It appears Utah will be moving in a new direction on the offensive side of the ball.
The Utes announced Friday afternoon that assistant head coach/running backs coach Dennis Erickson has decided to step away from the game and retire from the sport. Additionally, co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick will not be retained by head coach Kyle Whittingham.
“Both Dennis and Aaron have been instrumental to the success of our program and we appreciate their contributions,” said Whittingham in a statement. “Dennis is one of the most respected coaches in the history of college football and the opportunity to work side by side with him and learn from him has been an invaluable experience. Aaron has been an incredibly loyal member of our staff for many years and has been an integral part of this program’s growth.”
Erickson had spent the past four seasons with the Utes as an assistant on Whittingham’s staff. Prior to that, the 69-year-old had been a head coach for the previous three decades, with collegiate stops at Idaho (1982-85, 2006), Wyoming (1986), Washington State (1987-88), Miami (1989-94), Oregon State (1999-2002) and Arizona State (2007-11). He won a pair of national championships with the Hurricanes.
There were also two NFL stops as a head coach, with the Seattle Seahawks from 1995-98 and the San Francisco 49ers from 2003-04.
Roderick, who played his college football at BYU, had served as a Utah assistant since 2005. During his time with the Utes, Roderick had been a receivers coach (2005-13), quarterbacks coach (2014-16), passing-game coordinator (2012-13) and co-offensive coordinator (2010, 2015-16).
Idaho had a smashing end to their 2016 season with a high-scoring 61-50 victory over Colorado State in the Potato Bowl in Boise on Thursday night. After the game, the emotions of winning a game against a Mountain West Conference opponent ran wild from the Idaho football program, and that moment of victory may have gotten the best of Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan. Linehan fired off a shot at university president Chuck Staben and the school’s decision to drop from the FBS ranks in 2018.
“We belong in FBS period. That’s what I believe, that’s what everyone believes,” Linehan said. “We know we can compete, we belong here. No matter what anyone thinks, even our tone deaf president. Maybe he doesn’t think we belong here, but I think we belong here.”
Asked about those strong words in the postgame press conference by Michael Katz of The Idaho Statesman, Linehan was quick to apologize for his comments.
Idaho is scheduled to become the first football program to drop from the FBS down to the FCS in 2018. The Vandals, along with New Mexico State, will play one more year in the Sun Belt Conference before moving into the Big Sky Conference in 2018.
Idaho hasn’t reached the postseason much over the years but when they do, they win in Boise.
The Vandals capped off a remarkable turnaround season and tied a school-record for wins by thumping Colorado State 61-50 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl to move to 3-0 in bowl games as an FBS program.
After a slow start in the first quarter that was dominated by punting from both teams, the Rams were the ones who struck first when wideout Olabisi Johnson found the end zone from 52 yards out.
It appeared as though that was enough to jump start Idaho, which promptly ran off 41 points in a row to take control of the game and end much doubt about who was more motivated to play in this one. Isaiah Saunders led the way on the ground for the Vandals with 147 yards and three scores while quarterback Matt Linehan really came on after halftime and finished with 381 yards and four touchdowns.
CSU did get something going late in the fourth quarter but by that time it was too late to make things interesting as they lost for the second time this year on the blue turf that Boise State typically calls home. Nick Stevens did throw for 445 yards and five touchdowns (with two picks) and was a potent combination on deep balls with Johnson, who had 265 yards and two touchdowns for the game. Michael Gallup chipped in with another three scores and had over 100 yards receiving as well.
But the night belonged to the Vandals, as they went from one of the postseason’s biggest underdogs this year to one of the biggest early winners. With an FCS move looming in 2018, racking up 606 yards of offense and limiting an explosive offense for most of Thursday night isn’t a bad way to close out one of the more impressive seasons at the Group of Five level.
Punts and potatoes made up the bulk of what happened in the first quarter at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl but things picked up considerably after that as Idaho held a surprising 20-7 lead over Colorado State at halftime on Thursday.
The Rams kicked off scoring early in the second quarter as signal-caller Nick Stevens found Olabisi Johnson from 52 yards out for a long touchdown pass that capped an 84 yard drive and injected some life into the game.
But the Vandals would respond in impressive fashion, mounting three straight scoring drives of over 60 yards — the first two of which took just nine plays combined. Running back Isaiah Saunders did the bulk of the damage, finding the end zone from two yards out the first time (the extra point was missed) and then from 26 out the second time.
Saunders finished the half with 77 yards on the ground while his quarterback Matt Linehan managed to rack up 157 yards and a touchdown through the air after a slow start.
While it was not the sharpest of starts for either team, both seemed to get going before the whistle and that could make for a fun second half up in Boise.
The Sun Belt is giving Idaho and New Mexico State the old heave ho after next season, and college football’s newest orphans are going about their futures in separate ways. Idaho has announced it will join the Big Sky Conference beginning in 2018, while New Mexico State is going to go it alone as an FBS independent.
Which means, obviously, New Mexico State will have to build its own schedule, each and every year.
The Aggies have begun doing so for 2018. On Monday they announced a home-and-home with Wyoming that will see the Cowboys visit Las Cruces on Aug. 25, 2018 — New Mexico State’s first game as an independent — while the Aggies will make a return visit to Laramie on Sept. 21, 2024.
It will be the two programs’ first meetings since 1953 — the only time New Mexico State and Wyoming have met on the field.
“Deputy AD Braun Cartwright and I have put in an enormous amount of time on football scheduling with the focus on securing games with regional Group of 5 opponents,” New Mexico State AD Mario Moccia said earlier this week. “Unlike in 2013 when we played four Power 5 conference programs, which had ripple effects on future year’s schedules, we have really focused on the home-and-home model.”
On Thursday, New Mexico State another home-and-home with current Sun Belt bunkmate Louisiana-Lafayette. New Mexico State will visit Lafayette on either Sept. 8 or Oct. 6, 2018, while the Ragin’ Cajuns will return the favor on Nov. 16, 2019.
New Mexico State also has a previously scheduled game at Minnesota on Aug. 30, leaving nine games still to be filled. The Aggies could seemingly find dance partners in fellow FBS independents BYU, Army and Massachusetts (Notre Dame is a different story), but even then New Mexico State still has to fill seven more games with the 2018 season only 20 months away.