Idaho football suffered its third Homecoming loss since 2007 Saturday at the hands of Louisiana – Lafayette, 21-16. Pre-season, Louisiana was a team many expected the Vandals to roll over, given the Ragin’ Cajuns’ statistically atrocious defense and 1-3 record.
What transpired was less than expected. Although it turned out to be an entertaining game from start to finish, Idaho fans were left breathless, wandering up the Kibbie Dome stairs, likely thinking about how the Vandals could come back from this devastating of a loss.
Idaho fans know of the program’s prominence when it comes to Homecoming games. The Vandals hadn’t lost one such contest since a 24-11 defeat suffered at the hands of Louisiana Tech in 2011.
It seemed as though a different Louisiana school had Idaho’s number this weekend. I expected the Vandal offense to shift into high gear, turning over momentum from the double-overtime win over South Alabama two weeks ago and the high-level performance at Western Michigan the prior week.
Instead, fans got an incredibly hit and miss offense. Senior wide receiver Jacob Sannon had the biggest play of the game, catching a ball put over the middle by senior quarterback Matt Linehan for 25 yards in the third quarter. The drive would end in a field goal.
The offense frequently marched its way right down the field, getting inside Louisiana’s 30-yard-line with momentum behind it, but once near the goal-line, the offense became stagnant.
It seemed that, every time the offense was starting to build momentum, an incompletion, followed by a damaging blindside sack on Linehan sent the kicking unit out, dampening the crowd’s mood.
The lack of spark-plays on offense played a mighty role in the loss. The defense would pick the momentum up, putting just over 14,000 fans on their feet and instigating lost voices. For a few downs, the offense took what the defense handed them, looking as if they were going to score at any moment. Before anyone knew, it was third down again, and the drive stalled after another incompletion.
Late in the fourth quarter, Linehan connected with senior wide receiver Alfonso Onunwor in the corner of the end-zone. The crowd was sent into a frenzy— the game surely was clinched. Upon further review, however, the ball was trapped, juggled and then popped free. As if fortune were opposed to Idaho on this day, a ball which definitely should have been caught for the biggest play of the game was ruled incomplete.
All signs pointed to Idaho’s offense playing an impressive game. Louisiana’s defense was allowing about 600 yards per game, and even let a below-average Southeastern Louisiana team out of the FCS put up 48 points in week one. If asked before the game what Linehan’s stat-line would be, I doubt anyone would predict his completion percentage to be below 50 percent.
It should have been Idaho’s offense outworking Louisiana’s defense, and the Vandal defense playing well enough to edge out the Cajuns. Of course, that’s never how sports work. Determining how a team plays on any given Saturday is nearly impossible, and Louisiana’s performance was shocking. They were stingy, flew around and tackled hard. Idaho’s offensive line struggled to keep them away from Linehan, and pressure was in the quarterback’s face all day.
I’ll give credit where it’s due— the Cajuns played well enough to get the win, so let them have it. But I’ll also make some excuses. Idaho’s defense was dominant at the line of scrimmage. Louisiana had no business putting up 300 yards, considering Cajun receivers were rarely open downfield and running backs were often met by hosts of Vandals. The Louisiana offense lived on the out-routes— check-downs which were difficult for Idaho to cover. At least two drives were furthered on third down conversions by Louisiana’s quarterback, Andre Nunez, as he felt the pressure and simply dumped the ball off to his running back in the flats. There never seemed to be a Vandal there when the defense needed it most.
I guess that’s what makes sports what they are. Idaho probably should have won this game, but measuring heart and the weekly variation of performance just cannot be done.
Colton Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @coltonclark95