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Quarterback: Mason Petrino

The 6-foot, 195-pound junior from Pullman, Washington, has taken over the reins as the Idaho’s starting quarterback after splitting time at wide receiver and quarterback last year. Petrino has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 1,553 yards, an average of 172.6 per game, which ranks fifth in the league. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns and been picked off five times. He threw for 277 yards last week, his second most of the season, but completed only 54 percent of his passes. Petrino’s tossed seven touchdowns in the past three games after he totaled five in the first six games. He’s rushed 58 times for 158 yards with two touchdowns.

Running back/fullback: Isaiah Saunders

The 5-foot-10, 234-pound senior running back from Elk Grove, California, has become the featured back for the Vandals following the graduation of 1,000-yard rusher Aaron Duckworth. Saunders ranks seventh in the conference with 83.9 rushing yards per game to go with his six touchdowns. He’s rushed 169 times for 755 yards in nine games, an average of 4.5 per rush. Saunders is coming off a 94-yard rushing performance, his highest total since Oct. 6, to go with one touchdown. He’s added nine catches for 53 yards out of the backfield. Tyrese Walker backs up Saunders, averaging 40.6 rushing yards per game with one touchdown on the ground this year.

Wide receiver/tight end: Jeff Cotton

The 6-foot-2, 204-pound junior wide receiver from Tucson, Arizona, is having a solid season after redshirting in 2017 following his transfer from Pima Community College, where he was an NJCAA All-American honorable mention. Cotton has gone over 100 receiving yards each of the past two games, totaling 247 yards and two scores. His six touchdown catches are a team high, and he’s averaging 13.7 yards per reception. He’s second on the team in receiving yards (563) and receiving yards per game (62.6). Fellow wideout David Ungerer ranks second in the league with 6.7 receptions per game and leads the team with 575 receiving yards to go with his three touchdowns catches.

Offensive line: Noah Johnson

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior guard from Fayetteville, Arkansas, has again been a regular contributor on the offensive line after being named to the All-Sun Belt Second Team last season. Johnson has started in all nine games this year and has started in all 31 games going back to his true freshman season. He’s one of only two players on the offensive line who has started in every game this year. He’s joined in that regard by 6-foot-4, 300-pound true freshman tackle Logan Floyd. Among the three other linemen who started in last week’s game, one has started seven games this season, and two have started in five games apiece.

Defensive line: D.J. Henderson

The 6-foot-1, 268-pound senior tackle from Clinton, Mississippi, has taken on a larger role in his second season at Idaho after transferring from East Mississippi Community College. Henderson’s seven tackles for loss and two sacks are the third most on the team and the most among full-time defensive linemen. His 21 total tackles are tops on the line, and he’s one of nine players with a quarterback hurry. Henderson is coming off a performance in which he tallied a career-high six tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. Fellow defensive linemen Cameron Townsend and Aarron Boatright have combined for 3.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.

Linebacker: Kaden Elliss

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior from Salt Lake City, Utah, has continued the strong play that helped him earn All-Sun Belt Second Team honors as a linebacker last year. Elliss is playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this year and has racked up 10.5 tackles for loss, which rank fifth in the conference, and 5.5 sacks. He’s forced one fumble, recovered one fumble, broken up two passes and added one quarterback hurry. He has 44 total tackles and is coming off a season-high eight tackles. His brother, Christian Elliss, leads the team with 63 tackles, tied for 16th in the conference, and has added four tackles for loss as the middle linebacker.

Defensive back: Lloyd Hightower

The 5-foot-11, 186-pound junior cornerback from Temecula, California, is in the midst of a breakout season in his first year as a regular starter. Hightower is tied for fourth in the conference with nine passes defended. He’s second among the team’s defensive backs with three tackles for loss, and he has one of the team’s three interceptions. Hightower is also one of eight players on the team who has forced a fumble. He has 38 total tackles and had a season-high nine two games ago. Among other defensive backs, Dorian Clark has broken up six passes, and Denzal Brantley has four tackles for loss, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Special teams: Cade Coffey

The 6-foot-1, 191-pound sophomore from Rathdrum, Idaho, is back as Idaho’s kicker and punter after being named the Freshman All-American punter by USA Today and making the All-Sun Belt Second Team. Coffey is averaging 45 yards on punts with a long of 80 yards and 16 punts of 50-plus yards. He’s had one punt blocked. Coffey has made five of seven field goals with a long of 44 yards and has had two blocked. Idaho has blocked four kicks, including three punts with two blocks by Jalen Hoover. They returned two blocks for touchdowns, and David Ungerer returned a punt 65 yards for a score.

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at

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