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ISU football notebook: Attendance low for “anemic” Bengals

November 3, 2016

Once Southern Utah began to pull away, when Idaho State’s offense continued to stall, when another score was one-sided in favor of the opposition, Holt Arena slowly emptied.

Saturday’s announced attendance for ISU’s 52-27 loss to SUU was 4,667, and by the end of the game, it was easy to eyeball an accurate head count. It was the smallest home crowd for the Bengals since 2014 — when 4,422 showed up to see ISU whip Simon Fraser — and lowest attendance for a conference home game since 4,574 were counted for ISU’s 40-26 win against Northern Colorado in 2013.

ISU’s average attendance this season is 5,957 with a high of 7,303 against Sacramento State. There hasn’t been a season in head coach Mike Kramer’s six-year tenure without at least one attendance of 7,500 or more.

This year’s average attendance is the lowest since it was 5,367 in 2013.

The 12,000-seat dome has been half-full twice this season — one that has yielded two wins — with a final home game remaining.

In his weekly press conference Wednesday, Kramer didn’t plead with fans to stick in seats, but rather to understand ISU’s circumstances.

“We’re a football team that is severely, severely wounded,” Kramer said. “Severely wounded. And we got scheduled uphill. And we made two hellacious road trips. Those three things have combined to make us anemic again. There’s no other way to phrase it. God awful.”

That’s the type of season it’s been for the Bengals: anemic, unfortunate and unlucky. Senior wide receiver Broc Malcom became academically ineligible over the summer. His backup, redshirt freshman Chris Reynolds, suffered a season-ending injury in fall camp. So did sophomore defensive lineman Rasheed Williams. Veteran offensive linemen Skyler Phillips and Chase Collins were lost for the year midseason and ISU is forced to dig further into its youth each week.

The Bengals aren’t deep enough to account for their losses, and a tight athletic budget limits leisurely travel. ISU bussed to Portland State (660 miles) and flew commercial to Northern Arizona two weeks apart. The Bengals will bus 363 miles to Montana on Friday and 575 miles to Eastern Washington next week.

That is not unusual for Big Sky teams, or for Idaho State athletic programs in general. But it has irked Kramer all season and is an easy target to lay blame.

The Bengals have three games remaining — two against ranked teams, one against a geographical rival and all three opponents are fighting to make the FCS Playoffs. A winning season can’t happen, and the postseason was eliminated long ago.

“We’re cut off and surrounded,” Kramer said. “We’re low on ammunitions and food and supplies and there’s no relief coming. Guess what, all we can is fight on, right? That’s all we can do.”

VAZORKA, TAYLOR OUT VS UM

Kramer said Wednesday senior offensive lineman Thomas Vazorka and senior defensive tackle Nikko Taylor won’t play Saturday at Montana.

Vazorka and freshman Dallen Collins are the only two offensive linemen to start each game this season, and Vazorka’s absence means a sixth different starting O-line combo. Sophomore Chris Miedema, who started the first two games of the season at right guard, will start for Vazorka on Saturday. Vazorka has started at left guard, right guard and right tackle this season. It’s unclear where Miedema will play.

Taylor left the Southern Utah game and did not return. He’s seventh on the team with 22 tackles and has 3.5 tackles for loss with a half-sack and a pick-six this season.

FORD DOUBTFUL; FLANAGAN, JENKINS QUESTIONABLE

Kramer said Wednesday senior running back Jakori Ford “probably won’t travel” to Montana. It would be his second consecutive game missed. Kramer also was uncertain on the status of redshirt freshman running back Ty Flanagan, who started in place of Ford last week. Sophomore James Madison would be next in line to start.

Kramer added junior linebacker Mario Jenkins also may not travel. Jenkins hasn’t missed a game this season since recovering from a torn ACL the year prior. He leads the Big Sky with 10.2 tackles per game in addition to three sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss.