Quickly: Southern Utah University plays the final game of its 2012 season Saturday when the Thunderbirds take on No. 11 Northern Arizona in a Big Sky match-up. The Lumberjacks are 6-0 in Big Sky play and all alone atop the league standings.
Southern Utah (4-6/3-4 Big Sky) rolled up a season-high 520 yards of offense last week at North Dakota, but despite running out to a 15-0 first-half lead the Thunderbirds came up short, 33-29. SUU was coming off a huge 30-27 win over then-No. 1 ranked Eastern Washington, but couldn't keep the momentum going against UND. The loss was SUU's first in three BSC road games this year.
Northern Arizona (8-1/6-0 Big Sky) has won eight straight games and is undefeated in Big Sky play. After opening with a 63-6 setback at Arizona State the Lumberjacks have been rolling. A win at UNLV started the winning streak that has included wins at Montana (41-31), North Dakota (45-38) and a 50-10 win last week at Idaho State (50-10). The 'Jacks have played just three home games so far but are undefeated in the Skydome in 2012, with victories over Ft. Lewis (69-0), Portland State (24-10) and UC Davis (21-7).
The Game: Southern Utah (4-6/3-4) at Northern Arizona (8-1/6-0), Saturday at 2:05 p.m. (Mountain), J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome (15,000/FieldTurf).
The Series: NAU holds an 11-5 edge in the series, but all five of SUU's wins have come in Flagstaff, where the Lumberjacks have 7-5 edge. The Thunderbirds broke through with a 27-24 win in the Skydome last year to snap a five-game skid against the Lumberjacks. The two programs have squared off each of the past four seasons, and each game has come down to the wire. NAU took a 26-23 win in Cedar City in 2010, a 42-39 win in Flagstaff in 2009 and a 19-14 win in Eccles Coliseum in 2008. Prior to last year the last SUU win came in the season finale of the 2000 season, when SUU triumphed, 27-23, to cap a 7-4 campaign.
TV: Saturday's game will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona.
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) carries every game live as well as on the worldwide web at www.suu.edu/ksuu. Art Challis is in his 39th season as the Thunderbirds' football voice. Matt Roan, a former all-conference center for the Thunderbirds, provides color commentary.
On The Internet: Video web-streaming coverage of Saturday's game will be available on Big Sky TV, at www.bigskytv.org. Audio of SUU games is available at the Thunderbirds' website at www.suutbirds.com or at www.suu.edu/ksuu.
Live Stats: Live stats of Saturday's game will be available on the NAU website at http://www.nauathletics.com/sports/fball/index.
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 6:30 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-586-7753.
Big Sky Teleconference: The Big Sky Conference holds a weekly coaches teleconference, beginning at 10:00 a.m. (Mountain). For information on accessing the teleconferences, contact SUU Director of Athletic Media Relations Neil Gardner. The complete schedule follows:
10:00 a.m. - Rob Ash, Montana State
10:08 a.m. - Chris Mussman, North Dakota
10:16 a.m. - Ed Lamb, Southern Utah
10:24 a.m. - Jody Sears, Weber State
10:32 a.m. - Mike Kramer, Idaho State
10:40 a.m. - Mick Delaney, Montana
10:48 a.m. - Earnest Collins, Jr., Northern Colorado
10:56 a.m. - Jerome Souers, Northern Arizona
11:04 a.m. - Nigel Burton, Portland State
11:12 a.m. - Marshall Sperbeck, Sacramento State
11:20 a.m. - Beau Baldwin, Eastern Washington
11:28 a.m. - Tim Walsh, Cal Poly
11:36 a.m. - Bob Biggs, 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.
A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 25-29 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 1-3 vs. Northern Arizona.
Jerome Souers (Oregon, 1983) will bring a career record of 84-83 into Saturday's game. Coach Souers is in his 15th season as a head coach, all at Northern Arizona. He is 4-2 against 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. Northern Arizona is also a member of the Big Sky.
Big Sky Players of the Week
Brad Sorensen and Colton Cook were named ROOT Sports' Big Sky Conference Players of the Week for their play against Eastern Washington.
Sorensen, a senior quarterback from Grand Terrace, Calif., completed 33-of-43 passes for 392 yards and a touchdown in the Thunderbirds' 30-27 upset of then-No. 1 Eastern Washington on Saturday. He was particularly effective in the second half when he completed 15-of-24 passes for 224. His 21-yard pass to Fatu Moala with 7:01 remaining tied the game at 27-27, then he engineered a 61-yard drive in the final three minutes to set up the game-winning field goal. Sorensen was Co-Offensive Player of the Week, along with Sacramento State QB Garrett Safron.
Cook, a junior kicker from Centerville, Utah, kicked that game-winning field goal, from 36 yards out with three seconds to play. After missing his first field goal attempt, a 42-yarder into a stiff crosswind, he nailed his next three, including 24- and 32-yarders. His two first half field goals allowed the Thunderbirds to be tied at halftime 13-13. He was also a perfect 3-for-3 on extra point attempts and four of his seven kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Brock Miller was named the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance at Montana and Josh Smith was named the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following his performance at Portland State.
College Football Performance Awards: Brad Sorensen was honored by CFPA for his play at North Dakota, earning honorable mention. Sorensen completed 19-of-29 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
SUU In The Big Sky and FCS National Ranks:
SUU has nine players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 15 statistical categories this week, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in eight major categories and among the top-30 in three.
Defense: Linebacker Zac Browning ranks ninth nationally and is second in the Big Sky in total tackles with an average of 11.3 per game and he is fourth in fumbles forced with 0.44 per game, also second in the BSC. Defensive tackle Cody Larsen is third in the BSC and 33rd nationally in tackles for loss with 1.25 per game, with James Cowser sixth in the Sky and 53rd in the FCS with 1.15. Cornerback LeShaun Sims is 27th in the FCS in interceptions with 0.38 per game, the fourth-best average in the BSC. Larsen and Cowser are tied for fifth in the BSC with 0.55 sacks per game, 63rd-best in the FCS. Larsen is also fifth-best in the BSC in fumbles forced with 0.3 per game.
Offense: Quarterback Brad Sorensen ranks among the FCS top 50 in six categories: he is sixth in total passing yards with 2,914, 10th in completions per game with 25.0, ninth in passing yards per game with an average of 291.4 (2nd BSC), 26th in points responsible for with 13.6 ppg, 16th in total offense with 285.0 yards per game (2nd BSC) and 41st in passer efficiency at 136.7. Wide receiver Fatu Moala is 27th in receptions per game with 6.0 (4th BSC) and 41st in receiving yards per game with 74.3 while Mitch Jessop ranks 42nd in receiving yards per game, with 74.1 (7th BSC).
Special Teams: Colton Cook leads the BSC and is third in the nation in field goals per game with 1.7 field goals per game and he is 37th in the country and third in the BSC in scoring at 7.8 ppg (first in the BSC among kickers). Punter Brock Miller is 15th in the FCS with a 42.8 yards per punt average, sixth in the BSC. Josh Smith is 53rd in the nation but second in the BSC in kickoff return average, at 22.4 ypr.
Team: In the team categories, SUU is first in the BSC and sixth in the nation in turnover margin at plus 1.2, 12th in the FCS and fourth in the BSC in net punting with an average of 38.3 ypp and 12th/2nd in passing offense with 291.4 yards per game. SUU is also 5th/342nd in sacks with 2.2 per game, 6th/39th in kickoff returns at 21.3 ypr and 8th/39th in punt returns at 9.43 ypr.
In a couple of more obscure categories the Thunderbirds lead the country in red zone offense, converting 94 percent of the time (33-of-35), are tied for first nationally in both fumbles recovered with 15 and fewest fumbles lost, with three, third in turnovers gained with 25 and 30th in interceptions with 10.
Notes from the North Dakota Game: Brian Wilson carried 31 times for 156 yards (both personal-highs) at UND, the most yards by a Thunderbird since Johnny Sanchez ran for 181 vs. McNeese State in 2007 and the most carries since Deckar Alexander toted the ball 32 times at Texas State in 2008. ... Brad Sorensen finished with 353 total yards, giving him an SUU-record 8,975 career yards; he passed Matt Cannon, who ran and threw for 8,930 yards from 1997-2000. ... SUU saw a pair of streaks come to an end at North Dakota: 1-The Thunderbirds had won nine straight games in which they rushed for 100 or more yards; at UND they finished with a season-high 157 on the ground but lost. 2-The Thunderbirds saw a season-long streak of getting at least one turnover per game, and coming out on top of the opponent in the turnover battle, come to an end as well. ... The Thunderbirds piled up a season-high 520 yards of offense while limiting UND to 308 yards, its second-lowest total of the season. ... Greg Hardin's 98-yard kickoff return marked the first time SUU had given up a kickoff return for a touchdown since the 2010 season-finale at Eastern Washington.
Into the Record Books: In addition to his total yards record set at UND, 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. Sorensen became the first Thunderbird to pass for over 8,000 yards when he threw for 320 against Weber State, and his 755 yards in the two subsequent games give him a career total of 9,068. Earlier this season Sorensen set the record for career touchdown passes and completed passes. He currently has 59 TD tosses and has completed 754 passes, and he moved into first place on the SUU pass attempts list vs. Weber State, and now has 1,131.
First-year players have done well for the Thunderbirds all season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The young defenders have dominated the SUU stat sheet in four of the seven games and had significant impact on all six Big Sky contests so far.
A look at SUU's season statistics shows the top six tacklers are first-year starters, and four of those are freshmen, including linebacker Zak Browning, who leads the team with 9102 tackles as a true freshman. Miles Killebrew, a redshirt freshman linebacker, is third with 60 tackles, while true freshman LB Mike Needham is fourth with 57 stops. Redshirt freshman defensive end James Cowser is fifth with 52 tackles and is the team's co-leader in sacks with 5.5 and is second in tackles for loss with 11.5. Cornerback LeShaun Sims, another redshirt freshman, has missed two games but he leads the squad with three interceptions and is 10th on the team with 34 tackles.
The two first-year starters who aren't freshmen are senior linebacker Namari Flentroy and junior cornerback Tyree Mills, who are second and sixth on the team with 63 and 46 tackles, respectively.
Killebrew's 15 tackles at Portland State and Browning's 15 vs. Montana State are the most by a Thunderbird since the 2009 season when Akeem Anifowoshe had 15 in the penultimate game of the season, against Eastern Washington. They are also the most by a true freshman at SUU since 2002 when Steve Smith had 22 at Arkansas State.
At Montana Browning and Needham had 18 and 12 tackles, respectively, while senior Cody Larsen also had 12, including 1.5 TFLs.
Browning had his third career 15-tackle game to lead the team against Eastern Washington, while Needham was second with nine stops and Sims and Collet each had eight.
The tackle totals were low at North Dakota, where Mills led the way with nine, followed by Killebrew with seven, and six by J.T. Anderson, Larsen and Browning.
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 with six QB hurries and in tackles for loss with 12.5, and co-leads the team in sacks with 5.5. He has also forced three fumbles and recovered two more. During his career Larsen has notched 17.5 sacks, which ranks fifth all-time on the SUU list and is 11th in the nation among active players.
Good Vibrations: As noted above, senior tailback Brian Wilson ran for a career-high 156 yards and a TD at UND. Although he didn't play against Weber State after suffering an injury at Montana, Wilson got back into action against Eastern Washington, however, leading the team on the ground with 93 yards on 20 carries. He has led the Thunderbirds in total rushing yards all season - leading the team in all but two games, at Montana and vs. Weber State - but he didn't notch a rushing touchdown until he finally got into the end zone against Sacramento State. It was his fourth TD of the season but the others came on receptions.Passing Game
After struggling to pass the ball at Utah State SUU has improved in that area in the subsequent games, including a season-high 392 yards through the air vs. Eastern Washington. Brad Sorensen completed 33 passes for the second straight game vs. EWU, including a TD pass to Fatu Moala, also for the second straight game. 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. Sorensen threw for another 320 yards against Weber State, when he completed 33-of-47 attempts, including TD passes to Griff McNabb (his second of the season) and Fatu Moala (his team-leading sixth). Last week the team finished with 363 yards through the air, its second-highest total of the season.
Sorensen currently ranks among the top-10 active players at the FCS level in career pass attempts (6th, 1,213), completions (5th, 799), yards (5th, 9,220), touchdown passes (8th, 59), yards per game (4th, 288.1) and completion percentage (6th, .659).
Pick Me Firsts: SUU has 10 interceptions this season and seven of them were the interceptor's first career pick while the other three 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 his first at Cal, redshirt freshman CB LeShaun Sims had his first against NM Highlands, junior linebacker Randall Nygren got his first at Portland State, junior cornerback Tyree Mills notched his first vs. Montana State, freshman cornerback J.T. Anderson got his against Sacramento State and freshman safety Michael Byrd got his at Montana. The other three interceptions this season went to Sims, who got the second of his career at PSU and his third vs. Eastern Washington, and Collet, who got his second against Sacramento State.
If It's Close, It's A Score: Southern Utah has been very effective in the Red Zone this season, scoring 33 of the 35 times the team has advanced the ball to the opponent's 20 yard line, or 94 percent of the time. The Thunderbirds have scored 21 touchdowns once reaching the Red Zone and have converted 12 scores via field goal. The only blemishes in the Red Zone 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, and against Eastern Washington when another interception spoiled a drive into the zone. SUU converted 28 consecutive drives into the Red Zone into points between the two misfires.
Turnovers and Penalties: SUU had won the turnover and the penalty battle in all but one game this season until the North Dakota game. The exception was at Montana, where the Grizzlies were flagged just four times for 48 yards while the Thunderbirds were penalized nine times The Thunderbirds have turned the ball over 11 times so far (nine interceptions, two fumbles) this season, while opponents have given it back 25 times, with SUU the beneficiary of 15 fumbles and 10 interceptions. As far as penalties go, SUU has been whistled 56 times for 475 yards while opponents have drawn 83 flags for 728 yards. At UND the Thunderbirds gave it up twice without getting a turnover and they had eight penalties for 84 yards to seven for 41 for UND.
For the second year in a row, Southern Utah's kickers are both left-footed. Both specialists have been solid. Brock Miller got off to a good start, punting nine times for 411 yards at Utah State - including a career-long 72-yarder on his first boot of the game - and pinning the Aggies inside the 20-yard line four times, and he has been solid ever since, kicking 53 times for 2,272 yards to rank 17th in the country with his 42.9 yards per punt average. He has pinned the opponent inside the 20 yard line 21 times, with five touchbacks and 11 boots of 50 yards or more. His 51.6 yards per punt average against Weber State is the third-best single-game average in SUU history and his current 42.8 ypp average is the fourth-best.
Placekicker Colton Cook moved atop the SUU single-season field goals list against Eastern Washington when his three makes gave him 16 on the season, one more than Ryan Griffith hit in 2009. His 35-yarder at UND gives him 17 on the season and 31 in his career, which ranks third all-time at SUU, two behind Steve Pulver (2003-08) and seven behind Herkey Marxen (1986-89). Cook hit a career-long 49 yard field goal against Montana State but missed two more long efforts, from 47 and yards, but he got back on track against Sacramento State when he drilled all three of his field goal attempts and he was 1-for-1 at Montana and 3-for-3 again vs. Weber State. Although he missed his first FG attempt in a stiff wind vs. EWU, he is now 17-20 on field goals and 27-30 on extra points this season. Cook's 53 career PATs rank fifth in the SUU record book.
Northern Arizona Notes:
Northern Arizona has won eight consecutive games for the first time since 1958 when the Lumberjacks won their first 11 games. The No. 11 ranking is the 'Jacks' highest since the 2003 season when they rose to No. 10.
NAU has been winning on both sides of the ball this season, with the offense ranked 32nd in the nation and the defense 28th. The Lumberjacks have averaged 221.7 yards per game through the air and 194.7 on the ground for a total of 416.3 yards per game. Meanwhile, the defense had limited opponents to 125.1 rushing yards and 205.1 passing yards per game, just 330.2 total yards.
Quarterback Gary Grossart (6-1, 180, Sr) has completed 127 of 192 passes for 1,425 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions. Although he has spread the ball around, Grossart's favorite targets have been WR Dejzon Walker (6-3, 225, So), WR Ify Umodu (6-3, 215, Jr) and RB Zach Bauman (5-10, 200, Jr). Walker has 28 receptions for 411 yards and two TDs while Umodu and Bauman have each caught 24 passes, for 311 yards and three TDs and 160 yards and one score, respectively.
Bauman, who rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Thunderbirds last year, has carried 184 times for 1,055 yards and eight scores this season. His 117.2 rushing yards per game rank 10th in the FCS. Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson (5-11, 210, Sr), a transfer from California, adds another 54 yards per game, with four touchdowns, and true freshman Casey Jahn (5-11, 185) averages 43.7 ypg and has three TDs.
Defensively, the Lumberjacks have been led by CB Anders Battle (6-0, 185, Jr) and MLB Austin Hasquet (6-1, 225, So), with 53 and 50 tackles, respectively. Battle has broken up five passes and has an interception as well. SS Lucky Dozier (5-10, 185, Jr) has a team-high four interceptions and 40 tackles, while FS Blair Wisholm (6-1, 200, Jr) has 44 tackles and three picks. DE Quentin Kantaris (6-2, 230, Jr) leads the team in TFLs with eight and shares the sacks lead of five with DT Marc Thompson (6-2, 290, Jr).