Quickly: Southern Utah University opens its 2011 football season Saturday when the Thunderbirds take on South Dakota State at 6:00 p.m. (Central) in Brookings, S.D. The game is the season-opener for both squads.
Southern Utah (0-0/0-0 Great West) is coming off a 6-5 season, its best campaign since the 2004 squad also finished with a 6-5 mark. The Thunderbirds finished with a perfect 4-0 mark in the Great West Conference last year to claim their first GWC championship.
South Dakota State (0-0/0-0 Missouri Valley) posted a 5-4 mark last season, including a 4-4 conference mark to tie for fourth place in the conference. A playoff team in 2009, the Jackrabbits lost their first four games last year before bouncing back to win five of their last seven.
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 at 6:15 p.m.
Media Availability: Players and coaches are available for interviews on Tuesdays following practice, at approximately 6:15 p.m. To contact a player or coach on another day or time contact Neil Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-586-7753.
The Game: Southern Utah (0-0) at South Dakota State (0-0), Saturday at 6:00 p.m. (Central), Coughlin-Alumni Stadium (15,000, natural grass), Brookings, S.D.
The Series: South Dakota State owns a 3-1 edge in the series with the Thunderbirds, including a 2-0 mark in Brookings. The 'Jacks scored 36 unanswered points, 28 in the fourth quarter, to overcome a 27-16 deficit and pull out a 52-27 home win the last time the teams met, in 2007. SDSU has won three straight after SUU took a 23-17 win in double-overtime the first time the teams met, in Cedar City in 2004.
SUU In Season-Openers and Road-Openers
Southern Utah is 25-23-0 in season-openers since the school moved to four-year status in 1963 ... over that same time-span SUU is 13-35 in road-openers ... although SUU is 5-5 in its last 10 season-openers the Thunderbirds will be looking to stop a six-game streak of losses in road-openers, including a 28-20 setback at Wyoming in the season-opener last season ... the last time the Thunderbirds won their first road game of the season was in 2004 when they took a 34-31 season-opening win at Weber State ... this year's game breaks a streak of three straight SUU road openers at Mountain West Conference foes.
SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb is 1-2 in season-openers. In his three previous season-openers, Lambs teams have lost a 41-7 decision at Air Force in his first game at the SUU helm in 2008, notched a 36-7 home win over Dixie State in 2009, and fell 28-20 at Wyoming last year.
The Thunderbirds have opened on the road seven of the last nine years. In addition to this year's game the previous openers away from home in that span were the game at Wyoming last year, at Air Force in '08, at Montana in '07, at Idaho State in '05, at Weber State in '04 and at Nevada in '03.
TV: There will be no live television for Saturday's game.
Catch SUU's Home Games LIVE on My Utah TV: All of Southern Utah's home games will be televised live by My Utah TV (KMYU), which is available over the air and via cable and satellite. In southern Utah it is available over the air on Digital channel 2.2 and 12.1 and in Utah it is available on the following cable outlets: Comcast (channel 22), Baja (20) and Bresnan (18). It is also available in Utah on Dish Network, channel 12.
Video Highlights: Video highlights of the Thunderbirds' 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 2010 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. Art Challis is entering his 35th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Dave McMullin, a former all-conference defensive lineman for the Thunderbirds, provides color commentary.
GWC Teleconference: The Great West Conference holds a weekly teleconference, beginning at 12:45 p.m. (Mountain). The conference's head coaches all address their previous and upcoming games. For information on accessing the teleconferences, contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner. The schedule follows:
12:45 p.m. - Introduction by Commissioner Ed Grom
12:47 p.m. - Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh
12:55 p.m. - South Dakota coach Ed Meierkort
1:03 p.m. - North Dakota coach Chris Mussman
1:11 p.m. - Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb
1:19 p.m. - UC Davis coach Bob Biggs
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 Thunderbirds open their home season Sept. 10, when they host Sacramento State at 1:00 p.m. in Eccles Coliseum.
Southern Utah stays at home on Sept. 17 to host Texas-San Antonio in the school's annual Homecoming game at 6:00 p.m., then travels down I-15 for a match-up with UNLV on Sept. 24. The Thunderbirds open their final Great West Conference season at home at 1:00 p.m. on Oct. 1 when they host North Dakota, followed by conference games at South Dakota (Oct. 8) and Cal Poly (Oct. 15), and a third straight road game at Weber State (Oct. 22).
The T-Birds wrap up their GWC and home slates the following weekend when they host UC Davis on Oct. 29, before a bye week, Nov 5. The final two regular-season games have the Thunderbirds at Northern Iowa (Nov. 12) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 19).
A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 15-18 entering his fourth season as the Thunderbird head coach and his fourth season as a head coach overall. Last year Lamb guided the Thunderbirds to their first-ever Great West Conference championship and their most successful season since 2004 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. This is Lamb's first game against SDSU.
South Dakota State's John Stiegelmeier (SDSU, 1989) heads into the season with an 66-66 career record. He has spent all 14 of his seasons as a head coach at his alma mater. Coach Stiegelmeier is 3-1 against the Thunderbirds, having been at the Jackrabbit helm in all four previous meetings between the two schools on the gridiron.
Affiliations: Southern Utah is beginning its eighth and final season in the Great West Conference after eight seasons as an NCAA Division I (FCS) independent. The Thunderbirds will join the Big Sky Conference next season. SUU is affiliated with The Summit League in all its other sports except women's gymnastics, which competes in the Western Athletic Conference. South Dakota State plays football in the Missouri Valley Conference, but competes against the Thunderbirds in The Summit League in its other sports.
SUU In The FCS National Ranks:
SUU had six players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 11 major statistical categories following the 2010 season, while the team figured among the top-30 programs in 10 categories.
Defense: DE Tyler Osborne finished 12th in tackles for loss with 1.68 per game, while Akeem Anifowoshe was just out of the top-50, in 62nd with 1.09 per game. Osborne was also 28th in sacks per game with 0.64 per contest. Blake Fenn was just outside the top-50 in total tackles, in 58th with 8.82 per game.
Offense: On the offensive side of the ball, Tysson Poots was third in total receiving yards with 1,230, fourth in receiving yards per game with 111.82 and fourth in receptions per game with 7.73. Fesi Sitake ranked sixth in receptions per game (7.45), 26th in total receiving yards (877), 26th in receiving yards per game (79.73) and 25th in all-purpose yards per game (133.00). QB Brad Sorensen finished the season ranked sixth in total passing yards (3,163), fourth in completions per game (23.73), seventh in passing efficiency (151.61), fourth in passing yards per game (287.55), eighth in total offense (288.18 ypg) and 22nd in points responsible for with 12.55 points per game. Austin Minefee was also just outside the top-50, ranking 58th in rushing with an average of 69.45 ypg.
Special Teams: SUU two players ranked in special teams categories, kicker Brock Miller, who was 14th in field goals per game (1.33) and 35th in scoring (7.00 points per game), and Sitake, who was 25th in punt returns (10.76 ypr).
Team: The Thunderbirds ranked among the nation's top-30 in 10 major statistical categories at season's end, with three rankings in the national top-10. The passing offense ranked fifth with an average of 296.09 yards per game and 10th in efficiency (147.32). SUU also ranked 10th in total offense (431.09 yards per game). The T-Birds were also ranked 16th in scoring defense (19.18 ppg allowed), 21st in rushing defense (116.27 ypg), 22nd in sacks (2.45 per game) and total defense (309.73 ypg), 25th in tackles for loss (7.09 per game), and 29th in scoring offense (29.73 ppg) and turnover margin (plus 0.45). In some of the more obscure categories, SUU ranked fourth in turnovers lost (12), seventh in fumbles lost (five), eighth in first downs (22.36 per game), 13th in red zone defense (0.71 percent success rate), 14th in interceptions thrown (seven) and 24th in third down efficiency (42.07 success rate).
Preseason Accolades: Quarterback Brad Sorensen and defensive end Tyler Osborne both received pre-season all-America honors from Consensus Draft Services. In addition, Sorensen is on the Payton Award Watch List and was named the pre-season offensive player of the year by the GWC Coaches.
SUU Picked To Repeat In GWC Coaches Poll: Southern Utah earned two first place votes and wound up with 20 points to edge Cal Poly, which had 19 points (and two first-place votes), as the coaches favorite to win the conference title this season. UC Davis received the other first-place vote and finished third with 17 points, while South Dakota was tabbed to finish fourth with 13 points and North Dakota received six points. Last season the Thunderbirds finished 4-0 to win their first GWC championship, followed by UC Davis at 3-1, Cal Poly at 2-2, South Dakota at 1-3 and North Dakota at 0-4.
Thunderbird Quick Hits:
- SUU will be entering its 49th season as a four-year football-playing institution and its 26th as a member of the NCAA. The 2011 season also marks the Thunderbirds' 19th as a member of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision and is the school's eighth in the Great West Conference.
- The opener at South Dakota State marks the seventh time in the last nine seasons the Thunderbirds have played their first game of the season on the road. Last year SUU opened at Wyoming, in 2008 the team opened at Air Force, in 2007 it was at Montana, in 2005 at Idaho State, in 2004 at Weber State and in 2003 the opener was at Nevada. The two openers at home have been against Dixie State in 2009 and in 2006 when the 'Birds kicked off the season against Montana Tech at Eccles Coliseum.
- The Thunderbirds have six coaches' first-team all-conference players returning, including running back Austin Minefee, offensive lineman Trevor Schauerhamer, defensive end Tyler Osborne, cornerback Dion Turner, safety Erron Vonner and junior quarterback Brad Sorensen. All but Sorensen will be seniors this fall. Osborne, Vonner and Sorensen also received first-team all-conference honors from the media, who also selected offensive linemen Gavin Farr and Zach Brackus and defensive lineman Cody Larsen. Minefee, Schauerhamer and Turner received second-team honors from the media, while Farr and Larsen were second-team selections by the coaches. Returning LB Blake Fenn earned second-team honors on both squads.
- Sorensen and Osborne have both received pre-season All-America status from several publications, and Sorensen is listed on this year's Payton Award Watch List.
- SUU has eight returning academic all-GWC honorees, including Vonner, Fenn, Schauerhamer and Larsen, along with senior OL Brock Christensen, senior DB Zack Olsen, junior OL Russell Petersen and sophomore DL Brad Meyer.
- SUU plays all of its 11 games against NCAA Division I opponents this year, with nine against teams from the championship subdivision and two from the bowl subdivision. UNLV and UT-San Antonio are the two FBS opponents. UTSA is a first-year program which is beginning under the FBS umbrella.
Coaching Lineup: The staff returns intact for 2011, with Head Coach Ed Lamb entering his fourth season on the SUU sidelines. Justin Ena, an NFL veteran and former BYU standout, will continue as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Former BYU and Utah assistant Steve Clark will again handle offensive coordinator duties, while Paul Peterson, a former JC all-American at Snow College who was also a successful QB at Boston College, will again handle the quarterbacks and receivers as well as heading up recruiting and taking on the mantle of passing game coordinator. Ryan Hunt, a former all-conference performer at offensive tackle for SUU, returns as defensive line coach while Demario Warren, a former UC Davis running back, returns as secondary coach. Another NFL veteran and former BYU standout Teag Whiting, is in his second season as offensive line coach after working as a graduate assistant in 2009. Ronnie Pentz is in his fourth season with the team, his second co-coordinating special teams and his first as tight ends coach after working with the linebackers the past three seasons. Aaron Fernandez, an all-GWC defensive tackle in 2008, returns as a defensive assistant and assistant recruiting coordinator, while former Thunderbird standout WR/KR Justin Wattenscheid enters his second season with the team as co-special teams coordinator and running backs coach. The only newcomer to the staff is two-time all-GWC receiver Fesi Sitake, who will work with the team's receivers while he finishes his degree.
SUU's Eccles Coliseum is one of two football stadiums in the world sporting both the Olympic Rings and an Olympic Cauldron inside the stadium (The Los Angeles Coliseum is the other). Southern Utah's Olympic Cauldron, donated by DCI Incorporated of Utah, was lit by the Olympic Torch Feb. 5, 2002, during the Olympic Torch Relay.
Quick SUU Outlook: Southern Utah's coaches and players are cautiously optimistic heading into the 2011 season, their final campaign in the Great West Conference before next year's jump to the Big Sky. There are a handful of reasons for that optimism:
1. The Thunderbirds return 16 starters, including nine on the
offensive and six on the defensive side of the ball as well as
their placekicker, from the 2010 squad which claimed the
school's first GWC championship.
2. They have nine returning players who earned first-team
all-GWC honors last year, including three who were first-
team selections by both the coaches and the media.
They're also an intelligent bunch, as eight were named aca-
demic all-GWC, including five starters and three who were
primary reserves at their positions in 2010.
3. They have two pre-season all-Americans: returning all-
conference selections Brad Sorensen, a junior quarterback,
and Tyler Osborne, a senior defensive end.
4. Once again the coaching staff returns intact. Over the last
four seasons the team has lost just one full-time coach, so
there has been great stability in the staff as the team has
continued to improve.
5. The Thunderbirds head into the season ranked among
the nation's top-25 FCS squads by several publications, in-
cluding 16th by The Sporting News.
The only things that might temper the team's enthusiasm about the upcoming season are a schedule which includes just four home games, as well as the task of replacing the players lost to graduation - something every school goes through every year.
As far as the schedule goes, while Lamb would undoubtedly rather have at least one additional home game, he likes the way it shapes up. With the opener at South Dakota State - a rising power from the Missouri Valley Conference - he says the team will have a challenge from day one.
"I like the way the schedule lines up," Lamb notes. "It's a good challenge for our guys. The first game is on the road against an established program with a strong winning tradition in a major [FCS] conference, so right from game one I think we have a microcosm of our season.
"If we can't beat good football teams on the road, throughout the season, consistently, then we're going to have a poor win-loss record at the end of the year," he adds. "We can't just win our home games and steal a few road games here and there and have any sort of a season that can be deemed successful by our own standards."
Jackrabbit Notes: Last year SDSU suffered its first losing season since making the move from Division II to the FCS level in 2004, finishing at 5-6. That was one season after the team advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time in 2009, finishing with a 7-5 mark after losing to Montana in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite the overall losing record last year, The 'Jacks were able to finish in a tie for third in the Missouri Valley Conference, at 4-4, thanks to a stretch in which they won 4-of-5 games, including conference wins over a pair of top-25 squads, Western Illinois and Southern Illinois.
This year's team features 15 returnings starters, including eight on the offensive side of the ball, six on defense and one specialist. Junior quarterback Thomas O'Brien returns after throwing for 2,236 yards and 10 touchdowns with 15 interceptions last season. top receiver Tyrell Kool returns after catching 64 passes for 808 yards, but the Jacks will be looking to replace running back Kyle Minnet, who ran for 1,208 yards and 12 TDs last season.
Defensively SDSU has five of its top eight tacklers back from last season, including senior linebackers Mike Lien, who was second on the squad with 98 stops last year, and Dirk Kool, who was fourth with 70, including a team-high seven tackles for loss. Co-sacks leader Andy Mink, a defensive tackle, also returns, along with starting ends Jake Steffen and Zacharia Bowers. The secondary lost three all-conference players, including both safeties and a cornerback.
Coach Ed Lamb On The Thunderbirds: "I think our guys are doing a real good job. To have training camp for as long as we've had it, to be reporting on August 1 and now have it being pretty darned near the end of the month I think the guys have kept a consistent, persistent enthusiasm and passion for their work and work ethic. I think that showed up [in Saturday's final scrimmage]. We definitely need to get better, we need to use the mistakes made [in he scrimmage] and improve over the next week, we need to be a lot better next Saturday than we were today, but I think being a week out I'm pleased with their focus, pleased with where we are right now."
Coach Lamb On South Dakota State: "South Dakota State has a traditionally strong program. They have a way of doing things that has been consistent, a head coach who has been there a long time ... their coaching staff does a really good job. They're big, they're tough, they have a big offensive line; I think we'll probably face three offensive lines that are as big as our own and these guys will be one of them. It will be a great test up front for our defense. They'll emphasis the running game - they've got a strong-armed, athletic quarterback - but they haven't been in our type of a passing game where they spread it out and try to beat you with the passing game at any time of the game. They're more about running the football, taking their chances at opportune times with play-action passes, and then playing smart, sound, tough defense. Defensively it looks like they have a lot of returners but maybe not a lot of depth ... their coach seems to be very concerned about their defensive depth."