Quickly: Southern Utah University opens its 2011 home football season Saturday when the Thunderbirds host No. 12 Sacramento State at 1:00 p.m. in Eccles Coliseum.

For the second straight week the Thunderbirds will be playing a team they were formerly conference foes with. Last week’s opponent, South Dakota State, and SUU were charter members of the Great West Football Conference, while The Thunderbirds vs. Sacramento State will be a case of “Back to the Future,” as the Thunderbirds and Hornets competed in the same conference from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s (The Western Football Conference, which became the American West Conference), and SUU will join Sacramento State in the Big Sky next year.

Southern Utah (0-01/0-0 Great West) is coming off a 29-28 road loss at South Dakota State. The Thunderbirds drew first bood in the game, taking a 7-0 lead on a pass from Brad Sorensen to Daryl Brown, but the Jackrabbits took advantage of a short passing game and several SUU mistakes to score 29 straight to take a 22-point advantage into the fourth quarter. Erron Vonner returned an interception 31 yards for a score and Sorensen threw a pair of TD passes to rally the Thunderbirds in the fourth quarter, the second going to Jared Ursua with just two seconds remaining to play. Faced with the option of going for a two-point conversion and the win or a one-pointer and a tie, the T-Birds went for the win but Sorensen’s pass was knocked from Brown’s hands, spoiling the come-back bid.

Sacramento State (1-0/0-0 Big Sky) opened its season with a huge upset, outlasting Oregon State in week one, 29-28 in overtime. After falling behind 3-0, the Hornets went up 14-3 on a pair of Jeff Fleming to Chase Deadder TD passes, and extended their advantage to 21-6 when WR Morris Norrise found fellow wideout Brandyn Reed for a 39-yard score. The Beavers rallied in the fourth quarter, however, scoring 15 points on a pair of short runs and a 2-point conversion, and regulation play ended with the teams tied at 21. Oregon State got the ball first and scored a touchdown, but CSUS answered with a Fleming-to-Reed scoring toss, then stunned the Beavers with another Fleming-to-Reed hookup for the 2-point conversion.

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 gardner@suu.edu or 435-586-7753.

The Game: Sacramento State (1-0) at Southern Utah (0-1), Saturday at 1:00 p.m. (Mountain), Eccles Coliseum (8,500, grass).

The Series: Sacramento State leads the series between the two schools, 6-5, but SUU holds a 3-2 edge in the series in games played in Cedar City. CSUS has won three straight against the Thunderbirds, however, including 27-26 win in 1994, the last time the teams met in Cedar City. The last meeting came in 2004, when the Hornets took the advantage in the series with a 23-17 win in Sacramento. The last SUU win came in 1993, when the Thunderbirds claimed a 23-17 triumph in Sacramento, Calif., and the last SUU win at home was in 1992 when the ‘Birds pulled out a 17-14 triumph.

SUU In Home-Openers

A 32-3 win over San Diego last season lifted Southern Utah to 29-18-1 in home-openers since the school moved to four-year status in 1963. The win was also the third straight home-opening win for SUU, which has come out on top of seven of its last 10 home-openers.

SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb is 3-0 in home-openers. In addition to the win over San Diego last year, the Thunderbirds claimed a 36-7 win over Dixie State in 2009 and a 38-10 win over Adams State in 2008.

Catch SUU’s Home Games on My Utah TV, this week on tape-delay: All of Southern Utah’s home games will be televised 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.

Due to a scheduling conflict with REAL Salt Lake, this week’s game will be televised on tape-delay basis, beginning at 4:30 p.m. All subsequent games will be televised live.
    
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 2011 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.

Sonny Boy’s Coaches Show: This season Coach Ed Lamb will host a weekly radio coaches show each Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. on Power 91. The Coaches show will broadcast live from Sonny Boy’s Barbecue, 126 No. Main in Cedar City. Fans in attendance will be eligible for Sonny Boy’s gift certificates and prizes throughout the show.

Next Up/Remaining Schedule:

Southern Utah stays at home next week, when the T-Birds host Texas-San Antonio in the school’s annual Homecoming game at 6:00 p.m.

Following the UTSA game, SUU 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).

The Coaches: A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 15-19 one game into 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 Sacramento State.

Sacramento State’s Marshall Sperbeck (Nevada, 1984) brings a 21-25 record into at CSUS into the game. Prior to taking over the Hornet program, Coach Sperbeck had a successful career in the junior college ranks, guiding Foothill College to a 109-53 mark over 15 seasons. This is his first meeting with SUU.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is in 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. Sacramento State is a member of the Big Sky Conference.

Captains:
 This year’s captains are senior defensive end Tyler Osborne, senior safety Erron Vonner and senior running back Daryl Brown.

SUU In The FCS National Ranks: 


SUU has nine players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 14 major statistical categories following the first week’s games, while the team figured among the top-50 programs in seven categories.
 
Defense: SS Erron Vonner and DT Cody Larsen are tied for seventh with one interception per game, while Chad Hansen is 12th in tackles with 12. Larsen and LB Blake Fenn are tied for 30th in sacks with one, while CB Marlon Hogains is 38th in tackles with 10.

Offense: On the offensive side of the ball, QB Brad Sorensen ranks fourth in completions per game with 31, 10th in passing yards per game with 340, 12th in total offense with 325 yards per game, 12th in points responsible for with 22 and 39th in passing efficiency with a rating of 137.96. WR Jared Ursua ranks seventh in receptions per game (9.0) and eighth in receiving yards per game (129.0), while Brady Measom (7.0) and Daryl Brown (6.0) rank 22nd and 40th, respectively, in receptions per game.

Special Teams: Punter Tate Lewis ranks 33rd this week in yards per punt at 41.0.

Team: The Thunderbirds rank among the top-50 in seven categories, including 12th in passing offense with 340 yards per game. The Thunderbirds are also 14th in net punting at 41.4 yards per punt, 33rd in sacks with 2.0 per game, 34th in total offense at 393 yards per game and 36th in points per game with 28. SUU is also even in turnover margin to rank 40th and 47th in passing efficiency at 135.06.

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:

• Brad Sorensen completed 31-of-46 passes for 340 yards and three touchdowns at South Dakota State. He overcame four sacks and three interceptions earlier in the game to rally team from 29-7 fourth-quarter deficit by completing 13-of-21 attempts and throwing  two TD passes, including what could have been the game-winner with 2 seconds remaining. The team went for two but receiver Daryl Brown wasn’t able to hang onto the ball in the end zone with a defender over his back. On the final drive he completed seven straight passes, including the TD toss. The 340 yards are Sorensen’s fourth-best single-game total and are eighth-best in school history, while the 31 completions represent his second-highest total and the fifth-most in school history.

• Sorensen’s three interceptions on Saturday were half of his total for the entire 2010 season when he threw just six. Two of his 2010 picks came in the season-finale' at eventual national champion Eastern Washington.

• Sophomore linebacker Chad Hansen made his first start as a Thunderbird at South Dakota State, and although the team came out on the wrong end of the decision, the game should be memorable for him. He led the Thunderbirds with 12 tackles, seven solo, and broke up a pass but his biggest play came with under three minutes to go and the Jackrabbits running out the clock when he hit SDSU running back Tyrel Kool in the backfield, forcing a fumble that Blake Fenn recovered, leading to SUU’s final score of the game.

• Freshman punter Tate Lewis also had a memorable first game. He punted four times for 164 yards, an average of 41.0 ypp. On his first punt he was up against the back of the end zone and the snap was a little high and wide, he handled it, however, and boomed a 48-yarder. He also scrambled out on a run/punt option, made the correct choice and kicked it rugby style into the wind for his shortest kick of the night, a 38-yarder. None of his punts were returned.

• Erron Vonner intercepted a pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown. It was a great run, as he broke one tackle and evaded would-be tacklers. Last year he nearly had a return for a touchdown in the season-opener at Wyoming when he recovered a fumble and returned it 18 yards, leading to a score.

• In addition to Lewis and Hansen, SUU got contributions from a handful of newcomers and redshirts. True freshman Brady Measom returned a punt three yards and had seven receptions for 48 yards, while sophomore transfer Colton Cook handled the team’s kickoff and PAT duties. Safety Brennan Fjord, a transfer from Snow College, had four tackles, three solo, in his first game as a Thunderbird.

• SUU didn’t attempt a field goal for the first time since the game at Texas State last year, a span of eight games. That game was the only time in 2010 the ‘Birds didn’t attempt a field goal.

• SUU is in 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 marked 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.

• 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 in 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.     

Hornet Notes: The Hornets were receiving a lot of attention heading into the season. They were ranked as the 10th-best team in the country by Phil Steele’s Football Preview and were 24th in The Sports Network poll and by The Sporting News. Last Saturday they proved that the attention was not just hype, with the upset of Oregon State and a subsequent jump to No. 12 in the polls.

The Hornets have eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, including defensive end Zack Nash (6-4, 260, Sr) – a pre-season all-American as well as a member of the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List – and quarterback Jeff Fleming (6-4, 200, Jr), who was a freshman starter at New Mexico State in 2009 before transferring to Sacramento State and taking the Hornets’ reins last year.

Flemming threw for 2,044 yards and a school-record 23 touchdowns last season, when he finished with 2,443 yards of total offense, the fifth-best mark in CSUS history. He was outstanding last week at Oregon State as well, completing 22-of-35 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. He was also the team’s leading rusher, with 39 yards on the ground.

Nash tallied 16.5 tackles-for-loss and 13 sacks last season, including school-records of five sacks and six TFLs at Idaho State. He entered the season fifth on the school’s all-time sacks list with 19 and seventh on the TFLs list with 25.5 and promptly added another sack at Oregon State to move into third place on the sacks list with 20.

Morris Norrise (5-11, 180, So) led three receivers with six catches at OSU, finishing with 89 yards while throwing another scoring strike to Brandyn Reid (6-3, 190, Sr), who had six receptions for 85 yards and two scores as well as the catch on the 2-point conversion that won the game. WR Chase Deadder (6-5, 215, Sr) also had six grabs, for 61 yards and two more scores.

The Hornets finished with 367 yards of total offense last week, 296 of them coming on the ground, while allowing Oregon State 496 yards (266 rushing, 280 passing). OLB Todd Davis (6-1, 230, So) led the defense with 12 tackles, while SS Ryan McMahon (6-0, 190, Jr) added 10.