BOISE, Idaho — Matt Linehan threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns and ran for a another score to help Idaho beat Colorado State 61-50 on Thursday night in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in the third-highest scoring game in bowl history.
Idaho (9-4) matched its highest victory total since moving to FBS in 1996, but the victory will do nothing to quell the debate over the school’s decision to move back down to FCS play. In April, the Sun Belt informed the school it was dropping Idaho after the 2017 season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players,” Idaho coach Paul Petrino said. “They were focused on winning the football game and that helped them come out and play well early. They were told there were a bunch of things they weren’t supposed to be able to do, but they did it anyway.”
Colorado State (7-6) finished with a bowl loss for the second straight year.
“We tried some different things this year in preparation,” Colorado coach Mike Bobo said. “You want to finish up strong. That onus falls on me. That’s the position I’m in as the head coach.
“So, we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure out how to build a team that can be the team we want it to be at the beginning of the year, the middle of the year and at the end of the year.”
After a scoreless first quarter, it appeared that both teams had dug in for a defensive battle. But that quickly dissipated as the teams started rolling up points.
The bowl record for points is 125 in Marshall’s 64-61, double-overtime victory over East Carolina in the 2001 GMAC Bowl. Idaho and Colorado State broke the Potato Bowl scoring record set in 2009 in Idaho’s 43-42 victory over Bowling Green.
The 84 points in the second half are the most combined in a half in any bowl game, breaking the record of 76 set by Tulsa and Virginia Tech last year in the first half of the Independence Bowl.
Linehan, who claimed the game’s MVP honors, tied the bowl record for touchdowns accounted for with five, also matched by Colorado State counterpart Nick Stevens. Linehan, whose father Scott Linehan is the offensive coordinators for the Dallas Cowboys, was 21 of 31 with no interceptions.
Isaiah Saunders led the Vandals on the ground with 147 yards and set another bowl record in the process with 33 carries.
Colorado State wasted a bowl record-setting performance from Stevens. He tied two records — touchdowns accounted for with five, touchdown passes with 5 — and set the passing yards records with 445. He finished 21 of 36 with two interceptions.
Sophomore Olabisi Johnson paced the Rams’ receiving corps with 265 yards — also a bowl record — on seven catches with a pair of touchdowns. The Rams were led on the ground by Dalyn Dawkins with 118 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNES
Coming into the game, Colorado State coach Mike Bobo said a major factor for his team’s defensive success was limiting the big plays. But the Rams were dismal against Idaho, yielding nine plays of 25 yards or more.
The Rams also staked much of their success this season on winning the turnover battle.
However, Idaho, which entered the game 13th in the country in turnover margin, won that category as well. The Rams turned the ball over three times, while the Vandals were turnover free.
Colorado State: One of the biggest storylines heading into the 2017 season will be the quarterback position.
Freshman Collin Hill won the starting job but suffered a torn ACL in his left knee midway through the season. However, Nick Stevens’ return sparked the Rams’ offense in the latter half of the year. Stevens completed 65 percent of his passes — a 5 percent increase from his sophomore year — and threw only three interceptions.
With Hill likely unable to practice in the spring and Steven returning for his senior year, competition for the starting job promises to be fierce again in fall camp.
Idaho: The Vandals will look to exit FBS with a bang and claim only their second conference title since moving up in 1996. Idaho’s last conference championship came in 1998 when it won the Big West, which competed in FBS at the time.