The script was almost flipped on Saturday afternoon. Instead, Idaho once again proved that they cannot play a full four quarters of football on offense.
Coming into Saturday’s showdown, Idaho’s offense had eased off the gas and blown a lead against Western Michigan after leading for three quarters and proved unable to produce against an inferior Louisiana-Lafayette team on homecoming weekend.
Saturday’s game against the Mountaineers initially seemed like a change in Idaho’s fortunes, but the inability to finish once again doomed the Vandals.
After starting slow all year and struggling to get the offense going, the Vandals torched the Appalachian State Mountaineers through the air and on the ground in the first half.
Senior quarterback Matt Linehan put up 159 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone, after managing only 149 yards through the entirety of the game against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Senior running back Aaron Duckworth also rushed for 97 yards on 15 carries in the first half, and the Vandals entered halftime with an unexpected and imposing 17-0 lead.
The second half quickly took a turn for the worse, and the Vandal offense was once again unable to finish games.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Idaho’s defense forced an interception that gave the offense excellent field position within App State’s 30-yard line. Idaho’s drive stalled out just short of the goal line, and a Cade Coffey field goal gave the Vandals a 20-0 lead.
That inability to finish allowed the Mountaineers to take back some of the momentum. The Vandals would not score again, and App State took advantage of Idaho’s inability to finish.
Appalachian State made plenty of adjustments en route to three passing touchdowns in the second half, and they deserve plenty of credit for coming back from a 20-0 deficit. However, the Vandals did them plenty of favors in a mistake-filled second half.
The Vandals were leading the turnover margin 2-0 early in the second half, but fumbles from Duckworth and Linehan stifled Idaho’s momentum. In Linehan’s case, a completely unforced fumble meant that Idaho would be unable to take advantage of incredible field position courtesy of a shanked punt with the team down by three points. The Vandals were gifted an opportunity to at least tie the game and force overtime, but they quite literally fumbled the game away.
Offensive production dropped off hard from the first half dramatically. After his impressive first half performance, Linehan and the passing attack managed only 41 yards in the second half.
Linehan was also sacked twice as much in the second half, and the running game garnered only 16 yards in the last two quarters.
Idaho also kept possession of the ball for a large chunk of the first half, nearly doubling Appalachian State in time of possession and keeping the defense fresh. In the second half, it was almost as if a switch had flipped. Idaho had the ball for less than 11 minutes of the second half, and the resulting strain on the defense allowed App State to put together long scoring drives.
Every single facet of the offensive performance dropped off once the Vandals came out of the locker room after halftime. The defense continued to play well, forcing turnovers and clamping down on any semblance of a passing attack for most of the game. It gave the Vandals a chance to win against Louisiana last week after allowing only 21 points, but the offense proved unable to capitalize against a defense that had been giving up more than 500 yards of offense on average. Against Western Michigan, the offense managed negative nine yards of production and had two turnovers in the fourth quarter that put the defense in difficult positions.
If the Vandals are going to pull out some wins and compete for a bowl berth, the offense must figure out how to put together four quarters of consistent and effective play. The reality is that this team could be 4-2, but an offense unable to finish and take advantage of opportunities will severely limit this team.
The Vandals travel to take on Missouri next Saturday at 9 a.m. in Columbia, Missouri.
Jonah Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jonahpbaker