ISU football: What went right, what went wrong in ISU’s win over Idaho
POCATELLO — Idaho State entered the national spotlight, albeit briefly, after spanking in-state rival Idaho 62-28 last Saturday.
The win gives the Bengals (4-1, 3-0 Big Sky Conference) their best conference start in 37 years and has the program on the cusp of multiple national rankings.
Here’s a look back at the pluses and minuses from the landmark win.
PLUS: Tanner Gueller
Idaho State’s quarterback earned widespread acclaim for his eye-popping state line: 492 yards passing, eight passing touchdowns and 81 yards rushing for a total of 573 yards of offense.
Gueller’s passing yardage and touchdowns cleared his previous career highs, and his rushing yardage is good for second-best in his career. Gueller also broke ISU’s single-game record of six touchdown passes, and fell one shy of the single-game Big Sky record of nine. His eight TD tosses are a single-game high in the FCS this season.
For his efforts, Gueller was tabbed as the national and conference offensive player of the week. He was also briefly mentioned during an ESPN college football broadcast.
Gueller now ranks eighth in the FCS and leads the Big Sky with 318 yards of offense per game, and is fourth in the FCS with 16.5 yards per completion.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound redshirt senior has rushed for 218 yards in ISU’s last three games.
“We’ve just got to give Tanner about 3 seconds, and that ball’s gone,” Bengals center Dallen Collins said Saturday.
Gueller has already set career highs in rushing yardage (318) and rushing touchdowns (four) this season). He’s also on pace to set career-best marks in passing yardage, passing touchdowns and yards per completion.
The rest of ISU’s offense aligned with Gueller’s performance.
The Bengals’ 754 yards were 16 away from tying the program’s single-game record. Michael Dean made highlight-reel catches on his way to four touchdowns. James Madison and Ty Flanagan complemented Gueller’s rushing efforts with 74 and 59 yards, respectively. Dean, Mitch Gueller and DeMonte Horton all went over 100 yards receiving. ISU’s offensive line was at the forefront of it all, paving the way for the team’s massive offensive output.
ISU’s eruption was the result of a somewhat slow build to this point. The offense seems to grow more explosive and efficient each week and was humming on Saturday, to the tune of a season-best 10.9 yards per play.
ISU ranks sixth in the FCS in total offense (522.4 yards per game) and seventh in scoring offense (42.2 points per game). Head coach Rob Phenicie credits first-year offensive coordinator Mike Ferriter for his playcalling and effective use of his weapons.
“Mike Ferriter’s doing an awesome job,” Phenicie said Saturday. “He was in a good flow at halftime. He’s really developing as an offensive coordinator. Very calm. He’s very even-keeled.”
ISU’s passing attack is also spreading balls to more players than in the early going. Mitch Gueller collected 10 catches for 237 yards and two scores through two games — 31 percent of Tanner Gueller’s completions, 60 percent of his yards and 100 percent of his touchdowns. But since entering conference play, Michael Dean has reemerged as a big-play weapon, and tight end Austin Campbell has three TD catches his last two games. Dean now averages 4.8 catches per game to Mitch Gueller’s 4.6, and both players have four TD catches.
PLUS: Turnover margin
For the fifth time in as many tries this season, ISU won the turnover battle on Saturday.
Caleb Brown intercepted his second pass of the season, and Christian McFarland scooped up his second fumble recovery — one of six balls the Vandals put on the turf. Tanner Gueller played his first INT-free game, and ISU was turnover-free until a late fumble by running back Kieran Yancy.
Idaho State has 13 takeaways against six giveaways this season, good for an average turnover margin of plus-1.4 per game — 10th-best in the FCS.
“We have a simple game plan, and we’re put in the right spot,” linebacker Joe Martin said Monday. “We’re able to just not think as much as we have in the past, and just fly around and use our athletic ability.”
MINUS: Defensive, special-teams lapses
They were overshadowed by the offensive fireworks, but ISU’s defense and special teams had a couple slip-ups last week.
Freshman kicker Campbell Sheidow had an extra-point blocked — his fourth kick that’s been blocked this season — and ISU’s defense was scathed for a season-high 541 yards, including a season-worst 269 yards rushing. Idaho also converted 9 of 18 third-down plays — ISU’s first opponent to go at least 50 percent on third down.
Idaho’s 541 yards are well above its season average of 391.2 yards per game.
ISU’s defense started off strong, holding the Vandals to 203 yards on 43 first-half plays (4.7 yards per play). After that, Idaho gained 338 yards on 45 plays (7.5 yards per play).
Bengals linebacker Aren Manu was also the third ISU defender in two weeks to be ejected for targeting. The redshirt freshman, who was starting in place of the suspended Kody Graves (targeting), was flagged for the foul after the first play of the game. The NCAA requires any player ejected for targeting to miss the remainder of the half in which they were ejected, plus the following two quarters. Because Manu’s penalty was in the first half Saturday, he won’t be required to miss any of this week’s game at UC Davis.