Football Travels To Washington State

September 10, 2013
By SUU Strategic Communication
Griff McNabb leads SUU in receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns
Griff McNabb leads SUU in receiving, punt returns and kickoff returns
Courtesy: Greg Stauffer

Quickly: Southern Utah University hits the road for the first of three straight away games this week when the Thunderbirds travel to Pullman, Wash., to take on Washington State on Saturday afternoon. 

Southern Utah (2-0/0-0 Big Sky) is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since the 2006 season and will be looking to get off to their first 3-0 start since 1980. The Thunderbirds opened the season with a 22-21 win at South Alabama, then made it two straight with a 49-0 home win over Division II Fort Lewis last week.

Washington State (1-1/1-0 Pac-12) is coming off a 10-7 win at Southern Cal last Saturday. The Cougars opened with a 31-24 loss at Auburn on the opening weekend of the season then bounced back in their conference-opener last week against the Trojans.

Saturday’s game will be SUU’s second at a Pac-12 school in as many years. The T-Birds lost a 51-30 decision at Cal last season in their only other match-up with a Pac-12 school in football.

The Game: Southern Utah (2-0/0-0) at Washington State (1-1/1-0), Saturday at 3:30 p.m. (PDT) at Martin Stadium (33,522/FieldTurf).

Radio: All of Southern Utah’s 2013 football games will be 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 Dr. Art Challis is in his 40th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference performer for the Thunderbirds, will provide color commentary.

TV: Saturday’s game is scheduled to be televised by the Pac-12 Networks.

Media Availability: Players and coaches are available for interviews on Tuesdays following practice, at approximately 7:00 p.m. To contact a player or coach on another day or time, or to arrange telephone interviews, contact Neil Gardner at or 435-586-7753.

Video Highlights: High definition video highlights of ALL 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.

Live Internet Video on Internet telecasts of all of SUU’s home games as well as its Big Sky road games are available through (formerly BigSkyTV). The broadcasts are free of charge but a subscription is necessary and viewers need to download the latest versions of Adobe Flash and Octoshape if they do not already have them (the downloads are available on Viewers who had an account with BigSkyTV will be able to use that account to access

Thunderbird Practice Schedule: The players are off on Mondays, with daily practices Tuesday through Friday. Tuesday practices are scheduled to begin at 5:35 p.m., Wednesday practices will begin at 5:30, while Thursday and Friday practices will start at 4:45 p.m.

The Series: Saturday’s game will be the first between the two teams on the football field.

Big Sky Teleconference: The Big Sky Conference holds a weekly coaches teleconference, Wednesdays beginning at 10:00 a.m. (Mountain). For information on accessing the teleconference, contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner. The schedule follows:

            10:00 a.m. MTN (9:00 PCT) – Rob Ash, Montana State

            10:08 a.m. MTN (9:08 PCT) – Chris Mussman, North Dakota

            10:16 a.m. MTN (9:16 PCT) – Ed Lamb, Southern Utah

            10:24 a.m. MTN (9:24 PCT) – Jody Sears, Weber State

            10:32 a.m. MTN (9:32 PCT) – Mike Kramer, Idaho State

            10:40 a.m. MTN (9:40 PCT) –  Mick Delaney, Montana

            10:48 a.m. MTN (9:48 PCT)  – Earnest Collins Jr., No. Colorado

            10:56 a.m. MTN (9:56 PCT) – Jerome Souers, No. Arizona

            11:04 a.m. MTN (10:04 PCT) –  Nigel Burton, Portland State

            11:12 a.m. MTN (10:12 PCT) – Marshall Sperbeck, Sac State

            11:20 a.m. MTN (10:20 PCT) – Beau Baldwin, E. Washington

            11:28 a.m. MTN (10:28 PCT) – Tim Walsh, Cal Poly

            11:36 a.m. MTN (10:36 PCT) – Ron Gould, 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.

The Coaches

A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 28-29 two games into his sixth season as the Thunderbird head coach and his sixth season as a head coach overall. Last year Lamb guided the Thunderbirds to a 5-6 record, including a 4-4 mark in SUU’s first season in the Big Sky Conference. In 2011 he led the T-Birds 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. Lamb also spent two seasons as defensive coordinator at Idaho, 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 against the Cougars.

Washington State’s Mike Leach (BYU, 1983) is 4-10 in his second season at the helm of the Cougar program and 88-53 in his 12th season overall as a head coach. Prior to taking over at WSU, Leach spent 10 years at Texas Tech where he led the Red Raiders to 10 bowl appearances. Leach is 0-0 vs. the Thunderbirds.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is a member of the Big Sky Conference in the majority of its sports, including football (gymnastics is an independent while men’s golf will compete in the American Sky Conference this season). Washington State is a member of the Pac-12 Conference.

Notes from the Fort Lewis Game:

• The Thunderbirds forced seven turnovers in the game, five fumbles and two interceptions, and they were able to convert all but one into scores. The only turnover that didn’t result in a score was an interception late in the second quarter. SUU missed a 51-yard field goal at the end of the half following that pick.

• Senior free safety Tommy Collet Jr. picked off a pass for the third straight game. He had one at South Alabama and he returned a pick for a touchdown in the season-finale at Northern Arizona last year.

• Sophomore cornerback Myles Carelock notched his first career interception.

• The Thunderbirds returned two fumbles for touchdowns, a 19-yarder by junior linebacker Matt Holley and an 89-yarder by sophomore strong safety Miles Killebrew. Killebrew’s effort was the second-longest fumble return in SUU history, bettered only by Akeem Anifowoshe’s 99-yarder vs. Texas State in 2009. Killebrew had a 49-yard return vs. New Mexico Highlands last season, which was the last time returned two fumbles for scores. Austin Anderson – who forced the fumble Holley turned into a touchdown – had the other fumble return for a TD in the Highlands game.

• SUU posted its first shutout since 2010 when the Thunderbirds beat Dixie State 52-0.

• Two players, freshman running back Toa Afatasi and sophomore running back Malik Brown scored the first TD of their collegiate careers in the game, while Holley, Killebrew and junior receiver Easton Pedersen tallied their first scores of the season. Afatasi was playing in his first game as a Thunderbird.

• Quarterback Aaron Cantu threw four touchdown passes, one short of the SUU single-game record.

• Tight end Anthony Norris caught his second and third touchdown passes of the season to take over the team scoring lead with 18 points, one more than kicker Colton Cook.

• True freshman quarterback Mike Sharp ran the team for most of the second half and wound up leading SUU in rushing and all-purpose yards with 67. Sharp joined the team in the spring as a quarterback but with a glut of QBs on the roster he moved to receiver. He was moved back to quarterback this fall after a spate of injuries to the Thunderbirds’ reserve QBs late in the spring and early in fall ball.

• The win gave Coach Ed Lamb his first 2-0 start as a head coach.

SUU In The FCS National Ranks: 

After two weeks of the season SUU has 13 players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 12 statistical categories, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in 24 categories and among the top-30 in 21.

Defense: LB Matt Holley co-leads the FCS in tackles for loss with 2.8 per game, is second in fumbles recovered with 1.0 per game and is tied for 18th in fumbles forced – along with teammates Chad Hansen and Austin Andersen – with 0.5 per game. FS Tommy Collet Jr. is tied for first in the nation with one interception per game and is 22nd in passes defended with 1.5 per game with CB Myles Carelock tied for 27th with 0.5 picks per game. SS Miles Killebrew, CB LeShaun Sims and DT Toi Taufa are all tied for 30th with 0.5 fumble recoveries per game.

Offense: On the offensive side of the ball, QB Aaron Cantu ranks sixth in passing efficiency at 178.2, is 11th in points responsible for with 30 and is 50th in passing yards per completion at 11.4. TE Anthony Norris ranks 26th in scoring with 9.0 points per game.

Special Teams: Punter Brock Miller ranks ninth in the nation with a 45.1 yards per punt average while kicker Colton Cook is 11th in field goals per game with 1.5. Griff McNabb is 44th in punt return average at 1.3 yards per return.

Team: In the team categories SUU is tied atop the list in five categories. In fumbles lost, interceptions thrown and turnovers lost SUU has zero in each category, while the T-Birds also lead the nation with five fumbles recovered and a 0.333 succes rate by opponents in the red zone. The ‘Birds also rank second in turnover margin at plus-4.0 per game, third in turnovers gained with eight, fifth in net punting at 42.91 ypp and sixth in passing efficiency with a 173.89 rating. SUU is also ninth in scoring defense (10.5 ppg), 11th in total defense (274.5 ypg), 14th in interceptions (1.5 pg), and 23rd in three categories: passing yards allowed (157 pg), penalty yards per game (32.5) and defensive third down efficiency (32 percent). The Thunderbirds rank 24th in scoring offense (35.5 ppg) and tackles for loss (7.0 per game), 26th in penalties per game (4.5), 27th in third down efficiency (46.4 percent conversion rate), and 29th in pass efficiency defense (110.50 rating). SUU also ranks 34th in rushing defense (117.5 ypg) and 35th in red zone efficiency at 90.9 percent, with the only failure to score coming on the final drive of the Fort Lewis game when the team drove to the FLC eight before letting time expire.

T-Birds Receiving Votes In Polls: Southern Utah was listed among the others receiving votes in both the FCS Coaches and the Sports Network’s top-25 polls this week. SUU was 27th in the coaches poll with 18 points and 28th in the Sports Network poll with 185 points.

ROOT SPORTS Players of the Week:

Junior linebacker Matt Holley was named ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week following the Fort Lewis game. Holley tallied three tackles for loss, including a sack, forced one fumble and recovered two more fumbles on the night. All three of the fumble plays resulted in scores, either directly or indirectly. He returned his first fumble recovery 18 yards for SUU's second touchdown of the game while the other came at the FLC 19 yard line and the Thunderbirds scored on the next play. His solo sack and fumble-forced came on the same play when FLC QB Jordan Doyle coughed up the ball and Toi Taufa picked it up and returned it 40 yards, setting up another SUU touchdown. 

Senior placekicker Colton Cook was named ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week following the South Alabama game. Cook, a senior from Bountiful, Utah (Viewmont HS) was 3-3 on field goals and 1-1 on extra points in the Thunderbirds’ 22-21 win at South Alabama. He scored the first and last points of the game, on a 33-yard field goal to stake SUU to a 3-0 first quarter lead and a 28-yarder as time expired to lift the Thunderbirds to the 22-21 victory. He also had a 37-yarder in the third period and was perfect on his only point after touchdown attempt.

College Football Performance Awards: 

Quarterback Aaron Cantu was named National Quarterback of the Week for his play against Fort Lewis by College Football Performance Awards, while punter Brock Miller, linebacker Matt Holley and safety Miles Killebrew each earned honor roll recognition. Cantu completed 15-of-16 pass attempts for 136 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a quarterback efficiency rating of 247.65 for the game. Miller averaged 48 yards per punt and pinned the Skyhawks inside the 20 twice, including once on the two. Holley had three tackles, all for losses, forced a fumble and recovered two more and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. Killebrew also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery, an 89-yarder which was the second-longest in SUU history, and had three solo tackles.

Cook and Holley were both honored for their play at South Alabama. Cook was named National Placekicker of the Week, while Holley, a junior from Las Vegas, Nev. (Centennial HS) earned honorable mention from the CFPA for his performance in the game. Holley led SUU with a career-high 13 tackles. He also led team with six solo tackles and three tackles-for loss. On USA's final drive he had a tackle for a 4-yard loss on second down and a QB hurry on third, forcing the Jaguars to punt and setting up SUU's winning drive. Cook’s contribution is detailed above.

Records Watch: Senior WR Fatu Moala moved into the SUU career top-10 in a pair of categories last week, while two more Thunderbirds improved on or moved up in the Thunderbird top-10. With his three receptions for 34 yards vs. FLC Moala now has 96 career catches for 1,225 yards in his two-plus seasons at SUU. He moved past Stan Jones, who had 94 receptions in 1973 and 1974, and past Rob Edwards, who totalled 1,220 receiving yards from 1983 to 1986. Brock Miller’s four punts for 192 yards improved his SUU-best career average from 42.68 to 42.91 yards per kick, and while he didn’t move up Colton Cook’s seven points give him 173 points, which is eighth on the SUU list  (25 behind seventh place Kelvin Minefee, 1988-89) and his 65 PATs are just three shy of Joe Wells’ (1978-80). He is also two field goals shy of Herkey Marxen’s SUU career record of 38.

Scouting the Cougars: 

Washington State will be playing its home-opener this week after playing at Auburn and Southern Cal in the first two weeks of the season.

While Mike Leach-coached teams have traditionally been known for their offenses, the Cougar defense has been tough in the first two games, particularly last week when it limited the then-ranked Trojans to 193 yards of total offense and just 54 through the air with no USC offensive play going for more than eight yards. Cornerback Damante Horton sparked the Cougars with a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown and also sealed the win with another pick late in the game. For his efforts Horton was named Pac-12 defender of the week as well as National Defensive Player of the Week by Athlon Sports and the CFPA’s defensive back of the week.

Through the first two games strong safety Deone Bucannon leads the Cougars with 22 tackles, 14 solo, while linebacker Justin Sagoe and cornerback Daquawn Brown each have 15 stops. Brown also has broken up a team-high two passes. Linebacker Cyrus Coen co-leads the team in both sacks (1.0) and tackles for loss (2.0), while Horton also has two TFLs and his two interceptions lead the team.

Offensively QB Connor Halliday has taken every snap and has completed 61 of 103 passes (.592) for 559 yards and a touchdown. His favorite targets have been WRs Gabe Marks and Kristoff Williams, who have 13 receptions for 119 yards and 10 catches for 98 yards, respectively. WR Dom Williams has been the big-play receiver, with five catches for 93 yards, including a 50-yarder, while Bobby Ratliff has the team’s lone touchdown reception as well as the team’s long play of the year, a 53-yard reception.

On the ground running backs Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason average 36.0 and 33.5 yards per game, respectively. Both are also multiple threats, however, as Caldwell leads the team in kickoff return yards with 30 while Mason has 38 receiving yards.