ISU football: OUT OF SYNC — Turnovers, inconsistent offense cost ISU in 52-7 loss at Northern Arizona

October 16, 2016

Idaho State’s first four drives ended with two interceptions, a blocked punt and a lost fumble, and strangely it was the offense’s best stretch of the game.

The Bengals’ early drives that moved downfield and ended in turnovers didn’t last past the end of the opening quarter, and Northern Arizona’s offense gradually gained steam and exploited mismatches. ISU gained 157 yards in the second through fourth quarters after picking up 165 in the first, and NAU’s passing attack piled up 397 yards in a 52-7 rout Saturday in Flagstaff.

The 45-point loss is Idaho State’s worst against a conference opponent since being blown out 70-14 by Cal Poly in 2012.

The Bengals committed five turnovers in the game — four of which happened on NAU’s side of the field.

“You can’t turn the ball over,” ISU head coach Mike Kramer said. “You can’t turn the ball over on the road. You can’t turn the ball over when you’re in bad field position. You can’t turn the ball over and put your defense in a bad situation.”

Idaho State’s first drive ended when quarterback Tanner Gueller’s fourth-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Jake Thomas. Tom Jewell’s fourth-down punt on ISU’s next drive was blocked and recovered by Taylor Powell at the Bengals’ 14-yard line.

The Lumberjacks were up 14-0 after calling six offensive plays.

“We were within range, but we gave up some easy points because of turnovers in the first half that gave us no opportunity to win,” Kramer said.

Idaho State’s defense held NAU out of the end zone its next two drives, but the ’Jacks scored on three of their next four possessions to take a 35-0 lead early in the third quarter.

NAU quarterback Blake Kemp (23 of 37, 319 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) starting finding 6-foot-4 receiver Emmanuel Butler on the outside, and the big-play threat was no match for ISU’s shorter cornerbacks.

On one drive in the second quarter, ISU corner Lorenzo Terry was flagged for pass interference on a pass to Butler, then lost a jump ball to Butler for a 31-yard gain a few plays later. Terry was called for another P.I. before Butler caught a 2-yard touchdown pass.

NAU receivers Delshawn McClendon, Butler and William Morehand combined for 265 yards and four touchdowns. The unit was without second-leading receiver Elijah Marks, who sat out with an injury.

“They out-physicaled us at corner, and that’s going to happen,” Kramer said. We’re very small and they’re pretty good.”

Northern Arizona (3-4, 2-2 Big Sky Conference) entered the game last in the league in red-zone offense, scoring on 66.7 percent of its chances this season. The Lumberjacks scored on 4 of 5 trips in the red zone Saturday.

NAU defensive end Siupeli Anau tormented ISU (2-4, 1-2) from the early going. The reigning conference defensive player of the week had 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery while constantly getting around the edge with Clarence Smith (2.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss). NAU sacked Gueller seven times to set a new season high.

ISU was held to 3.1 yards per carry, with its long run of the day being a 35-yard scamper by Gueller.

“Our offensive front didn’t declare dominance,” Kramer said. “We got dominated in our offensive front. Our run stats will back me up.”

After being gutted for 531 yards rushing two weeks ago against Portland State, ISU held the Lumberjacks to 120 yards rushing on 35 carries (3.4 yards per carry). ’Jacks freshman Joe Logan, who ran for 147 yards last week against Montana State, was limited to 40 yards on 14 carries against the Bengals.

“Our run defense rose back up,” Kramer said. “We needed to have better run defense, and we played better run defense tonight.”

Idaho State returns to Pocatello to play its first home game in nearly a month when it hosts North Dakota on Saturday. The Fighting Hawks (5-2, 4-0) are atop the league standings and combine a powerful rushing attack with one of the league’s best defenses.

“Unfortunately for us, the scheduling gods didn’t give us any of the teams that are struggling,” Kramer said. “That’s just the way it goes.”