Quickly: Southern Utah University plays the first of two season-ending road games this weekend when the Thunderbirds travel to Grand Forks, N.D. to take on the University of North Dakota in a Big Sky Conference match-up.
Southern Utah (4-5/3-3 Big Sky) evened its Big Sky record last week with a 30-27 win over then-No. 1 Eastern Washington. It was SUU's first home win in Big Sky play and a good way to send the seniors out in the team's final home game of 2012. The Thunderbirds had suffered close losses at home to then-No. 2 Montana State (24-17), Sacramento State (27-22) and Weber State (24-22) in their previous three Big Sky home games. SUU has won both its BSC road contests, however, coming out on top at both Portland State (49-42) and Montana (30-20).
North Dakota (4-5/2-4 Big Sky) traveled to Montana State last weekend and came away with a 55-10 loss to the then-No. 4 Bobcats. UND had snapped a three-game conference losing streak the prior week with a 40-34 home win over Montana.
The Game: Southern Utah (4-5/3-3) at North Dakota (4-5, 2-4), Saturday at 1:05 p.m. (Central), Alerus Center (12,283/AstroTurf).
The Series: Saturday's game will be the sixth meeting between SUU and UND. The Thunderbirds hold a 3-2 edge in the series between the two first-year Big Sky rivals, but North Dakota won the last one, a 26-20 victory last year in Cedar City when the Thunderbirds were ranked 17th and UND was 24th. That win snapped a three-game SUU winning streak over North Dakota, which included a pair of wins in Grand Forks. SUU came out on top 15-14 in the first meeting at UND in 2008 and was a 31-21 winner in 2010 in the other meeting in Grand Forks. Both of UND's wins have come in Cedar City.
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 in his 39th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference center for the Thunderbirds, provides color commentary.
On The Internet: Video web-streaming 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 Saturday's game will be available on the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com.
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 6:30 p.m.
Media Availability: Players and coaches are available for interviews on Tuesdays following practice, at approximately 6:30 p.m. SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb participates in the Big Sky teleconference each Wednesday and media representatives are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity. His regularly scheduled time is 10:16 a.m. (Mountain). To contact a player or coach on another day or time, or to arrange telephone interviews, contact Neil Gardner at email@example.com or 435-586-7753.
Big Sky Teleconference: The Big Sky Conference holds a weekly coaches teleconference, beginning at 10:00 a.m. (Mountain). For information on accessing the teleconferences, contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner. The complete schedule follows:
10:00 a.m. - Rob Ash, Montana State
10:08 a.m. - Chris Mussman, North Dakota
10:16 a.m. - Ed Lamb, Southern Utah
10:24 a.m. - Jody Sears, Weber State
10:32 a.m. - Mike Kramer, Idaho State
10:40 a.m. - Mick Delaney, Montana
10:48 a.m. - Earnest Collins, Jr., Northern Colorado
10:56 a.m. - Jerome Souers, Northern Arizona
11:04 a.m. - Nigel Burton, Portland State
11:12 a.m. - Marshall Sperbeck, Sacramento State
11:20 a.m. - Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington
11:28 a.m. - Tim Walsh, Cal Poly
11:36 a.m. - Bob Biggs, UC Davis
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: The season wraps up next week with a Big Sky game at Northern Arizona (Nov. 10).
A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 24-28 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. Coach Lamb is 3-1 vs. North Dakota.
Chris Mussman (Iowa, 1990), takes a record of 27-25 in four-plus seasons into the game. All five of his seasons as a head coach have been at UND. Coach Mussman is 1-3 against the Thunderbirds.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is beginning its first season in the Big Sky Conference following eight years as a member of the Great West Conference. North Dakota is also in its first season the Big Sky, following four years in the Great West.
Big Sky Players of the Week
Sorensen, a senior quarterback from Grand Terrace, Calif., completed 33-of-43 passes for 392 yards and a touchdown in the Thunderbirds' 30-27 upset of then-No. 1 Eastern Washington on Saturday. He was particularly effective in the second half when he completed 15-of-24 passes for 224. His 21-yard pass to Fatu Moala with 7:01 remaining tied the game at 27-27, then he engineered a 61-yard drive in the final three minutes to set up the game-winning field goal. Sorensen was Co-Offensive Player of the Week, along with Sacramento State QB Garrett Safron.
Cook, a junior kicker from Centerville, Utah, kicked that game-winning field goal, from 36 yards out with three seconds to play. After missing his first field goal attempt, a 42-yarder into a stiff crosswind, he nailed his next three, including 24- and 32-yarders. His two first half field goals allowed the Thunderbirds to be tied at halftime 13-13. He was also a perfect 3-for-3 on extra point attempts and four of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks.
College Football Performance Awards
Killebrew, a redshirt freshman safety from Henderson, Nev. (Foothill HS) was named National Punt Returner of the Week. He got the Thunderbirds on the scoreboard first Saturday when he blocked a Jake Miller punt, then scooped up the ball and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. The touchdown was Killebrew's second of the season, along with a 49-yard fumble return he scored on against New Mexico Highlands University on Sept. 15.
Cook and Browning earned weekly honorable mention honors vs. EWU after Cook hit three field goals, including the 36-yard game-winner, and three PATs, while Browning led the team with 15 tackles, 14 solo, with a tackle-for loss and a fumble recovery.
SUU In The Big Sky and FCS National Ranks:
SUU has nine players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 15 statistical categories this week, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in eight major categories and among the top-30 in three.
Defense: Linebacker Zac Browning ranks third nationally and leads the Big Sky in total tackles with an average of 12.0 per game and he is second in fumbles forced with 0.5 per game, best in the BSC. Defensive tackle Cody Larsen and DE James Cowser co-lead the Big Sky and are tied for 21st nationally in tackles for loss with 1.33 per game while cornerback LeShaun Sims is 23rd in the FCS in interceptions with 0.43 per game, the fourth-best average in the BSC. Larsen and Cowser are tied for fifth in the BSC with 0.56 sacks per game, 63rd-best in the FCS. Larsen is also fourth-best in the BSC in fumbles forced with 0.33 ffpg and ninth in fumbles recovered with 0.22 per game.
Offense: Quarterback Brad Sorensen ranks among the FCS top 50 in six categories: he is sixth in total passing yards with 2,551, 10th in completions per game with 25.7, 11th in passing yards per game with an average of 283.4 (2nd BSC), 24th in points responsible for with 13.8 ppg, 17th in total offense with 277.4 yards per game (3rd BSC) and 47th in passer efficiency at 132.79. Wide receiver Mitch Jessop ranks 45th in receiving yards per game, with 74.1 (7th BSC) and Fatu Moala is 28th in receptions per game with 6.1 (4th BSC).
Special Teams: Colton Cook leads the BSC and is second in the nation in field goals per game with 1.78 field goals per game and he is 30th in the country and third in the BSC in scoring at 8.1 ppg (first in the BSC among kickers). Punter Brock Miller is 17th in the FCS with a 42.9 yards per punt average, seventh in the BSC. Josh Smith is 62nd in the nation but second in the BSC in kickoff return average, at 21.8 ypr.
Team: In the team categories, SUU is first in the BSC and second in the nation in turnover margin at plus 1.56, 13th in the FCS and fifth in the BSC in net punting with an average of 38.0 ypp and 4th/16th in passing offense with 283.4 yards per game. SUU is also 5th/33rd in sacks with 2.33 per game, 41st in the FCS in tackles for loss with 6.3, 8th/42nd in kickoff returns at 21.3 ypr and 8th/46th in punt returns at 8.7 ypr.
In a couple of more obscure categories the Thunderbirds are first nationally in both fumbles recovered with 15 and fewest fumbles lost, with two, second in turnovers gained with 25, third in red zone offense at 94 percent, and 21st in interceptions with 10.
Notes from the Eastern Washington Game: After going without an interception for the first time all season against Weber State the 'Birds got back on track when LeShaun Sims jumped in front of a Vernon Adams pass in the first quarter vs. EWU. It was Sims' team-leading third pick of the season. ... Colton Cook hit three field goals field goals, giving him three games this season with three field goals, the second-highest single-game total in SUU history; his third was not only the game-winner, but it was his 16th of the season, an SUU single-season record ... Brad Sorensen completed a season-high 33 passes against Weber State and against Eastern Washington; the 392 passing yards vs. EWU were a season-high. ... SUU broke up a season-high seven passes, led by Sims with two. ... after missing the Weber State game Brian Wilson returned and led the team with 93 rushing yards on 20 carries. ... Fatu Moala (112) and C.J. Morgan (100) each had 100 or more receiving yards, it was the first time since the 2010 season finale that two T-Birds had broken the 100-yard mark; the 2010 game was at Eastern Washington. ... SUU held EWU to 91 rushing yards, the second-lowest total by a Thunderbird opponent this season, behind New Mexico Highlands' minus-20 yards on the ground.
Into the Record Books: Brad Sorensen moved atop the SUU career-passing list with his 327-yard game against Sacramento State. That game gave him 7,639 passing yards in his three seasons at SUU and moved him past Rick Robins, who threw for 7,441 yards from 1992-96. Sorensen became the first Thunderbird to pass for over 8,000 yards when he threw for 320 against Weber State, and his 392 yards vs. Eastern Washington give him a career total of 8,705. Sorensen also passed Robins to move into second place on the total yards list vs. CSUS. Sorensen now has 8,622 total yards while QB Matt Cannon, who ran for a good portion of his yards, is atop the list with 8,930, from 1997 to 2000. Earlier this season Sorensen set the record for career touchdown passes and completed passes. He currently has 57 TD tosses and has completed 735 passes, and he moved into first place on the pass attempts list vs. Weber State, and now has 1,102.
First-year players have done well for the Thunderbirds all season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The young defenders have dominated the SUU stat sheet in four of the seven games and had significant impact on all six Big Sky contests so far.
A look at SUU's season statistics shows the top five tacklers are first-year starters, and four of those are freshmen, including linebacker Zak Browning, who leads the team with 96 tackles as a true freshman. Miles Killebrew, a redshirt freshman linebacker, is third with 53 tackles, while true freshman LB Mike Needham is fourth with 52 stops. Redshirt freshman defensive end James Cowser is fifth with 50 tackles and is the team's co-leader in sacks with 5.0 and tackles for loss with 12. Cornerback LeShaun Sims, another redshirt freshman, has missed two games but he leads the squad with three interceptions and is 10th on the team with 26 tackles.
The two first-year starters who aren't freshmen are senior linebacker Namari Flentroy and junior cornerback Tyree Mills, who are second and eighth on the team with 59 and 37 tackles, respectively.
Browning had his second career 15-tackle game to lead the team against Eastern Washington, while Needham was second with nine stops and Sims and Collet each had eight. Browning and Needham each had a TFL against the Eagles, Browning recovered a fumble and Sims broke up two passes and intercepted a third.
Quiet Excellence: Senior defensive tackle Cody Larsen is quietly having a very strong year. The senior defensive tackle ranks among the nation's leaders in both sacks and tackles for loss despite playing in the middle of the line. He leads the team with five QB hurries and co-leads the team in tackles for loss with 12.0, and in sacks with 5.0. He has also forced three fumbles and recovered two more. During his career Larsen has notched 17 sacks, which ranks sixth all-time on the SUU list.
Good Vibrations: Senior tailback Brian Wilson didn't play against Weber State after suffering an injury at Montana. He got back into action against Eastern Washington, however, and although he didn't start he wound up leading the team on the ground with 93 yards on 20 carries. He has been the Thunderbirds' leading rusher all season but he didn't notch a rushing touchdown until he finally got into the end zone against Sacramento State.
Benchmark Stat: SUU rushed for exactly 100 yards against Eastern Washington. The Thunderbirds have won now consecutive games in which they rushed for 100 yards or more.
Passing Game: After struggling to pass the ball at Utah State SUU has improved in that area in the subsequent games, including a season-high 392 yards through the air vs. Eastern Washington. Brad Sorensen completed 33 passes for the second straight game last week, including a TD pass to Fatu Moala, also for the second straight game. The team finished with a then-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. Senior QB 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. Sorensen completed 25-of-47 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns - to Wilson and Jessop - against Montana State, but he did throw two interceptions, including one on a Hail Mary to Jessop in the corner of the end zone as time expired in the game. SUU passed for a season-high 327 yards against Sacramento State, including the team's longest pass play of the season, an 82-yarder from Sorensen to Jessop. Griff McNabb had his first TD reception in the Sac State game as well. At Montana Sorensen took his lumps, with a career-high seven sacks, but he also completed 30 passes for 294 yards and a pair of touchdowns, to Fatu Moala and to Henna Brown, and he also notched his first rushing touchdown of the season. Sorensen threw for another 320 yards against Weber State, when he completed 33-of-47 attempts, including TD passes to Griff McNabb (his second of the season) and Fatu Moala (his team-leading sixth).
Pick Me Firsts: SUU has 10 interceptions so far this season and seven of them were the interceptor's first career pick while the other three went to players who got their first earlier in the season. 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, junior linebacker Randall Nygren had his first at Portland State, junior cornerback Tyree Mills notched his first vs. Montana State, freshman cornerback J.T. Anderson got his first against Sacramento State and freshman safety Michael Byrd got his first at Montana. The other three interceptions this season went to Sims, who got the second of his career at PSU and his third vs. Eastern Washington, while Collet got his second against Sacramento State.
If It's Close, It's A Score: Southern Utah has been very effective in the Red Zone this season, scoring 29 of the 31 times the team has advanced the ball to the opponent's 20 yard line, or 94 percent of the time. The Thunderbirds have scored 18 touchdowns once reaching the Red Zone and have converted 11 scores via field goal. The only blemishes in the Red Zone came in the season-opener at Utah State when the Thunderbirds drove to the Aggie nine yard line but threw an interception on the final play of the game, and against Eastern Washington when an interception spoiled a drive into the zone. SUU converted 28 consecutive drives into the Red Zone into points between the two miss-fires.
Turnovers and Penalties: SUU has won the turnover and the penalty battle in all but one game this season. The exception was at Montana, where the Grizzlies were flagged just four times for 48 yards while the Thunderbirds were penalized nine times The Thunderbirds have turned the ball over 11 times so far (nine interceptions, two fumbles) this season, while opponents have given it back 25 times, with SUU the beneficiary of 15 fumbles and 10 interceptions. As far as penalties go, SUU has been whistled 56 times for 475 yards while opponents have drawn 83 flags for 728 yards.
For the second year in a row, Southern Utah's kickers are both left-footed. Both specialists have been solid. Brock Miller got off to a good start, punting nine times for 411 yards at Utah State - including a career-long 72-yarder on his first boot of the game - and pinning the Aggies inside the 20-yard line four times, and he has been solid ever since, kicking 53 times for 2,272 yards to rank 17th in the country with his 42.9 yards per punt average. He has pinned the opponent inside the 20 yard line 21 times, with five touchbacks and 11 boots of 50 yards or more. His 51.6 yards per punt average against Weber State is the third-best single-game average in SUU history and his current 42.9 ypp average is the fourth-best.
Placekicker Colton Cook moved atop the SUU single-season field goals list against Eastern Washington when his three makes gave him 16 on the season, one more than Ryan Griffith hit in 2009. Cook hit a career-long 49 yard field goal against Montana State but missed two more long efforts, from 47 and yards, but he got back on track against Sacramento State when he drilled all three of his field goal attempts and he was 1-for-1 at Montana and 3-for-3 again vs. Weber State. Although he missed his first FG attempt in a stiff wind vs. EWU, he is now 16-19 on field goals and 23-25 on extra points this season. Cook's 30 career field goals rank third on SUU's all-time list, while his 51 career PATs rank fifth.
Kick Start: Cook's three made field goals against Sacramento State and again vs. both Weber State and Eastern Washington tied the total for second-most field goals in a game at SUU. The record for field goals in a game at Southern Utah is five (by Ryan Griffith vs. Dixie State in 2009), but kickers have now booted three in a game eight times for the T-Birds.
North Dakota Notes:
North Dakota has been up-and-down this season, winning big vs. South Dakota Mines (66-0) and at Sacramento State (35-13) and playing San Diego State to a 49-41 verdict, but also losing by large margins at Eastern Washington (55-17) and Montana State (55-10). UND is 3-2 at home this season, with wins over SD Mines, Portland State (45-37 in a non-conference game) and Montana (40-34). The home losses both came at the hands of ranked Big Sky opponents, a 35-17 setback against #16 Cal Poly and a 45-38 loss to #12 Northern Arizona.
The North Dakota offense is high-powered, averaging 440.3 yards per game, including 299 through the air and 141.3 on the ground, and 34.3 points per contest. UND's defense has given up an average of 479.9 yards and 35.9 points per game, with 244.4 of the opponents' yards coming on the ground and 235.4 through the air.
North Dakota has used two quarterbacks this season, Marcus Hendrickson (6-1, 197, Sr) and Braden Hanson (6-5, 212, Sr), with Hanson getting the start last week at Montana State. Hanson has completed 105-of-152 passes for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions, while Hendrickson is 89-159 for 1,304 yards and 15 scores with three picks.
Wide receiver Greg Hardin (5-11, 167, Jr) leads the team with 51 receptions for 988 yards and 13 touchdowns, while Jameer Jackson (6-3, 233, RFr) has caught 43 balls for 587 yards and six scores. Kenny Golladay (6-4, 185, Fr) and R.J. McGill (5-10, 170, Jr) have 24 and 22 receptions, respectively.
Jake Miller (5-11, 167, Jr) and Mitch Sutton (6-0, 220, Sr) have rushed for 436 and 402 yards, respectively, but Sutton has been the money back, getting into the end zone nine times to Miller's one. Hendrickson is also a threat with his feet when he's in the game, as he has rushed for 252 yards and another score for UND.
Defensively North Dakota has been led by linebackers Garrison Goodman (6-2, 213, Jr) and Ben Peters (6-2, 242, So) with 47 and 46 tackles, while SS Baylee Carr (5-9, 172, So) has 43 stops. End Jay Nelson (6-4, 245, Sr) co-leads the team in both tackles for loss (5.0) and sacks (3.5), while reserve free safety Will Lewis (5-10, 180, Jr) leads the team with two interceptions.