Sep. 17—The No. 5 Idaho football team punched its Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, California, in the mouth for more than 20 minutes on Saturday at California Memorial Stadium. But like an experienced boxer, the Golden Bears of the Pac-12 made adjustments and scored 31 unanswered points to beat the Vandals 31-17.
"They made some adjustments," Idaho coach Jason Eck said. "They dropped more guys into coverage and played less man as the game went on and made us hold on to the ball a little bit more."
Sophomore quarterback Gevani McCoy recorded a 2-yard rushing touchdown to put the Vandals in front 17-0 with 9:08 remaining in the first half, and it began to feel like Idaho was going to start 3-0 for the first time since 1994.
McCoy had a nearly flawless first quarter, going 10-of-13 passing for 115 yards as Idaho dominated the time of possession by six minutes.
Idaho made the most of its long possessions, picking up nine first downs compared to California's four. And by the time McCoy scored the Vandals' second touchdown, the Bears had run fewer plays (14) than Idaho had points (17).
Cal finally answered the bell with an eight-play 75-yard drive with 5:38 remaining in the second quarter. From there, it was all Golden Bears.
California sophomore quarterback Sam Jackson located junior receiver Jeremiah Hunter in between three Idaho defenders for a 20-yard score to put the Bears within 17-7.
Cal's defense stood tall the following drive, with sophomore defensive back Jeremiah Earby recording a pass breakup on junior receiver Terez Traynor on a fourth-and-4 with 2:25 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bears only needed three plays to put themselves within 17-14, as Jackson located sophomore receiver Trond Grizzell on a go route for a 36-yard score. No Vandal defender was within five yards of the walk-on receiver.
California (2-1) put itself up for good following a 27-yard rushing touchdown from Jackson to start the second half. The Chicago native's score capped off a 10-play drive that went 80 yards and lasted 3:30.
Here's what stuck out:
At least he's elusive
Idaho (2-1) was outmatched up front, and everyone knew it.
The Vandals' front five did an OK job in the first half, protecting McCoy and opening up running lanes for sophomore running back Anthony Woods. But as the game wore on, the big boys started to get worn out.
McCoy dropped back to pass 46 times during Saturday's contest and was sacked once and hurried eight times.
The pressure forced the Baldwin Hills, Calif., native to improvise, and while he had some success, there were miscues.
On a third-and-2, McCoy was pressured up the middle, which flushed him to his right. The Bears' pressure persisted and forced McCoy to quickly bail to the left. Before he could set his feet, he was hit as he threw, and the ball was intercepted by junior defensive back Nohl Williams.
The junior came off his man to jump the McCoy pass that was intended for Hayden Hatten.
Even in defeat, McCoy took a step in the right direction in terms of leadership. He's no longer a freshman who's trying to get his feet wet; he's the guy.
"Vani is a warrior," Eck said. "He's a great player, and to only take one sack for as much pressure as they put on him all night, he was awesome. He really competed and did a great job. We have to do a better job of protecting him for conference play, but I was proud of his effort."
Vandals beating the Vandals
It's hard to beat any team after committing nine penalties and three turnovers.
Idaho was trailing 28-17 to start the fourth quarter and were at California's side of the field following a 17-yard reception by Hatten.
The Vandals started the quarter with a 24-yard run by McCoy, but it was called back due to an Ayden Knapik hold.
On the do-over, Traynor secured an 11-yard reception, but defensive back Lu-Magia Hearns reached around and forced a fumble — Cal's second turnover of the game.
"We have to be more disciplined," Eck said. "We had some after-the-snap penalties, and we can't have that. We have to keep our composure better."
Leading up to this game, Eck said that the Vandals were going to play fearless, and they did.
Senior punter Ricardo Chavez had a light day, only being called upon once, which came in the third quarter.
Idaho's gutsy play style paid off early, going 2-for-2 on fourth down. But as the game wore on, Cal began to sniff the Vandals out.
Idaho finished 2-of-5 on the money down with its final try coming with 5:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
McCoy missed Hatten on a short passing play in the middle of the field as the Bears D-line was closing in on the quarterback.
"Nope," Eck said if he regretted any fourth-down decision. "That was our plan coming in, and we stuck to our plan."
Players of the game
California running back Isaiah Ifanse played in relief of Jayden Ott, who was held out due to an injury sustained last week against Auburn.
The Montana State transfer had a big night, tallying 137 yards rushing on 22 carries.
"He ran hard," Eck said. "He's a good back, and I think he's proven to be a great Big Sky running back, and they got it going on us in the second half, where they were able to just lay into us with their big O-line."
Idaho quarterback McCoy finished 28-of-46 passing for 279 yards. He added nine runs for 33 yards and a rushing touchdown.
Idaho receiver Terez Traynor had six receptions for 71 yards, his best game since returning from an injury that kept him out for most of last season.
Plays of the game
Idaho running back Woods had to reverse field and truck California defensive back Hearns on a 19-yard rushing touchdown.
California quarterback Jackson located receiver Hunter for a 20-yard touchdown pass in between three Idaho defenders in the third quarter.
California defensive back Williams left his assignment to intercept a McCoy pass, which set up a Golden Bears touchdown drive.
Idaho 10 7 0 0—17
California 0 14 14 3—31
Idaho — Ricardo Chavez 25 field goal.
Idaho — Anthony woods 19 run (Chavez kick).
Idaho — Gevani McCoy 2 run (Chavez kick).
California — Jeremiah Hunter 20 pass from Sam Jackson (Michael Luckhurst kick).
California — Trond Grizzell 36 pass from Jackson (Luckhurst kick).
California — Sam Jackson 27 run (Luckhurst kick).
California — Isaiah Ifanse 1 run (Luckhurst kick).
California — Luckhurst 39 field goal.
Pixley may be contacted at (208) 848-2290, email@example.com or on Twitter @TreebTalks