Quickly: Southern Utah wraps up the road portion of its 2013 football season Saturday when the Thunderbirds travel to Bozeman, Mont. to take on nationally-ranked Montana State in a Key Big Sky Conference match-up.
The Thunderbirds (7-3/4-2 Big Sky) are coming off a 27-21 road win at Weber State on Saturday. SUU has won back-to-back games for the third time this season and will be trying to make it three in a row with a first-ever football win against the Bobcats, who are ranked eighth and 10th in this week’s Sports Network and Coaches polls, respectively
After a slow start the Thunderbirds tied last week’s game at 7-7 late in the first half, then went on to build a 24-7 fourth quarter lead before giving up two late scores to the Wildcats.
Montana State (7-3/5-1 Big Sky) is coming off a 54-29 setback at No. 3 Eastern Washington. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Bobcats, who were ranked fourth by the Sports Network and fifth by the coaches heading into the weekend.
MSU and Eastern Washington were neck-and neck through the first half, with the Eagles holding a 26-21 edge at the break, but EWU out-scored the Bobcats 27-7 in the second half to seal the win.
The Game: Southern Utah (7-3/4-2) vs. Montana State (7-3/5-1) Saturday at 4:05 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium (17,777/Field Turf).
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 www.suu.edu/ksuu. Dr. Art Challis, who is in his 40th season as the Voice of the Thunderbirds provides the play-by-play while Brian Brown will provide analysis.
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 WatchBigSky.com: Internet telecasts of all of SUU’s home games as well as its Big Sky road games are available through WatchBigSky.com (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 WatchBigSky.com). Viewers who had an account with BigSkyTV will be able to use that account to access WatchBigSky.com.
TV: Saturday’s game will not be televised in Utah but will be televised locally in Montana by Max Media.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-586-7753.
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: Although all the previous games have been close, Montana State holds a 3-0 lead in the series, including a 24-17 win in Cedar City on Homecoming weekend last year. Both of the other prior meetings came in Bozeman, a 7-3 victory in 2007 and a 32-31 win in 1993.
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, Sacramento 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 Thunderbirds host Northern Arizona in the regular-season finale for both teams next week.
A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 33-32 in 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. Coach Lamb is 0-1 vs. the Bobcats.
Montana State’s Rob Ash (Cornell College, 1973) is 57-25 in his ninth season as head coach at Montana State and 233-124-5 in his 34th 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 2-0 vs. the Thunderbirds.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is a member of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision’s Big Sky Conference in the majority of its sports, including football (gymnastics is an NCAA Division I independent while men’s golf will compete in the American Sky Conference this season). Montana State is also a member of the Big Sky Conference.
Notes from the Weber State Game:
• The win gave Coach Ed Lamb his first seven-victory season and assured a winning campaign for the third time in the last four years.
• Mike Sharp started the game at quarterback and gave the team a 14-7 lead with a one-yard touchdown run in the third period. On his next play from scrimmage, however, he was sidelined by a leg injury. Aaron Cantu came on in relief and completed 8-of-17 passes for 117 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to Griff McNabb.
• Sharp led the team in rushing for the third time this season. He finished with 81 yards on the ground.
• Sharp and Levi Te’o both had one-yard TD runs, the second of the season for each of the freshmen.
• Te’o’s touchdown came on first-and-goal after he carried for a first down on fourth-and-one on the previous play. The Weber State defenders were celebrating keeping Te’o out of the end zone on the play, apparently not realizing he had easily picked up the first down.
• Defensive end James Cowser had three sacks and a quarterback hurry as the Thunderbirds tallied a season-high five sacks. Matt Holley and Miles Killebrew also had sacks as the team wound up with eight tackles for loss.
• Cowser also blocked a field goal attempt.
• Cornerback LeShaun Sims had two of the biggest plays of the day, intercepting a pass and returning it 20 yards to set up a short touchdown drive and recovering a fumble that led to an SUU field goal drive.
• SUU was down 120-8 in total yards after the first quarter but out-gained the Wildcats 251-230 the rest of the way, including a 93-24 edge in the second period and 176-92 in the second and third periods combined.
• Colton Cook was 2-of-3 on field goal attempts, leaving him with 49 for his career. He has 16 on the season, the second-most in SUU history and three shy of his own SUU single-season record, which he set last year.
• Punter Brock Miller sacrificed distance for field position against the Wildcats, as he punted eight times for 314 yards, 39.2 yards per punt, his lowest average of the season. He pinned WSU inside the 20 on three of the eight, however, and the Wildcats did not have a return. WSU’s Tony Epperson also had an outstanding day, punting seven times for 320 yards without a return.
• The Thunderbirds finished with a season-low 11 pass completions but the 155 yards were their fourth-fewest passing yards of the year.
• Weber State rushed for 87 yards. It was the fifth time this season SUU has held its opponent to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
SUU In The FCS/BSC National Ranks:
SUU has seven players ranked among the FCS top-50 in eight statistical categories and the team figures among the top-30 programs in 13 categories and among the top-40 in four more.
Defense: DE James Cowser ranks third in the FCS and second in the Big Sky in tackles for loss with 1.7 per game and he is fifth in the nation and second in the Sky with 0.9 sacks per game. SS Tommy Collet Jr. and CB LeShaun Sims are tied for 44th in the country and fifth in the BSC with 0.3 interceptions per game, and LB Matt Holley is 48th in the country and fifth in the BSC with 1.2 TFL per game. Tyree Mills’ 0.7 interceptions per game would lead the nation but he has played in just six games and players must appear in 75 percent of their team’s contests to be eligible.
Offense: On the offensive side of the ball QB Aaron Cantu ranks among the nation’s top-50 in two categories: 21st in completion percentage at .645 and 36th in completions per game with 18.3; those numbers rank third and fifth in the BSC.
Special Teams: Kicker Colton Cook’s 1.6 field goals per game rank third in the nation and lead the Big Sky while his field goal percentage (.800) ranks 23rd, and is third in the conference. Punter Brock Miller’s 43.5 yards per punt average puts him 14th in the nation and fourth in the conference.
Team: In the team categories, SUU leads the Big Sky in 10 categories, including fumbles lost with one, which is also the best mark in the FCS. SUU also leads the BSC in red zone defense (.667, third in the nation), time of possession (33:32, fifth), turnovers gained (24, eighth), fourth down conversion percentage (.727, 10th), rushing defense (109.7 ypg, 11th), fumbles recovered (11, 12th), scoring defense (20.3 ppg, 13th), passes intercepted (13, 14th) and total defense (348.6 ypg, 30th).
SUU ranks second in the Big Sky in first downs defense with 181 allowed (37th in the FCS) and third in the BSC in net punting at 39.34 ypp (fifth) and turnover margin (plus-1, eighth). SUU also ranks among the nation’s top-35 programs in red zone efficiency (33rd at 84.6 percent, fifth in the Big Sky), fewest penalties per game (34th at 5.3 per game, fourth in the BSC) and fewest penalty yards per game (34th at 46.7, fourth in the BSC).
T-Birds Receiving Votes In Polls: Southern Utah was listed among the others receiving votes in the FCS Coaches and Sports Network’s top-25 polls this week. SUU received 16 points to rank 30th in the coaches poll and 133 points to rank 29th in the Sports Network poll this week.
ROOT Sports Players of the Week:
LeShaun Sims has been named ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Defensive co-Player of the Week for his play in the Thunderbirds’ 27-21 win at Weber State last Saturday. Sims had two key plays in the game that both led to Thunderbird scores. The first was an interception early in the third period that he returned 20 yards to the WSU 12-yard line to set up SUU’s go-ahead touchdown. The second was a fumble recovery on the Wildcats’ ensuing possession that led to an SUU field goal and a 17-7 advantage. Sims, who shared this week’s recognition with Montana safety Matt Hermanson, also tallied four tackles, including a tackle for loss, in the game.
Colton Cook earned his third ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week award of the season for his play against Idaho State. Cook was 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, one shy of the SUU single-game record, and hit his only PAT try in the 19-9 win.
Tyree Mills and Brock Miller were named Players of the week for their performances in the Thunderbirds’ 17-7 win over Portland State. Mills earned Defensive Player of the Week honors while Miller was named Special Teams Player of the week.
Mills had two of the biggest plays of the day, a pair of interceptions, one of which he returned 41 yards to the Viking one-yard line to set up a touchdown. He also broke up three more passes and tallied nine tackles, eight of which were solo stops. In just three games this season Mills has intercepted four passes.
Miller punted seven times for 340 yards, an average of 48.6 yards per kick, and pinned the Vikings inside their 20 yard line three times, including twice inside the 10-yard line. In addition to the other seven he had one partially-blocked punt which still managed to travel 44 yards before being downed at the Viking six. Miller is the school’s career punt average leader, at 43.2 yards per punt.
Cook earned the special teams award following the Northern Colorado game. Cook was perfect in helping lift the Thunderbirds to a 27-21 win at Northern Colorado on Saturday. He was 3-for-3 on extra point attempts, 2-for-2 on field goal attempts and all of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. Cook’s season-long 48-yard field goal gave the Thunderbirds a 3-0 lead and set the SUU career field goals record at 39. His 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter gave the T-Birds a 27-14 advantage and extended the career record.
Junior linebacker Matt Holley was named 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.
Cook was named Special Teams Player of the Week following the South Alabama game. He 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.
CSN Players of the Week
Colton Cook and freshman running back Raysean Martin have earned National All-Star honors from College Sporting News this season. Cook was honored for his play at South Alabama while Martin was honored for his play at Sacramento State.
Cook’s performance at South Alabama is detailed above.
Martin, helped lead the Thunderbirds to the 24-21 overtime win by carrying 26 times for 131 yards and all three of the SUU touchdowns. He also completed a 33-yard pass for a first down during the team’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation play. His carries, yards and touchdowns were all career-highs and the three TDs were the most by an SUU running back since Major Gray had four scoring runs against UC Davis in 2009.
• Senior PK Colton Cook sets SUU’s career record every time he hits a field goal. His 38-yard game-winner at Sacramento State put him into a tie atop SUU’s career-field goals list with Herkey Marxen at, appropriately, 38. He has subsequently succeeded on 11 more tries to put the record at 49. His nine points at Weber State gave him 224 for his career to move him past Rod Madsen (222 from 1998 to 2001) and one shy of the SUU mark by a kicker, 225, by Herkey Marxen (1986-89). He also has 77 PAT which puts him in fourth place on SUU’s career list, 29 behind Steve Pulver’s 106 (2003-07).
• Senior WR Fatu Moala – who has caught a pass in 30 straight games and in every game he has ever played in during his SUU career, 31 – moved into fifth place on a pair of career lists at Northern Colorado and after the three subsequent games he has 140 receptions for 1,722 yards. He is 354 yards behind Bob Stookey (1988-91) and three receptions behind A.J. Smith (2003-04) for fourth place on both respective lists. Moala is also knocking on the door of another list as he needs just one touchdown to move into a tie for ninth in SUU’s career receiving TDs list (he is currently 11th with 10).
• Senior punter Brock Miller’s eight punts for 314 yards at Weber State made his career average dip from 43.29 yards per punt to 43.1, but it is still the best average in school history. Trevor Ward, who last played in 2009, is second at 42.3 ypp. His 2013 season average of 43.5 yards per punt ranks fourth at SUU.
2013 Preseason Accolades: SUU has three preseason all-Americans and preseason all-Big Sky performers heading into the 2013 campaign. PK Colton Cook and OL Gavin Farr each earned a variety of all-America honors, while WR Fatu Moala was a first-team all-BSC honoree as well as a second-team all-American as named by the Senior Scout Bowl.
Scouting the Bobcats:
Montana State averages 36.7 points and 447.4 yards of total offense per game, with 200.4 of those yards coming on the ground and 247 through the air. The Bobcats have an aggressive defense as well, as they lead the Big Sky in sacks with 2.6 per game and are second in tackles for loss with 5.9. Overall MSU has allowed 383.2 yards per game, 234.9 passing and 148.3 rushing, and the Bobcats have allowed opponents an average of 24.9 points per game.
Individually, the Bobcats feature some of the most dynamic players in the Big Sky, including quarterback DeNarius McGhee, the BSC’s pre-season player of the year and two-time MVP, as well as running back Cody Kirk and defensive end Brad Daly.
McGhee, who missed two games with an injury early in the season, is just 14 players in NCAA history to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for 1,000. He has completed 138-of-203 passes for 1,737 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions this season, and he has carried 57 times for 210 yards and three scores.
Kirk, a second-team all-BSC selection in 2012, averages 99.4 rushing yards per game and leads the Big Sky with 18 rushing touchdowns. He has also caught 18 passes for 166 yards.
Daly, another 2012 second-team all-BSC honoree, leads the nation in both sacks and tackles for loss, with an average of 1.3 sacks and 1.9 TFL per game.
McGhee’s favorite target has been senior WR Tanner Bleskin, the school’s all-time leading receiver. This season he has 58 receptions for 858 yards and three TDs, while junior WR Jon Ellis, who is second on the list with 31 catches, has 369 yards and five touchdowns. Senior wideout Brian Flotkoetter has caught 29 balls for 474 yards and three scores as well.
Kirk is not the Bobcats’ only weapon at running back, as Shawn Johnson has carried 93 times for 556 yards and five touchdowns and is fourth on the team with 24 receptions for 234 yards and a score.
On the defensive side of the ball Daly has a lot of friends. Outside linebacker Alex Singleton leads the team with 81 tackles, including 15 for losses and 1.5 sacks, and he also has a team-high three interceptions. Middle linebacker Michael Foster is second on the squad with 61 tackles and has a team-high three fumble recoveries. OLB Cole Moore co-leads the team in passes broken up with five, has two interceptions and is third on the squad with 61 tackles, while Steven Bethley also has five PBU, with one pick and 55 total tackles. Daly has 53 total tackles, and along with his stops behind the line of scrimmage he has a team-best six QB hurries, an interception and two passes broken up.