Forget all about Washington State and Indiana—the real litmus test for Idaho was Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 Sacramento State.
To be fair, there were certainly some moral victories for the Vandals when they pushed their Palouse neighbor to the brink of an upset at Martin Stadium and cruised to a double-digit halftime lead on the road against a scrappy Big Ten program. But only one thing truly matters during the regular season, which is surviving the gauntlet of Big Sky juggernauts and securing a postseason bid.
Idaho received its first haymaker from a conference heavyweight over the weekend, falling by a score of 31-28 in the waning moments of a road clash in front of a crowd of more than 17,000 at Sacramento State. Although it was a bitter result given the Herculean effort the squad pieced together in the second half, the matchup proved that the Vandals (5-3 overall, 4-1 Big Sky) already have the pedigree to compete with some of the best programs in the FCS during the first year of Jason Eck’s tenure.
However, it would be remiss for fans to overlook some of the issues that surfaced during Saturday’s loss. The Vandals were pushed around in the trenches defensively as the Hornet ground game pounded the rock for nearly 300 yards on 53 rushing attempts—including a 134-yard effort from top conference tailback Cameron Skattebo. Dual threat quarterback Asher O’Hara was also heavily involved in the ground game, scampering for 129 yards and a touchdown while adding another score through the air.
But there were also a few silver linings that can be found in the loss. Hayden Hatten added to his breakout campaign with seven catches for 113 yards and connected with Gevani McCoy to find the end zone on three separate occasions late in the second half. The redshirt sophomore looks like a bona fide star and is currently tied for first among wideouts in the Big Sky Conference with eight touchdown catches.
The Vandal secondary also had a solid performance in holding Hornet quarterback Jake Dunniway to just 81 yards on 6-of-17 passing. Notre Dame transfer Paul Moala and defensive back Marcus Harris each snagged an interception, while redshirt sophomore Mathias Bertram led the defense with ten solo tackles.
Despite sustaining its first conference loss of the season, the remaining schedule for Idaho looks incredibly promising. UC Davis has limped its way to a 4-4 showing so far this season, while both Eastern Washington and Idaho State are guaranteed to finish the year with losing records. If the Vandals can string together a trio of wins prior to Thanksgiving weekend, they should find themselves dancing into the FCS postseason for the first time since 1995.
THE BIG PICTURE: The Big Sky Conference currently looks like a two-horse race between Sacramento State (8-0, 5-0) and Montana State (7-1, 5-0). Although Weber State (7-1, 4-1) remains in the mix, the Wildcats have looked shaky in recent weeks and have a tough matchup at home against the Hornets this weekend.
WEEK 10 BIG SKY PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:
Sacramento State — Auto Bid (Big Sky champion)
Montana State — At-Large Bid
Weber State — At-Large Bid
Idaho — At-Large Bid
Montana — First Team Out