field goal block,” Petrino said. “That would have made the game 7-6.”
The Vandals gave up the ball again when Linehan ran and fumbled at the line of scrimmage. The Cougars scored a third touchdown off an 8-yard pass to receiver Gabe Marks after the turnover.
Idaho left for halftime down 21-3.
Freshmen quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Gunnar Amos started the first two plays of the second half but didn’t make an impact.
On their second possession, Idaho’s offense failed to convert on third-and-short at the Cougar 1-yard line. Faced with a fourth-and-goal situation, Petrino settled for a field goal, Idaho’s last points of the game.
The Cougars answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Wicks.
Sour feelings came to a head during an Idaho punt. Washington State running back Jamaal Morrow threw a punch at a Vandal defender after being pushed out of bounds. Morrow was ejected from the game.
The Cougar offense was undeterred by the off-field distraction and scored another touchdown. Wide receiver Robert Lewis caught the pass.
Cougar running back Alijah Lee scored the final points of the day on a 6-yard run.
The Vandal offense’s high turnover rate and inability to score kept Idaho from being competitive early in the game.
“At times, we did OK, but right now we’re not playing very good on that side of the ball and we need to improve,” Petrino said.
Idaho plays University of Nevada-Las Vegas 6 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas.
Brandon Hill can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill