JONESBORO, Ark. – Coach Paul Petrino saw one of the best efforts by his young team Saturday evening at Arkansas State but there still were too many mistakes as the Red Wolves won 48-24.
"We just started executing better," Petrino said of a second-half surge by the Vandals that had them to within a touchdown as the fourth-quarter unfolded. "The second half, we started making plays, executing better. The plan was similar. We just executed better."
Senior James Baker had the best night of his career with 23 carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns – an effort that drew praise from Petrino.
"James had a good game," Petrino said. "He did some good things for us. We have to keep building on that."
After trailing 31-7 early in the third quarter, the Vandals started a surge. First was Austin Rehkow's 28-yard field goal to cut ASU's lead to 31-10 with 7:09 left in the third. Then they used the momentum of a Trey Williams' interception to score on a 15-yard pass from Taylor Davis to Dezmon Epps with 4:09 left in the period. A key third-down stop on the Red Wolves' next possession forced a punt and the Vandals took over on their own 26.
Key runs by Baker and timely passes by Davis had the Vandals at the ASU 1 as the third quarter ended. Baker converted from inches out with 14:22 left in the game and, with Rekhow's successful PAT, the Vandals trailed by just one TD, 31-24, as the fourth quarter opened.
But then came the play that put the Vandals in too deep a hole. ASU's J.D. McKissic returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to push the Red Wolves back out by two TDs.
"That kick returned killed us," said Petrino, who shouldered the blame for allowing the kickoff to go to the fleet McKissic. "That's my fault for kicking to him."
ASU took control early in the game.
Idaho fell behind early on a pair of quick TDs by the Red Wolves after drives stalled and the defense stumbled. The Vandals' first drive was hurt most by a high snap that Chad Chalich, who left the game in the first quarter, wound up covering for a 10-yard loss, while the second ended with a pass that was high on third-and-one.
Meantime, Arkansas State went to the air to score on an 80-yard pass and a 13-yarder for a 14-0 lead with 7:54 to go in the first quarter.
The Red Wolves made it 17-7 on a Brian Davis field goal with 6:43 left. ASU was forced into the fourth-down situation when linebacker Matt Willis caught Adam Kennedy for an eight-yard loss.
The Vandals did respond when they made the most of a short-field opportunity when the defense held on fourth down to give Idaho the ball at the ASU 42 with 3:11 left in the first. After a loss of one by Baker, Taylor Davis found Deon Watson for a 39-yard pickup to the ASU 4. After a no gain, Baker went across from the four with 1:29 to go. Austin Rehkow's kick was good to cut the lead to 14-7.
"It's still a process," Petrino said. "We have to be a lot more consistent; keep improving."