Quickly: Southern Utah University hosts Montana State Saturday in the Thunderbirds’ Big Sky home-opener. The contest is also SUU’s Homecoming game.
The game is being televised live in high definition by ROOT SPORTS.
Southern Utah (2-2/1-0 Big Sky), is coming off a 49-42 win at Portland State in the team’s first-ever Big Sky game. SUU has won two straight after opening with back-to-back losses at NCAA FBS-level schools. The Thunderbirds fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter at PSU but came back to take their first lead at 49-42 with 1:35 to play, then pulled off a goal line stand in the final 18 seconds to seal the win.
Montana State (4-0/1-0 Big Sky) also got a win in its Big Sky opener last weekend as the Bobcats stopped Northern Colorado, 41-16, at home in Bozeman, Mont. The Bobcats opened with a home win against Division II Chadron State, 33-6, then traveled to Drake where they picked up a 34-24 victory before downing Stephen F. Austin at home on Sept. 15, 43-35.
At No. 2 Montana State is the highest-ranked team to ever play at SUU. The previous highest-ranked team to play in Cedar City was Northern Iowa, which was No. 4 when it played at SUU in the 1996 season-opener. More recently the Thunderbirds have hosted a trio of teams ranked No. 6 at the time of the game: North Dakota State in 2006 and both Southern Illinois and McNeese State in 2007. The highest-ranked teams SUU has ever faced were North Dakota State and Northern Iowa in 2007 when the Bison were No. 1 in the coaches poll and the Panthers were the top-ranked team in the SportsNetwork poll at the time of the meetings as well as at the end of the season. That 2007 squad faced a brutal schedule, with seven opponents ranked in the final polls and nine of 11 ranked at one time or another during the season.
The Game: Montana State (4-0/1-0) at Southern Utah (1-2/0-0), Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (MDT), Eccles Coliseum (8,500, Hellas MatrixTurf), Cedar City, Utah.
The Series: MSU holds a 2-0 lead in the series. Both previous meetings have been in Bozeman, Mont., where the Bobcats claimed a 32-31 win in 1993 and a 7-3 victory in 2007.
TV Coverage On ROOT SPORTS: For DIRECTV customers, this weekend’s games will be available on ROOT SPORTS Channel 687 in the Northwest region and Channel 683 in the Rocky Mountain Region. The game will be available in the outer market on Audience Network Channel 239-1. For Dish Network Customers, the game will air on Channel 426 in the Northwest Region and Channel 414 in the Rocky Mountain Region. ROOT SPORTS is widely available on cable throughout Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Washington Wyoming, and New Mexico, as well as parts of Nevada, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.
SUU’s TV Games in 2012: In addition to Saturday’s game, SUU is scheduled to play on live television two more times this season. This weekend’s game vs. Montana State will be televised in high definition on ROOT Sports and the Northern Arizona game in Flagstaff on Nov. 10 will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona Plus.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds’ home and road games will be available to accredited media outlets via SUU’s FTP site. For information on obtaining those highlights contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner.
Radio: All of Southern Utah’s 2012 football games are available over the Thunderbird Sports Network. SUU flagship station KSUU (91.1 FM) will carry every game live as well as on the worldwide web at www.suu.edu/ksuu. Art Challis is entering his 38th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference center for the Thunderbirds, will provide color commentary.
On The Internet: Saturday’s game will be available only on ROOT SPORTS and DIRECTV Audience Network. Video coverage of all of Southern Utah’s remaining games, both home and away, will be available on Big Sky TV, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of SUU games is available at the Thunderbirds’ website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.suu.edu/ksuu.
Live Stats: Live stats of SUU’s home games may be found on the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com. Real-time live stats of SUU’s home games are also available to working media, contact the athletic media relations office for access.
Thunderbird Practice Schedule: The players are off on Mondays. Daily practices Tuesday through Thursday are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. and end between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.
Thunderbird Club Luncheons: The Thunderbird Club’s weekly no-host luncheon is held Mondays at noon at the Cedar City Crystal Inn. The public is invited to attend the luncheons where Southern Utah’s in-season coaches talk about their upcoming contests and review the past week’s action.
Next Up/Remaining Schedule:
Southern Utah remains at home next week for a game against Sacramento State, scheduled to kick off at 1:00 p.m.
Following a road trip to Montana on Oct. 13 the ‘Birds return home for their final two home games of the season. SUU hosts Weber State on Oct. 20, then Eastern Washington visits Cedar City on Oct. 27.
The regular season wraps up with road games at North Dakota (Nov. 3) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 10). Should SUU qualify for the FCS playoffs, the Thunderbirds would have a bye week between the NAU game and the FCS first round.
A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 23-25 in his fifth season as the Thunderbird head coach and his fifth season as a head coach overall. Last year Lamb guided the Thunderbirds to their second straight winning season and their first win over an FBS-level opponent (UNLV) since 1997. He led the team to a Great West Conference championship in 2010 when the Thunderbirds went undefeated in GWC play and finished the season with a 6-5 overall mark. Prior to taking over at SUU, Lamb spent three seasons at the University of San Diego where he coordinated the special teams and recruiting and was the Toreros’ defensive backs coach. Prior to his time at USD Lamb spent two seasons as defensive coordinator at Idaho. He also served a season at BYU as a linebackers coach and four seasons at the University of Redlands, three as defensive coordinator and one as defensive line coach. Lamb is 0-0 vs. Montana State.
Montana State’s Rob Ash (Cornell College, 1973), is 43-20 in his fourth season at MSU and is 219-119-5 in his 33rd season overall as a head coach. Prior to taking the reins at MSU Ash spent 18 seasons as the head coach at Drake and nine as head man at Juniata College. Coach Ash is 0-0 vs. SUU.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is beginning its first season in the Big Sky Conference following eight years as a member of the Great West Conference. Montana State is also a member of the Big Sky.
Captains: This year’s captains are seniors Brad Sorensen (QB) and Cody Larsen (DT).
Smith Is Big Sky Player of the Week: Southern Utah’s Josh Smith was named the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance at Portland State. The redshirt freshman from South Jordan, Utah (Bingham HS) returned six kickoffs a total of 173 yards, including a 95-yard return for a touchdown to open the second half. His total return yardage ranks fifth all-time on the SUU single-game kickoff return charts and his 95-yard return is tied for the sixth-longest return in SUU history. He is the first player in the Sky to return a kickoff for a touchdown this season.
College Football Performance Awards:
Smith was also named Kickoff Returner of the Week by the CFPA following his performance at Portland State.
Brad Sorensen and Mitch Jessop received honorable mention honors at quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, for their performances at PSU as well. Sorensen completed 27-of-36 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns, while Jessop was on the receiving end of nine of those passes, for two touchdowns and 159 yards.
Cody Larsen was National Defensive Lineman of the Week by the CFPA following the New Mexico Highlands game. Larsen, a 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle from Draper, Utah (Jordan HS) tallied six tackles, including four solo stops, in the Thunderbirds’ 45-23 win over New Mexico Highlands. All four of his solo tackles occurred in the Cowboy backfield and he wound up with 4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks. He also forced two fumbles, recovered another, and had a quarterback hurry in the game.
DE Austin Anderson earned honorable mention from the CFPA following the NM Highlands game after tallying three tackles, two solo, with a half-sack, and recovering two fumbles, including one he returned for a touchdown.
Sorensen earned mention as one of the performers of the week at quarterback for his game at Cal after he completed 31-of-45 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns against the Bears.
SUU defensive end Jeff Tukuafu and punter Brock Miller earned recognition as impact players from CFPA following the Utah State game. Tukuafu got in on three tackles for loss, including one sack, and finished the night with seven tackles, including two solos which both went for losses. Miller punted nine times for 411 yards and pinned the Aggies inside the 20 yard line four times, he also had a career-long 72-yard boot.
SUU In The FCS National Ranks:
SUU has 10 players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 14 statistical categories this week, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in eight major categories and among the top-30 in five.
Defense: Defensive tackle Cody Larsen ranks seventh in the FCS in sacks with 1.0 per game and eighth in tackles for loss with an average of 1.75 per game while DE James Cowser is 19th in TFLs with 1.63 per game. LeShaun Sims is in 24th in interceptions with an average of 0.5 per game, while linebacker Zac Browning ranks 36th in total tackles with an average of 10.0 per game and safety Miles Killebrew is 43rd at 9.75.
Offense: Quarterback Brad Sorensen ranks among the top 50 in six categories: he is 12th in points responsible for with 17.5 ppg, 17th in total passing yards with 968, 20th in completions per game with 22.5, 23rd in passing yards per game at 242.0, 32nd in passing efficiency at 134.43 and 34th in total offense with 236.3 ypg. Wide receiver Fatu Moala ranks 26th in receptions per game with 6.25 and WR Mitch Jessop is just out of the top-50, in 51st, in receiving yards per game with an average of 70.33.
Special Teams: Brock Miller ranks 13th in punting with an average of 43.3 ypp while Colton Cook is tied for 22nd in field goals per game with 1.25 and Josh Smith is 39th in kickoff return average at 23.35 ypr.
Team: In the team categories, SUU is sixth in turnover margin at plus-1.75, 21st in net punting at 37.46 ypp, 22nd in sacks with 2.5 per game, 25th in tackles for loss at 7.0 per game and 28th in scoring with 32.0 ppg. SUU is also 31st in passing offense with 242 yards per game, 32nd in kickoff returns at 22.96 ypr and 35th in passing efficiency with a rating of 134.41.
Record Book Performances At PSU: Southern Utah had a handful of performances worthy of the SUU record books at Portland State. Josh Smith’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown is tied as the sixth-longest in the school’s history, while his 173 KO return yards in the game rank fifth. Brad Sorensen’s four-touchdown, 311-yard day also changed the books. Sorensen now has 7,062 passing yards to become just the second Thunderbird to pass for over 7,000 yards in a career (along with Rick Robins). Sorensen also moved into third place on the total plays list with 1,079 (passing Wes Marshall’s 1,046 from 2003-07) and he tied the second-highest total for TD passes in a game with four.
Skid Stopped: SUU’s win at Portland State was the Thunderbirds’ first in six tries vs. the Vikings at JELD-WEN Field (formerly Civic Stadium).
Youth Steps Up: First-year players have done well for the Thunderbirds so far this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They dominated Southern Utah’s stat sheet on the defensive side of the ball at Utah State and at Portland State, and three of them found themselves at the top of the sheet following the Cal game as well. Six of the top-seven tacklers at USU were either starting or playing in their first games, and three of those six were 1-2-3 at Cal as well. Senior OLB Namari Flentroy (who is in his first season on the team) co-led the team at USU with 13 tackles and one fumble recovery, then was tied for second at Cal with eight tackles. True freshman Zak Browning followed up a 12-tackle effort at USU with eight tackles at Cal, including six solo stops and a half-TFL and he also forced a fumble, while Miles Killebrew led the team with 11 tackles, six solo, at Cal following a nine-tackle effort at USU. Senior OLB Rickey Clark, who is in his first season as a starter, had 13 tackles at USU and was tied for fifth on the team at Cal with four stops, along with freshman DE James Cowser (who also had an interception, a sack and two TFLs), sophomore DE Austin Anderson, sophomore cornerback Gordon Garrett and veterans Cody Larsen, Randall Nygren and Brennan Fjord. Junior safety Tommy Collet, Jr., who was a part-time starter last year, was fourth on the list at USU with 10 stops but he sat out the Cal game. Junior cornerback Tyree Mills, who is also in his first year as a starter, had five tackles at Cal and eight at USU, where he also had the team’s lone pass deflection. At Portland State the top six SUU tacklers were all first-year starters: Killebrew with a career-high 15, Clark with 12, Browning and Cowser with 10, Austin Anderson with six and J.T. Anderson and Sims, who were tied with Mills with four. Cowser recovered a fumble and threw in 1.5 TFLs with help from Killebrew on one, while Browning and J.T. Anderson each broke up two passes and Killebrew and Clark each broke up one.
Killebrew’s 15 tackles at Portland State were the most by a Thunderbird since the 2009 season when Akeem Anifowoshe had 15 in the penultimate game of the season, against Eastern Washington.
The Vets Can Play Too: After watching the youth movement on defense in the first two games a handful of proven veterans were the stars of the win over New Mexico Highlands. Although Namari Flentroy is a first-season starter, he is a senior, and the linebacker led the team for the second time in three games with eight tackles, five solo, including a sack, two forced fumbles, a QBH and a pass break up. Junior MLB Chad Hansen, in his first start of the season, co-led the team (along with freshman James Cowser) with seven tackles, including a sack, two TFLs and a PBU, while senior DT Cody Larsen dominated the line of scrimmage, getting into the backfield for 4.5 TFLs, including 2.5 sacks, while forcing two fumbles, recovering another and tallying a quarterback hurry. Although Cowser was the only underclassman among the team’s top six tacklers, the younger T-Birds again had in impact vs. NMH, as redshirt freshman LeShaun Sims had four solo tackles and an interception, redshirt freshman safety Miles Killebrew had four tackles and a 49-yard fumble return for a touchdown (the sixth-longest in SUU history), while Austin Anderson got in on a sack and recovered two fumbles, one of which he returned nine yards for a touchdown.
Good Vibrations: SUU struggled to move the ball at Utah State, particularly on the ground, but senior tailback Brian Wilson has been effective in the last three games. At Cal he carried 17 times for 74 yards and scored a touchdown on a pass reception. Although he didn’t get into the end zone vs. Highlands, he had his best overall day as an offensive player, logging 140 rushing yards on 19 carries, adding another 48 yards on four receptions, and finishing with 215 all-purpose yards after returning one kickoff 27 yards. It was the team’s first 100-yard rushing performance since Austin Minefee ripped off 131 yards vs. UC Davis in the ninth game of the season last year and the highest total since Minefee also had 140, against Northern Arizona in the fifth game of the 2010 season. Wilson led the team with 64 yards on 19 carries at PSU and also caught three passes for 18 yards, including a 16 yard TD reception.
Benchmark Stat: SUU has won eight consecutive games in which it rushed for 100 yards.
Passing Game: After struggling to pass the ball at Utah State SUU has improved in that area in the last three games. The team finished with a season-high 311 yards through the air at Portland State, with four touchdown passes, but the turnaround began at Cal, particularly in the second half. Brad Sorensen completed 31-of-45 passes at Cal, tying the eighth-highest completion total in SUU history, for 292 yards and four touchdowns. The TD passes went to Fatu Moala – who had a career-high nine receptions for 85 yards – Henna Brown, Cameron Morgan and Wilson. Against New Mexico Highlands Sorensen was hot and cold in the first half, completing 17-of-27 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns – both to Moala – but also throwing two interceptions – which were both returned for scores. The Thunderbirds opted to run the ball much of the second half, throwing just eight times with three completions for 49 yards, including one touchdown pass, again to Moala. Once again Moala led the team, with eight receptions for 74 yards and all three TDs. Mitch Jessop had three receptions for 50 yards against NMH. At PSU Sorensen completed 27-of-36 attempts at Portland State, with nine of them going to sophomore WR Mitch Jessop, who finished with two TDs (the first of his career) and a career-high 153 receiving yards. TD passes also went to Easton Pedersen and Wilson at PSU.
Pick Me Firsts: SUU has five interceptions so far this season and four of the five were the interceptor’s first. Junior SS Tommy Collet, Jr. notched the first interception of his SUU career at Utah State, redshirt freshman DE James Cowser picked off the first pass of his career at Cal, redshirt freshman CB LeShaun Sims had his first against NM Highlands and junior linebacker Randall Nygren had his first at Portland State. Sims got the second of his career at PSU as well.
Turnovers and Penalties: SUU has won the turnover and the penalty battle in each game. The Thunderbirds have turned the ball over six times so far (five interceptions, one fumble), while opponents have given it back 13 times, with SUU the beneficiary of eight fumbles and five interceptions. As far as penalties go, SUU has been whistled 26 times for 222 yards while opponents have drawn 47 flags for 416 yards.
Left-footed kickers: For the second year in a row, Southern Utah’s kickers are both left-footed. Both specialists are off to good starts. At Utah State Brock Miller punted nine times for 411 yards – including a 72-yarder on his first boot of the game – and pinned the Aggies inside the 20-yard line four times, at Cal he booted six punts 250 yards, a 41.7 yard average, pinning the Bears inside the 20 twice. Cal did return one punt for a touchdown, but it was certainly no fault of Miller’s, as the receiver – Cal all-American Keenan Allen – muffed the fair catch, then scooped it up and ran 69 yards around the right end for the score. Just one punt was returned more than 10 yards at USU and just two were returned at all. Highlands he had six punts for 266 yards, a 44.3 yard average with three inside the 20, one touchback and only one returned, for minus-8 yards. At PSU he averaged just 39.8 ypp but the three returned punts netted just eight yards and he pinned the Vikings inside the 20 once. Kicker Colton Cook went 1-for-1 on field goal attempts in the first three games and 2-for-2 at Portland State. He has averaged 62.5 yards on his kickoffs, including a 62.9 average at PSU, 65.0 at USU, 62.6 at home vs. NM Highlands and 60.4 at Cal.
Montana State will be playing its second road game of the season Saturday. The Bobcats played at Drake – where Coach Rob Ash spent 18 seasons as head coach – on Sept. 8, where they picked up a 34-24 win.
The Bobcats have been potent on the offensive side of the ball and stingy when they’ve played defense. Offensively MSU ranks 12th in the nation in scoring at 37.75 points per game and the Bobcats are 14th in total offense with 449.25 yards per game, 271 through the air and 178.25 on the ground. The MSU rushing defense is the fourth-ranked unit in the nation, allowing just 62.0 yards per game, and MSU has given up an average of 244.5 passing yards per game.
Quarterback DeNarius McGhee (6-0, 210,Jr) has passed for 261 yards and run for another 33.2 per game this season to rank 11th in the nation in total offense, at 294.25 yards per game. McGhee is the team’s leading rusher, behind running back Cody Kirk (5-10, 208, Jr), who averages 82.0 yards per game and has six touchdowns.
McGhee has completed 107-of-157 passes for 1,044 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions. His favorite target has been Tanner Bleskin (6-3, 219, Jr), who has 32 receptions for 420 yards and two TDs. Bleskin ranks eighth in the nation in receptions per game and 12th in receiving yards. Jon Ellis (5-10, 180, Jr; 17 receptions, 175 yards) and Tray Robinson (6-1, 221, Jr; 15 receptions, 101 yards) both have three TD grabs and Everett Gilbert (5-9, 195, Jr) has the second-highest average per catch on the team with 13 receptions for 150 yards, 11.5 yards per catch.
Defensively, linebackers Jody Owens (6-1, 222, So) and Na’a Moealiola (5-11, 217, Jr) rank 1-2 on the team with 31 and 26 tackles, respectively. CB Deonte Flowers (5-11, 175, So) and safety Joel Fuller (6-0, 199, Sr) each have 18 tackles. DE Caleb Schreibeis (6-3, 253, Sr) leads the team in sacks (2.0) and tackles for loss (3.5) while a trio of Bobcats, FS Steven Bethley (5-11, 210, So), LB Aleksei Grosulak (5-10, 215, So) and LB Alex Singleton (6-2, 227, So), each have an interception.