[Vandal] Idaho In Search Of Third Pass-Catching Option

robiegruss at aol.com robiegruss at aol.com
Thu Apr 8 06:36:13 PDT 2021

>From The Lewiston TribuneLewiston, IdahoThursday, April 8, 2021
Idaho In Search Of Third Pass-Catching Option
Vandals looking for another receiver to step up
By Colton Clark
Idaho’s loss this past weekend can’t be attributed greatly to its shallow depth at wide receiver, but it surely didn’t help matters.
For unspecified reasons, the Vandals had only three receivers available in their deflating, 24-22 defeat at Idaho State, during which Idaho’s offense couldn’t find its flow.
For the most part, reserve quarterback Nikhil Nayar had two options. After taking over for Mike Beaudry in the second quarter, he toiled through a shaky outing, going 11-for-34 passing for 130 yards.
Hayden Hatten and Cutrell Haywood were the only receivers to log catches with 13 for 139 yards.
“I thought Hayden still played well. Cutrell didn’t play as well as he normally does,” Petrino said. “We usually spell him to give him more breaks. ... He had to play the whole game, and didn’t play quite as well.”
Idaho (2-2) remains in search of another pass-catcher. Hatten and Haywood have combined for 683 yards and five touchdowns on 57 grabs. That’s the bulk of Idaho’s total passing production — 93 completions, 1,038 yards and six scores.
Starting running back Nick Romano (14 receptions, 148 yards) has been the third look.
“There’s an open spot,” Hatten said. “With (Jermaine Jackson) going down, it really hurt us.”
Sizable expectations were placed in the preseason on Jackson, a speedster out of the College of San Mateo. But he hasn’t played since sustaining a leg injury early in Idaho’s Week 1 win against Eastern Washington.
“He was a big player for us who unfortunately didn’t get to show a lot,” Hatten said.
“The deeper the wide-receiver room gets, the more open everyone gets.”The Vandals and ninth-ranked Eagles meet again at 1 p.m. Saturday at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash.
Another target could be crucial for the Vandals to contend with an explosive EWU offense, which ranks second in the Football Championship Subdivision in yards per game (579.8) and fifth in scoring (41.2 points per game).
Pass-catchers in line to potentially step up include tight end Connor Whitney (seven catches, 88 yards), sophomore Sean McCormick, New Mexico transfer Elijah Lilly and freshman Kyrin Beachem.
It’s uncertain who’ll be taking snaps. Beaudry appeared to suffer an injury late in the first quarter Saturday when he was crunched on a sack. Freshman CJ Jordan was kept out of the game after he was wrapped up awkwardly in the backfield midway through the Southern Utah contest.
“That’s really weird,” Hatten said of grabbing passes from three quarterbacks. “They’re all great players. They all do their own thing really well. Catching a football is catching a football. It doesn’t really matter whose hand it comes from.”
ONE IN? — According to national FCS pundits, Big Sky teams with two losses likely are disqualified from playoff consideration.
By that logic, the Vandals are out. But they could spoil EWU’s postseason prospects.
If Idaho wins, the FCS power-conference Big Sky will probably send only its champion to the condensed, 16-team playoff. The Eagles and No. 3 Weber State are the remaining BSC teams eligible.
BREAKING DOWN THE STATS — Hatten, a backup tight end as a true freshman last season, is solidifying himself as an elite FCS receiver. He’s in the top five nationally in catches (8.7) and yards per game (115.5).
“I just knew, when I got my opportunity, to take it and run with it,” said Hatten, who got his shot at receiver in the 2019 season finale at Northern Arizona, during which he had two scores. “Ever since that NAU game ... I just took it and ran with it, and I don’t plan on giving it back.”Senior Idahoan Cade Coffey is first in the FCS in net punting average (47.6 yards). He’s dropped 12 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
“Cade’s the man,” star linebacker Tre Walker said. “Cade helps us out so much from a defensive standpoint. He flips the field every time.”
Walker leads the Big Sky in per-game tackling (15.7), and fellow standout linebackers Christian Elliss and Fa’avae Fa’avae each sit in the top 10. They spearhead a rushing defense that ranks first in the conference and in the top 25 nationally at 106.8 yards per game.
“We hold that as our main goal as a defense,” Walker said. “Stop the run and force the offense to do what they don’t like to.”
Idaho’s front seven has been key in a league-best red-zone defense that prevents scores about 35 percent of the time.
“Our linebackers have played really well. I think our D-line, as the game went on last week, played better,” Petrino said. “When we started putting pressure on them, we started playing better as a whole team.”
Idaho is tied for second-to-last in the Big Sky in total sacks (six), but the rush has settled in after slow starts. Tackle Jonah Kim broke out with a pair of bulldozing sacks against Idaho State.
“We kept fighting, giving our offense an opportunity to be back in the game,” Walker said. “We started off slow ... but a lot of players came in, in clutch situations and gave us a chance.”
The Vandals own the second-worst pass-defense efficiency in the conference, allowing about 360 yards per game on a 63-percent completion rate. Overall, Idaho’s defense ranks last in the Big Sky (460 yards per game, 13 touchdowns).
Much of that can be chalked up to a new-look secondary that typically lags a step behind early in games. Petrino indicated the group has yet to nail down its rotation.“We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup a lot,” he said. “There were times the other day where we got hurt, but they continued to fight, continued to play better.”
Of course, stability at quarterback has been a concern. As it stands, Idaho’s passing efficiency is at the bottom of the Big Sky.
“Quarterback-wise, we were just a little inaccurate (versus the Bengals),” said Petrino, who noted Idaho’s freshman-laden offensive line often wasn’t at fault. “The week before (in a win against Southern Utah), that’s why we played so well — we were real accurate.”
Idaho is second-to-last in the league in third-down conversions (19-for-51) — another problem against ISU.
“Four out of the first six third downs, and throughout the game, we had some easy completions, and we just were inaccurate at times and then a couple of times we had drops,” the coach said. “You lose by two points, and just one of those drives, we execute on third down, you give yourself a great chance to win.”
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