Despite losing their most prolific performer on offense, senior wide receiver Dezmon Epps (suspended indefinitely last week), the Idaho offense responded to the adversity by putting up 48 points in regulation at New Mexico State on Saturday night. It was the most points scored by an Idaho offense against any opponent in six years, going back to when the Vandals lost a 52-49 shootout to Utah State in the regular season finale in Idaho's Humanitarian Bowl season. Overall on Saturday Idaho put up 569 total yards, 307 through the air and 262 rushing, and had the ball for 36 minutes of the 60 minute regulation clock.
The Vandals went into halftime with a 23-7 lead in a rare game in which Idaho was favored by 4+, buoyed by the 2-game winning streak they were riding heading into Saturday's matchup.
Regardless of how big the lead was, or the fact that time was running out on the Aggies, the Vandal D in the second half could not stop NMSU. Idaho's defense had shown some mettle in the previous two games, holding Troy to 16 points and Louisiana-Monroe last week to just 13 in an Idaho Homecoming win. The first half looked like Idaho had finally found its defensive way, holding the Aggies to seven points and less than 150 yards of total offense.
None of that would be enough for Idaho though as the Aggies chipped away at the lead faster than the Vandals could add to it in the second half. With just 5:09 left in the game Idaho scored a TD and still had a 48-34 lead. But NMSU was playing with confidence, undoubtedly for the first time in their 0-7 season going into the game, and would hit pay dirt twice (a span when Idaho was without starting DE Tueni Lupeamanu), scoring on touchdown drives of 1:13 (six plays, 75 yards) and 2:06 (13 plays, 68 yards). With that the game was tied at 48, and although Idaho had the ball with 51 seconds left, rather than running the hurry-up offense to try to get into position for a field goal, they ran one up the gut for a short gain and were sacked on the following play to run out the clock.
In overtime, with NMSU riding all the mojo, the Aggies overcame a 4th and 22 situation to score a touchdown for the 55-48 lead. To complete the ghoulish night for Idaho, the game ended for the Vandals when an Aggie picked off a Linehan pass ... with his feet.
This week Idaho (3-5, 2-3 Sun Belt) will try to regroup with a game at South Alabama (3-4, 1-2 Sun Belt). Kickoff is set for 12:00 pm (pacific time), and it will be the Jaguars Homecoming game. South Alabama will be coming off a bye week this past weekend after losing 36-18 at Texas State a week ago.
For Idaho to come out on top in Mobile this Saturday, they will have to first answer what exactly happened in the second half in Las Cruces.
Elijhaa Penny - Props to the senior, and to be fair, also to the offensive line operating in front of him. His 192 yards rushing Saturday ranks him 16th all-time at Idaho, behind Sherriden May (1994) and Devon Pearce (1990) with 194 yards, and ahead of Devon Pearce (1990) for 190 yards. Penny currently has racked up 829 yards on the season (4.9 yards per carry) and has five rushing TDs on the season.
Matt Linehan - Saturday Linehan again went over the 300 yard mark, connecting with his receivers for 307 yards while going 25-of-41 with two touchdowns and two picks on the evening. For the season he's thrown for 1,908 yards, completing 63.3% of his passes with 10 touchdowns and 9 picks while being sacked 17 times on the year, giving him a 131.0 quarterback rating.
IDAHO'S RECEIVERS MINUS EPPS - Junior college transfer Callen Hightower had by far his biggest night of the season for UI, hauling in 10 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. Idaho went into this game with their sights set on who would step in for Epps, and Hightower took the first major step forward. Steady tightend Trent "Buck" Cowan also contributed for UI, catching three passes 74 yards, including a long of 34 yards in the first half that set up an Idaho score. Among the youngsters, true freshman Jante Boston is also factoring more into the offense each week as he had a four reception performance Saturday for 32 yards. Giving Linehan more options is runningback Penny who caught three passes out of the backfield for 58 yards and a touchdown. How this group continues to mature -- and produces on the field -- over the next four weeks will factor heavily into what Idaho is able to accomplish in the last four games of the season.