Because the Idaho State Journal does not publish a Monday newspaper at this point, the normal Monday Morning Quarterback will appear Tuesday morning and will now be called “Grading the Bengals.” Regardless of the name, the premise remains the same.
Idaho State jumped on a bus for a trip to Southern Utah in another Big Sky Conference game, and got back on after one of its worst performances of the season. The Thunderbirds’ defense had its way with the Bengals, and their offense, led by true freshman quarterback Mike Sharp, did more than enough to hand ISU its fifth loss of the season. Here are grades for each area of Idaho State’s team in regards to how they performed against Southern Utah.
Idaho State had its second worst offensive performance of the season at 254 total yards (164 at Washington), and its worst by far against a Big Sky opponent. The Bengals recorded 13 yards on the ground. ISU struggled to move the ball against a stout Southern Utah defense that was giving up just over 19 points per game entering the contest. And when the Bengals did find some momentum, they shot themselves in the foot. Quarterback Justin Arias threw a third-quarter interception in the end zone at a time when a touchdown would have given Idaho State a lead. Arias had another rough outing, completing just 50 percent of his passes (22 of 44) and throwing two picks. He did have 241 yards through the air, but that was all ISU could do.
Head coach Mike Kramer said his defense played “about as bad” as it can play. Despite holding the Thunderbirds to 19 points, ISU gave up 418 total yards to an offense led by a true freshman. In fact, Sharp rushed for 157 yards and SUU’s lone touchdown of the game, and threw for 178 more. Linebacker Mitch Beckstead recorded his third interception of the season, but the Bengals were unable to force any more turnovers to give the offense additional opportunities.
In a game where the offense struggled to get going, a boost from special teams was a must-have. Cameron Gupton and Luke Austin did their parts as Gupton returned three kickoffs for and average off 22 yards, and Austin returned a punt 12 yards. Placekicker Brendon Garcia hit a 34-yard field goal, but missed an extra point. The Bengals lined up for what would have been a fourth-down conversion attempt, but pulled out a little trickeration as Arias punted the ball. Unfortunately, he was too close to the line of scrimmage and it bounced off the back end of a lineman. It was one mistake in a series of them made by the Bengals’ special teams against Southern Utah.
By now it is obvious that Idaho State — and Arias — play much better inside Holt Arena. This is to be expected, but the difference between team performance at home and on the road is drastic. Part of this has to do with the Bengals being so young, but coaching is also to blame. Plain and simple, ISU was not prepared to play Southern Utah and its freshman quarterback.