Statistically, Idaho is at or among the tops in passing in the Sun Belt Conference in most categories. Senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps leads the conference (by a wide margin) in receiving yards per game (132.0) and receptions per game (10.5). And the Vandal passing attack is No.2 overall in the conference at 264.2 yards per game.
The field general responsible for orchestrating the passing attack this weekend at Troy (12:30pm kickoff, ESPN3), however, may be two signal callers rather than just one.
Incumbent starter, sophomore Matt Linehan, led the Vandals through the maze of a rugged early season schedule. During that span, when Idaho took on Ohio (currently No.1 in the MAC), USC (ranked in the Top 25 until last weekend), and Georgia Southern (the No.1 team in the Sun Belt), Linehan helped elevate Epps to the top of the national receiving rankings. Despite missing Idaho's last game two weeks ago against Arkansas State before the bye, he still is the conference's No.2 passer at 277.2 yards per game, and leads the league in total offense (302.2 yards per game).
But against Arkansas State, with Linehan out as he rested a nagging ankle injury, redshirt freshman Jake Luton made his first career start for the Vandals. Going up against a solid Red Wolves team (currently No.2 in the SBC) the rookie had his struggles (three picks in the game and no TD passes). But he kept Idaho's conference-leading perfect percentage in red-zone scoring alive (the Vandals are 17-of-17 on the year in redzone scoring) as he punched in three touchdowns on the ground for the Vandals. Through the air he completed 24-of-42 passes, most of them the short-gain variety, to finish with 166 yards passing.
In the end it was Luton's poise on the field under pressure that stood out. The offense didn't take a huge step back with Luton making his first start, and in fact drove the length of the field on Idaho's first position for a touchdown. He also didn't panic or buckle from the pressure, and that will pay dividends for Luton and Idaho in the future.
This weekend, if Linehan is healthy he will likely get the nod to start given his experience and command of the offense. His productivity under center is an asset to the team. And make no mistake about it, he wants back on the field and the opportunity to lead this team. If healthy, he should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact.
But the understudy is quickly gaining confidence, and the confidence of those around him. Luton will get his opportunities, and may even do enough leading up to the game to get the start.