Football Hosts Wildcats

October 15, 2012
By SUU Strategic Communication

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James Cowser is among the Big Sky leaders in sacks and tackles for loss
James Cowser is among the Big Sky leaders in sacks and tackles for loss
Courtesy: Deb Hill

Quickly: Southern Utah University opens a two-game homestand Saturday when the Thunderbirds host Weber State in the penultimate home game of their season.

Southern Utah (3-4/2-2 Big Sky) snapped a two-game skid last Saturday when the Thunderbirds went into Missoula, Mont., and posted a 30-20 Big Sky Conference victory over Montana. Brad Sorensen shook off seven sacks to throw two touchdown passes and run for another, while Zach Browning led the defense with 18 tackles in the T-Bird win.

Weber State (0-7/0-4 Big Sky) suffered a 19-14 loss at Sacramento State last week to remain winless on the season. The Wildcats had a 7-0 second period lead against the Hornets but gave up 19 unanswered points before scoring again with 3:59 to play, but CSUS was able to run out the clock and seal the win on its subsequent possession.

The Game: Weber State (0-7/0-4) at Southern Utah (3-4/2-2), Saturday at 1:05 p.m., Eccles Coliseum (8,500/Hellas MatrixTurf).

The Series: Weber State holds a 14-4 lead in the series, including a 3-1 mark in games played in Cedar City. SUU won the last contest, however, as the Thunderbirds outlasted the Wildcats 35-28 last season in Ogden, Utah. WSU won the first 11 meetings before SUU broke through in Ogden with a 39-7 triumph during the 1999 season. The teams split the next four games, but WSU had won two straight, in Ogden in 2006 and a 27-10 win the last time the teams met in Cedar City, in 2005, before last season's Thunderbird win. SUU's home win over the Wildcats came during the 2001 season when the Thunderbirds prevailed 28-21 in the season-opener for both teams.

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 Art Challis is entering his 38th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference center for the Thunderbirds, will provide 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 Audio of SUU games is available at the Thunderbirds' website at or at

Live Stats: Live stats of SUU's home games may be found on the Thunderbird website at Real-time live stats of SUU's home games are also available to working media, contact the athletic media relations office for access.

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 6:00 p.m.

Media Availability: Players and coaches are available for interviews on Tuesdays following practice, at approximately 6:00 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 or 435-586-7753.

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 host their final two game of the season next week when Eastern Washington visits Cedar City on Oct. 27. The season wraps up with road games at North Dakota (Nov. 3) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 10).

The Coaches

A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 24-27 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 1-0 vs. Weber State.

Jody Sears (Washington State, 1991), who is in his first season as a head coach, takes a record of 0-7 into the game. Coach Sears is 0-0 vs. 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. Weber State is a charter member of the Big Sky.

Captains: This year's captains are seniors Brad Sorensen (QB) and Cody Larsen (DT).

Big Sky Players of the Week: Southern Utah's Brock Miller was named the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance last week at Montana. Miller punted seven times for 301 yards and pinned the Grizzlies inside their own 20 yard line four times. Montana didn't have much luck returning Miller's punts either, as the Grizzlies wound up with minus-two punt return yards. Miller's biggest contribution came when he didn't punt the ball, however, instead tucking it and running 22 yards on fourth and two to sustain an SUU drive that led to the field goal that gave the Thunderbirds the lead for good.

Josh Smith was named the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance at Portland State. The redshirt freshman from South Jordan, Utah (Bingham HS) returned six kickoffs a total of 173 yards, including a 95-yard return for a touchdown to open the second half. His total return yardage ranks fifth all-time on the SUU single-game kickoff return charts and his 95-yard return is tied for the sixth-longest return in SUU history. He is the first player in the Sky to return a kickoff for a touchdown this season.

Moala Named BSC Player of the Week by College Sports Madness: SUU junior receiver Fatu Moala was named the Big Sky Conference's offensive player of the week by College Sports Madness. Moala had a career-high 11 receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown in the Thunderbirds' 30-20 win at Montana.

Notes from the Montana Game: SUU has had an interception in every game this season and all but two of them were by first-time interceptors. The streak stayed alive, barely, at Montana where freshman safety Michael Byrd intercepted a Trent McKinney pass on the final play of the game. ... In addition to Zak Browning's career-high 18 tackles, freshman LB Mike Needham (13) and senior DT Cody Larsen (11) posted career-highs in tackles. ... For the first time this season RB Brian Wilson did not lead the team in rushing as he finished with 12 yards on seven carries; Myles Crawford Harris led the team with a career-high 64 yards on eight carries, including his first career TD run, of 34 yards. ... SUU was whistled nine times for 66 yards in penalties, including six false starts, while Montana drew just four flags, for 48 yards; it was the first time this season SUU was the more-penalized team.

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. After throwing for 294 more yards at Montana Sorensen is on the verge of becoming the first Thunderbird to pass for over 8,000 yards, with a current total of 7,993. Sorensen also passed Robins to move into second place on the total yards list vs. CSUS. Sorensen now has 7,898 total yards while Matt Cannon, who ran for a good portion of his yards, is atop the list with 8,930 yards, from 1997 to 2000. Earlier this season Sorensen set the record for career touchdown passes and completed passes. He currently has 54 TD tosses and has completed 669 passes.

Young Defense: 

First-year players have done well for the Thunderbirds so far this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. They young defenders have dominated the SUU stat sheet in three of the six games and had significant impact on all five contests so far.

A look at SUU's season statistics shows the top five tacklers are first-year starters, and three of those are freshmen, including linebacker Zak Browning, who leads the team with 71 tackles as a true freshman. Miles Killebrew, a redshirt freshman linebacker, is third with 46 tackles, while redshirt freshman defensive end James Cowser is fourth with 43 tackles co-leads the squad with four sacks and is second on the team with 10.0 tackles for loss. True freshman linebacker Mike Needham, who became a starter against Sacramento State, is sixth with 30 tackles and has a team-high three passes broken up. Cornerback LeShaun Sims, another redshirt freshman, has missed two games but he co-leads the squad with two interceptions and is still ninth on the team with 24 tackles.

At Montana Browning and Needham had 18 and 12 tackles, respectively, while senior Cody Larsen also had 12, including 1.5 TFLs. Cowser had nine tackles, including a sack, while Collet had seven and Sims had five after returning to the field subsequent to missing the previous two games.

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 in tackles for loss with 10.5, is the co-leader in sacks and quarterback hurries with four of each. He has also forced three fumbles and recovered two more. During his career Larsen has notched 16 sacks, which ranks sixth on the all-time SUU list.

Passing Game: After struggling to pass the ball at Utah State SUU has improved in that area in the subsequent games. 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.

Pick Me Firsts: SUU has nine interceptions so far this season and seven of them were the interceptor's first career pick while the other two 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 two interceptions this season went to Sims, who got the second of his career at PSU while Collet got his second against Sacramento State. SUU's nine interceptions are tied for the 16th-most in the FCS this season.

If It's Close, It's A Score: Southern Utah has been very effective in the Red Zone this season, scoring 22 of the 23 times the team has advanced the ball to the opponent's 20 yard line, or 96 percent of the time. The Thunderbirds have scored 16 touchdowns once reaching the Red Zone and have converted six scores via field goal. The only blemish on the Red Zone record 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. Since that play SUU has converted 21 consecutive drives into the Red Zone into points, including 16 touchdowns.

Turnovers and Penalties: SUU had won the turnover and the penalty battle in each game until Montana was flagged just four times for 48 yards while the Thunderbirds were penalized nine times for 66 yards, but they did win the turnover battle 2-1. The Thunderbirds have turned the ball over 10 times so far (eight interceptions, two fumbles), while opponents have given it back 21 times, with SUU the beneficiary of 12 fumbles and nine interceptions. As far as penalties go, SUU has been whistled 46 times for 388 yards while opponents have drawn 66 flags for 585 yards.

Wildcat Notes:

Weber State has failed to put anything into the win column so far this season, but the 0-7 overall and 0-4 Big Sky marks are misleading as the Wildcat setbacks have included losses at BCS schools Fresno State and Brigham Young as well as against No. 18 McNeese State and this week's No. 1 team, Eastern Washington. Last week they narrowly lost at Sacramento State, 19-14, and the loss to Eastern Washington was a six-point affair, 32-26.

Senior quarterback Mike Hoke (6-2, 235) leads the Wildcat offense which averages 209.4 yards per game through the air and 123.7 on the ground. Hoke has completed 131-of-227 passes for 1,305 yards and seven touchdowns. His favorite target has been WR Jordan Clemente (6-4, 220, Jr), who has caught 32 passes for 244 yards but it has been WR Erik Walker (5-10, 180, Jr) who has been the money man with four touchdowns among his 13 catches for 228 yards and a team-best 17.5 yards per catch. Xavian Johnson (6-0, 185, So) has caught 16 passes for 254 yards to lead the team in receiving yards.

Running back C.J. Tuckett (5-10, 200, Sr) is the team's leading rusher with 103 carries for 424 yards and four touchdowns and he is second on the squad with 20 receptions, for 112 yards. Kris Parham (5-8, 180, Sr) and Josh Booker (6-0, 210, Jr) also see some action, as Parham has  37 carries for 189 yards and a TD and Booker has carried 33 times for 121 yards and a score. Hoke has netted 123 yards on 90 carries, with another touchdown but he has been sacked 27 times.

Defensively the Wildcats have been led by MLB Anthony Morales (6-0, 230, Jr) with 65 tackles, including seven tackles for loss. Free safety Willie Okwuonu (6-0, 200, Jr)  and Safety Tony Epperson (6-4, 220, Jr) both have 42 tackles and Epperson has one of the team's three interceptions. The team's sacks leader has been DE Trevor Pletcher (6-2, 245, Sr) with three, while DE Obi Owoh (6-2, 220, Fr) has a pair of sacks. Rover Chris Wheeler (6-0, 175, Jr) leads the team with four tackles for loss.