Tuesday Morning Quarterback: Everything is still not all good for Idaho as end to regular season draws near

Nov. 14—"Treeb, what happened to the Vandals on Saturday?"

That was the latest question I received in my group chat with my high school buddies following the No. 7 Idaho football team's 31-29 loss to Big Sky Conference foe Weber State on Saturday at Stewart Field in Ogden, Utah.

The tone of die-hard Vandal fans, along with casuals who are becoming more interested due to the program's recent string of success, has drastically changed.

After Idaho's 44-36 win over Big Sky opponent Eastern Washington, it was ranked No. 4 in the country and was predicted to earn a top-4 seed in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. And the concept of the Vandals winning a Big Sky title didn't seem too far-fetched either.

Fast-forward to today, and Idaho's chances of both a top-4 seed and a conference title are practically dead.

The Vandals (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky) have one more regular-season game at 4 p.m. on Saturday against Idaho State (3-7, 3-4) at the P1FCU Kibbie Dome to further solidify their playoff aspirations.

If you were confused by the Vandals' loss to Weber State last Saturday, then you haven't been watching much UI football this season.

The Vandals, as second-year coach Jason Eck put it during his postgame news conference, were outplayed in all three phases.

Weber State outgained Idaho 172-79 on the ground, and its redshirt freshman quarterback, Richie Munoz, had an effective game through the air, going 10-of-18 passing for 152 yards and a score.

The Vandals turned the ball over twice and were without their star running back, sophomore Anthony Woods.

Woods, who is the Big Sky Conference's leading rusher, was a big missing piece for Idaho's offense as senior Nick Romano failed to carry the load, finishing with 22 carries for 89 yards.

The offensive line didn't do the run game or sophomore quarterback Gevani McCoy any favors against Weber State's front seven, giving up three sacks and five QB hurries.

The Vandals also shot themselves in the foot several times, fumbling twice and committing several untimely penalties.

If you've been paying attention to the Vandals this season, these types of mistakes aren't new. In fact, they've basically been par for the course, even when they win.

Idaho has only put together a full 60 minutes a handful of times this season; other than that, it's been forced to beat two teams every time they line up: its opponents and themselves.

I've written two columns this season that caused some negative reactions, both of which came during UI losses (go figure). But the one that really had people up in arms was my "Not time to panic, but not everything is all good" column that I wrote following Idaho's 31-17 loss to the Pac-12's California on Sept. 16.

The Vandals were competitive against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent and even had a two-possession lead at one point (sound familiar?) before everything came crashing down. In the loss, the Vandals showed some issues that could potentially cost them later in the season. Let's reflect on some of those issues, shall we?

In that one, Idaho dominated the Golden Bears for the better part of 20 minutes before turning the ball over three times, leading to their demise.

At the time, there was hope that Idaho could possibly reverse this, especially considering how greedy its defense was a year ago. But it just stayed the same. The Vandals have kept giving it away, and its defense hasn't done much to create extra possessions. The Vandals currently have a minus-7 turnover margin.

Another backbreaker in that one was how little Woods touched the ball. He only had 10 carries for 56 yards throughout. And he had just two receptions for seven yards. Not feeding Woods (or him being out altogether) has also been a constant in Idaho losses.

Against Montana, he had just 12 carries for 51 yards, and he once again was nonexistent in the passing game, having one reception for 11 yards.

The offensive line, which has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster this season, has also been at its worst in defeat.

Idaho's front five has often been the scapegoat this year, and mostly for good reason. But coaching has to shoulder some of the blame as well.

Oftentimes, in defeat, the Vandals will get way ahead of themselves and abandon the run game, forcing the young O-line into pass protection more often than it should, which is bound to cause some problems.

In their three losses, the Vandals' front five has allowed 10 sacks and 13 QB hurries, which is an outrageous number in just three games. For reference, in the five games prior to Idaho's meeting with Montana, the group allowed a total of 11 QB takedowns.

The run game was also more prevalent prior to the meeting with the Grizzlies, with Woods averaging 18 carries and 122 yards per outing.

This, in turn, has put a lot of strain on McCoy as a passer, forcing him to drop back 134 times in the Vandals' three losses (45 attempts per game), including a season-high 51 last week against Weber State.

So, Idaho's loss to Weber State, which probably was underperforming all season due to not having a legitimate starting QB for most of the year, wasn't a surprise. When the Vandals have these types of outings, those are the results that they typically get, and it hasn't changed much throughout the season.

Even when the outcome has gone in Idaho's favor, it has looked far from its best, making it feel more like an escape than a dominant showing from a top team in the country.

In their 27-13 win against winless Northern Colorado on Nov. 4, despite holding quarterback Shea Kuykendall to just 55 passing yards, the Vandals still needed a Marcus Harris pick-6 in the final minutes to close it out.

In their 24-21 decision over Montana State on Oct. 28, which is considered to be one of the program's biggest regular season wins ever, Idaho was far from perfect.

The Vandals were once again in a position where they were up two possessions before they let the Bobcats come back and take a 14-10 lead with 5:29 remaining in the third quarter.

Idaho also lost the turnover battle and gave up four sacks.

In the Vandals' 44-36 win over Eastern Washington on Sept. 30, they took the opening lead but either trailed or were tied until late in the third quarter.

The Vandals once again lost the turnover battle in that one, with McCoy finishing with an interception. But they also fumbled twice, recovering both. They committed several untimely penalties, finishing with five for 49 yards.

So how did Weber State, which is sub-.500, beat the at-the-time No. 3 team in the country? Pretty simple. By taking advantage of all the things that Idaho had struggled with coming into the contest. The Wildcats also benefited from Woods not playing.

It's been nearly two months since I said it wasn't time to hit the panic button, but everything isn't all good. I think that's still true as Idaho prepares for its final regular-season game against Idaho State.

The Vandals already have seven wins, which in the eyes of the FCS playoff committee is the benchmark. But there's shaping up to be several seven-win teams, so taking care of business in its regular-season finale for Idaho is going to be imperative.

Once Idaho (probably) does get to the dance, these types of constant miscues and misfortunes will need to turn around, and it'll need to show why it's been considered a top-five team in the country for most of the season.

As of right now, they're looking more like they did last year — a team that's just going to appear on the bracket.