Idaho came up just short against Troy only five days after their previous game, losing 24-21 in a hard-fought contest.
The Vandals (3-6, SBC 2-3) moved the ball well against the Trojans (7-2, SBC 4-1). Senior quarterback Matt Linehan had 282 yards and two touchdowns in another strong performance. Senior wide receiver Alfonso Onunwor was zoned in with Linehan all game, as the wideout pulled in nine passes for 111 yards and two scores. The running game struggled to find big breaks, but senior running back Aaron Duckworth still managed nearly five yards per carry.
“Their quarterback is a stud,” Troy head coach Neal Brown said of Linehan. “He threw some balls into some tight windows, and he’s going to play in the NFL. I hope he’s not seriously injured at the end of the game.”
Linehan and sophomore quarterback and wide receiver Mason Petrino combined to take four sacks throughout the game, and the rushing attack was also stifled in large part due to the Troy front seven.
The Idaho defense had a tougher day against a Troy offense that saw senior running back Jordan Chunn return from injury. Chunn ran for 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns, allowing the Troy offense to control the pace of the game and tire out the Vandals. Idaho’s pass defense was able to lock down the Trojans’ passing attack, allowing 212 yards and a touchdown to Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers.
The Vandals were able to follow a winning formula early on.
Idaho kept the ball in the air on offense against a Troy rush defense that came into the game as one of the top 25 in the nation. Six of the Vandals’ nine offensive plays on their first drive were passes, and the drive was capped off by a missed 40-yard field goal attempt from redshirt freshman kicker Cade Coffey. The Vandal defense held strong, with senior defensive lineman Aikeem Coleman forcing a fumble later in the first quarter. Linehan found Onunwor in the end zone on the ensuing drive, and an interception on the next Troy drive shifted momentum firmly in Idaho’s corner.
“We did a great job of getting into manageable third downs early in the game,” said Idaho head coach Paul Petrino. “Our guys played their tails off, but we didn’t quite finish when we needed to.”
The Vandals never had control of the game after that point.
Idaho was unable to capitalize off of the second Troy turnover, and the Trojans swiftly tied the game off of a 13-yard run from Chunn. Troy added a field goal as time expired at the end of the half to establish a lead which they would not relinquish.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Trojans led by 10 and had forced two turnovers on downs. A furious Idaho rally put the Vandals within three points with less than 25 seconds left in the game, but Coffey’s onside kick was unsuccessful and Troy was able to end the game.
Troy came into the game leading the Sun Belt with an impressive win against LSU and only one conference loss to South Alabama on their record. Idaho followed a winning game plan early on by forcing turnovers and attacking the weaknesses in Troy’s pass defense, but they were not able to sustain that success throughout the game. This was Idaho’s third conference loss of the season, and they have lost all three games by a combined 11 points.
“Some silly penalties really cost us tonight,” said Petrino. “We had a holding call that cost us three points and a targeting penalty that took them from a fourth down field goal attempt to an easy touchdown. We really just needed to make one more play at a bunch of different points but we couldn’t get it done tonight.”
The Vandals have more than two weeks off thanks to another bye week, and will play Coastal Carolina for the home finale 2 P.M. on Nov. 18.
Jonah Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jonahpbaker