MOSCOW — The pretty throws, the breakaway runs and the receivers making plays after the catch are easy to notice.
But for the Idaho Vandals to be improved on offense this season, the offensive line has to be improved.
And players and coaches alike have raved about the play of the O-line during spring practices, which were highlighted by Friday night’s Silver & Gold Game at the Kibbie Dome.
“We still have three more practices (next week), so we can still get a lot more done,” Idaho senior offensive guard Noah Johnson said. “But I really like the improvement, and the effort that we’re giving, and I really like the attitude that we bring to practice every day.”
In the spring game, the Gold (mostly starters) defeated the Silver (mostly backups) 70-20.
Behind the blocking of Johnson, Logan Floyd, Conner Vrba, Matt Faupusa, Edwin Grande and others, the Gold gave quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson time to throw for a combined 482 yards and six touchdowns, including 307 yards and three TDs by Petrino.
The line also paved the way for running backs Roshaun Johnson and Aundre Carter to each average more than 9 yards per carry.
“We’re the most experienced group on the team, and so we definitely feel like we should be the hardest working group every time in practice,” said Johnson, a third-team All-American selection by HERO Sports last year. “We come out with more swagger. We come out expecting to come out here and dominate.”
Idaho is coming off a 4-7 season last year, its first back in the Big Sky Conference since 1995.
“The most encouraging thing to me is how the O-line is playing; that would have to be comparable to the bowl year (in 2016),” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said.
Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns for the Gold. Carter, a redshirt freshman who got some carries for each team, added 121 yards and a TD on 13 carries.
Roshaun Johnson said the Vandals O-line is “definitely” better than last year, “and our receivers are stepping up a lot too, big time.
“Our receiving corps is going to be ridiculous this year — mark my words,” Johnson added.
Redshirt sophomore Cutrell Haywood, moved from wide receiver to inside receiver this year, caught 15 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Jeff Cotton, a senior wideout, caught four touchdown passes, and finished with 13 catches for 217 yards.
“I think we’re some of the top playmakers on the team,” Cotton said. “When you have us two, I’d try to get us the ball.”
Haywood said he last played inside receiver in high school.
“I didn’t really do that last year, but that’s what they told me I had to do — get the ball underneath, make somebody miss, get 5-10 yards,” said Haywood, who had a few plays Friday night where he caught a short pass, deked a defender and scooted for additional yardage. “Get whatever I can get. Still can go deep a little bit if they want me to.”
Petrino, a senior, and Richardson, a junior, split reps for the Gold team, and guided the Gold to touchdowns on each of their first-half drives — four by Petrino, three by Richardson.
Defensive back Sedrick Thomas picked off a pass by Nikhil Nayar, and DB D’Andre Pitman picked off Richardson for the Silver, and also had a game-high nine tackles..
Linebacker Charles Akanno had a “sack” (quarterbacks weren’t allowed to be hit) and was busy in general on defense — as were fellow linebackers Tre Walker and Christian Elliss. Linebacker Austin Holt also had two sacks. A few other “sacks” could have been whistled when officials chose to let the play continue — Petrino’s 80-yard pass and run to Cotton probably should have been stopped before the throw by a “sack.”
NOTES: Junior Cade Coffey (Lakeland High) made all 12 of his PATs, and was good on his two field-goal attempts, from 20 and 37 yards … Redshirt sophomore Nate DeGraw (Post Falls) played on the defensive line for the Gold team (No. 1s), and had a tackle-for-loss and a quarterback hurry, while linebackers Ross Chadderdon (Coeur d’Alene) and Kyle Perry (Sandpoint), defensive lineman Bradley Noesen (Post Falls) and offensive lineman D.J. Luby (Post Falls) were on the field for the Silver team (No. 2s) … Another local who saw action was redshirt sophomore Carlos Collado (Sandpoint), who was moved to the defensive line. … Offensive lineman Noah Gunn, a freshman transfer from Air Force who starred at Coeur d’Alene High, didn’t play in the scrimmage due to illness. He’s in the competition for playing time on the O-line. “He’s been doing really well,” Noah Johnson said. “He’s really trying to learn the playbook right now, but he’s giving tons of effort, and he’s working hard, and he’s doing everything right. He’s definitely going to be a good player.” … Paul Petrino whistled an end to the game with 14:07 left in the fourth quarter, following Roshaun Johnson’s 4-yard TD run. … Idaho will hold three closed practices next week to conclude spring ball. The Vandals open the 2019 season Aug. 31 at Penn State.
Silver 0 7 13 0 — 20
Gold 28 21 14 7 — 70
Gold — Mason Petrino 1 run (Cade Coffey kick), 11:52
Gold — Jeff Cotton 15 pass from Colton Richardson (Cade Coffey kick), 6:34
Gold — Cotton 80 pass from Petrino (Coffey kick), 4:56
Gold — Aundre Carter 46 run (Coffey kick), 1:20
Gold — Cotton 5 pass from Petrino (Coffey kick), 11:22
Silver — Connor Whitney 38 pass from Nikhil Nayar (Coffey kick), 7:58
Gold — Cotton 4 pass from Richardson (Coffey kick), 3:56
Gold — Cutrell Haywood 27 pass from Petrino (Coffey kick), :26
Silver — FG Coffey 20, 11:23
Gold — Roshaun Johnson 22 run (Coffey kick), 9:44
Silver — Marquese Albert 18 run (Coffey kick), 8:58
Gold — Whitney 6 pass from Richardson (Coffey kick), 4:28
Silver — FG Coffey 37, 2:44
Gold — Johnson 4 run (Coffey kick), 14:07
RUSHING — Roshaun Johnson 14-139, Aundre Carter 13-121, Khalil Forehand 9-2, Mason Petrino 6-13, Marquese Albert 3-21, Colton Richardson 3-(minus 2).
PASSING — Mason Petrino 17-22-0-307, Colton Richardson 16-18-1-175, Nikhil Nayar 9-19-1-94.
RECEIVING — Cutrell Haywood 15-195, Jeff Cotton 13-217, Connor Whitney 4-83, Roshaun Johnson 2-24, Brandon Luckett 2-17, Jed Byers 2-16, Marquese Albert 2-13, Logan Kendall 1-6, Dalton Cash 1-5.