Football Opens Big Sky Play at Portland State

September 17, 2012
By SUU Strategic Communication

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Brian Wilson, who rushed for 140 yards against NM Highlands last Saturday
Brian Wilson, who rushed for 140 yards against NM Highlands last Saturday
Courtesy: Deb Hill

Quickly: Southern Utah University meets an old nemesis this weekend when the Thunderbirds travel to Portland State for their first-ever Big Sky Conference football game.

Southern Utah (1-2/0-0 Big Sky), which will be looking for its first win in five tries at JELD-WEN Stadium (formerly Civic Stadium), is coming off its first win of the season, a 45-23 triumph at home over Division II New Mexico Highlands after road losses at FBS-level Utah State (34-3) and California (50-31). The Thunderbirds will be playing their first game as members of the Big Sky Conference this week and their first game against a FCS-level opponent.

Portland State (2-1/1-0 Big Sky) has lost two straight after opening the season with a 38-20 win over NAIA Carroll College. The Vikings lost a 45-37 decision at North Dakota in their Big Sky opener on Sept. 8, then traveled to Washington last week where they lost 52-13 to the Huskies.

The Game: Southern Utah (1-2/0-0) at Portland State (2-1/1-0), Saturday at 5:00 p.m. (PDT), JELD-WEN Field (18,627), Portland, Oregon.

The Series: PSU holds an 8-1 lead in the series but the teams haven't met in 16 years. The Thunderbirds and Vikings met nine times in the 1980s and 1990s, with all but two of the contests coming when both teams were members of the NCAA Division II Western Football Conference. Portland State won eight of those battles, including all five in Portland. Southern Utah's lone win came at home in 1989, when - in front of a sparse crowd on a rainy, deer-hunt-opening weekend - the Thunderbirds downed the Vikings, 36-26, in Cedar City.

SUU's TV Games in 2012: SUU is scheduled to play on live television three more times this season. This weekend's game at Portland State, next week's Big Sky home-opener vs. Montana State (Sept. 29) and the regular-season finale at Northern Arizona (Nov. 10) will all be televised. The PSU game will be on FOX Northwest, the Montana State game will be televised in high definition on ROOT Sports and the Northern Arizona game will be televised live on FOX Sports Arizona Plus.

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 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.

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.

Next Up/Remaining Schedule

Southern Utah plays its first Big Sky home game next week when the Thunderbirds host Montana State in the annual Homecoming game live on ROOT Sports. SUU remains at home the following week for a game against Sacramento State on Oct. 6.

Following a road trip to Montana on Oct. 13 the 'Birds return home for their final two home games of the season. SUU hosts Weber State on Oct. 20, then Eastern Washington visits Cedar City on Oct. 27.

The regular season wraps up with road games at North Dakota (Nov. 3) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 10). Should SUU qualify for the FCS playoffs, the Thunderbirds would have a bye week between the NAU game and the FCS first round.

The Coaches

A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 22-25 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. Lamb is 0-0 vs. Portland State.

Portland State's Nigel Burton (Washington, 1999), is 10-15 in his third season at PSU and his third season as a head coach overall. Burton is 0-0 vs. SUU.

Affiliations: Southern Utah is beginning its first season in the Big Sky Conference following eight years as a member of the Great West Conference. Portland State is also a member of the Big Sky.

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

2012 Preseason Accolades: SUU had four players receive pre-season honors. Senior quarterback Brad Sorensen, senior offensive guard Zach Brackus and senior defensive tackle Cody Larsen all earned preseason all-Big Sky honors as well as being recognized on a handful of preseason all-America teams. Junior offensive guard Gavin Farr also earned several preseason all-America nods. In addition, Sorensen is on the Payton Award Watch List for the second straight season, is the only FCS-level player on the Unitas Award watch list and was named the pre-season offensive player of the year by the Big Sky Coaches.

Brad Sorensen

            The Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            College Sports Journal (1st Team All-America)

            Phil Steel's Preview (1st Team All-America)

            Senior Scout Bowl (1st Team All-America)

            College Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            Beyond Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            All-Big Sky

            Big Sky Preseason Offensive Player of the Year

            Unitas Award Watch List

            Payton Award Watch List

Zach Brackus

            College Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            Beyond Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            Sports Network (3rd Team All-America)

            All-Big Sky

Cody Larsen

            Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            College Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            Phil Steele (3rd Team All-America)

            All-Big Sky

Gavin Farr

            Sports Network (1st Team All-America)

            College Sports Network (2nd Team All-America)

            Phil Steele (3rd Team All-America)

College Football Performance Awards

Southern Utah's Cody Larsen was named this week's National Defensive Lineman of the Week by the CFPA. Larsen, a 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle from Draper, Utah (Jordan HS) tallied six tackles, including four solo stops, in the Thunderbirds' 45-23 win over New Mexico Highlands. All four of his solo tackles occurred in the Cowboy backfield and he wound up with 4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks. He also forced two fumbles, recovered another, and had a quarterback hurry in the game.

DE Austin Anderson earned honorable mention from the CFPA this week after tallying three tackles, two solo, with a half-sack, and recovering two fumbles, including one he returned for a touchdown.

SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen earned mention as one of the performers of the week at quarterback for his game at Cal after he completed 31-of-45 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns against the Bears.

SUU defensive end Jeff Tukuafu and punter Brock Miller earned recognition as impact players from CFPA following the Utah State game. Tukuafu got in on three tackles for loss, including one sack, and finished the night with seven tackles, including two solos which both went for losses. Miller punted nine times for 411 yards and pinned the Aggies inside the 20 yard line four times, he also had a career-long 72-yard boot.

SUU In The FCS National Ranks: 

SUU has seven players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 11 statistical categories this week, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in six categories and among the top-30 in four.

Defense: Defensive tackle Cody Larsen ranks eighth in the FCS in tackles for loss with an average of 2.0 per game and 11th in sacks with 1.0 per contest. DE James Cowser is 22nd in TFLs with 1.67 per game and 49th in sacks with 0.67, and LB Namari Flentroy is 38th in total tackles with an average of 9.67 per game.

Offense: Quarterback Brad Sorensen ranks among the top 50 in four categories: he is 14th in points responsible for with 14.0 ppg, 25th in completions per game with 21.0, 29th in total passing yards with 657 and 35th in passing yards per game at 219.0. Wide receiver Fatu Moala ranks in three categories, including 18th in receptions per game with 7.33,  36th in receiving yards per game with 75.67 and 42nd in scoring at 8.0 ppg.

Special Teams: Brock Miller ranks 11th in punting with an average of 44.14 ypp while Colton Cook is tied for 32nd in field goals per game with 1.0.

Team: In the team categories, SUU is 13th in tackles for loss with an average of 8.33, 14th in sacks at 3.0 per game, 17th in turnover margin at plus-1.33, 30th in net punting at 37.19 yards per return, 44th n passing offense with 219.0 ypg and 48th in scoring at 26.33 ppg.

Stop The Run: The Thunderbird defense rose to the occasion against New Mexico Highlands, limiting an offense which had been averaging 189 rushing and over 505 total yards per game to 346 yards, including minus-20 on the ground. The rushing total was the lowest by an SUU opponent since the 1999 season when the team limited Fort Lewis to minus-26 yards on the ground.

Youth Steps Up: First-year players dominated Southern Utah's stat sheet on the defensive side of the ball at Utah State, and three of them found themselves at the top of the sheet following the Cal game as well. Six of the top-seven tacklers at USU were either starting or playing in their first games, and three of those six were 1-2-3 at Cal as well. Senior OLB Namari Flentroy (who is in his first season on the team) co-led the team at USU with 13 tackles and one fumble recovery, then was tied for second at Cal with eight tackles. True freshman Zak Browning followed up a 12-tackle effort at USU with eight tackles at Cal, including six solo stops and a half-TFL and he also forced a fumble, while Miles Killebrew led the team with 11 tackles, six solo, at Cal following a nine-tackle effort at USU. Senior OLB Rickey Clark, who is in his first season as a starter, had 13 tackles at USU and was tied for fifth on the team at Cal with four stops, along with freshman DE James Cowser (who also had an interception, a sack and two TFLs), sophomore DE Austin Anderson, sophomore cornerback Gordon Garrett and veterans Cody Larsen, Randall Nygren and Brennan Fjord. Junior safety Tommy Collet, Jr., who was a part-time starter last year, was fourth on the list at USU with 10 stops but he sat out the Cal game. Junior cornerback Tyree Mills, who is also in his first year as a starter, had five tackles at Cal and eight at USU, where he also had the team's lone pass deflection.

Veterans Assert Themselves: After watching the youth movement on defense in the first two games a handful of proven veterans were the stars of the win over New Mexico Highlands. Although Namari Flentroy is a first-season starter, he is a senior, and the linebacker led the team for the second time in three games with eight tackles, five solo, including a sack, two forced fumbles, a QBH and a pass break up. Junior MLB Chad Hansen, in his first start of the season, co-led the team (along with freshman James Cowser) with seven tackles, including a sack, two TFLs and a PBU, while senior DT Cody Larsen dominated the line of scrimmage, getting into the backfield for 4.5 TFLs, including 2.5 sacks, while forcing two fumbles, recovering another and tallying a quarterback hurry. Although Cowser was the only underclassman among the team's top six tacklers, the younger T-Birds again had in impact vs. NMH, as redshirt freshman LeShaun Sims had four solo tackles and an interception, redshirt freshman safety Miles Killebrew had four tackles and a 49-yard fumble return for a touchdown (the sixth-longest in SUU history), sophomore defensive linemen Austin Anderson and Nick Nissen each had three tackles, with Anderson getting in on a sack and recovering two fumbles, one of which he returned nine yards for a touchdown.

Good Vibrations: SUU struggled to move the ball at Utah State, particularly on the ground, but senior tailback Brian Wilson has been increasingly effective in the last two games. At Cal he carried 17 times for 74 yards and scored a touchdown on a pass reception. Although he didn't get into the end zone vs. Highlands, he had his best overall day as an offensive player, logging 140 rushing yards on 19 carries, adding another 48 yards on four receptions, and finishing with 215 all-purpose yards after returning one kickoff 27 yards. It was the team's first 100-yard rushing performance since Austin Minefee ripped off 131 yards vs. UC Davis in the ninth game of the season last year and the highest total since Minefee also had 140, against Northern Arizona in the fifth game of the 2010 season.

Benchmark Stat: SUU has won eight consecutive games in which it rushed for 100 yards, and eight of its last 10.

Pass it: SUU passed the ball much more effectively at Cal than it did at Utah State, particularly in the second half. Brad Sorensen completed 31-of-45 passes, 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, completeing 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 a season-high three receptions for 50 yards against NMH.  

Pick Me Firsts: SUU has three interceptions so far this season - one in each game - and all three were the interceptor's first. 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 and redshirt freshman CB LeShaun Sims had his first against NM Highlands.

Turnovers and Penalties: SUU won both the turnover and the penalty battles at Utah State, then came out even in turnovers but was less-penalized at Cal, where both teams lost an interception and a fumble. Against NM Highlands the Thunderbirds again won both battles. At USU the Thunderbirds recovered an Aggie fumble and tallied Collet's pick while turning it over just once, an interception in the USU end zone on a tipped ball on the final play of the game. As far as penalties went, Southern Utah was flagged four times for 35 yards while the Aggies drew 10 flags for 108 yards, including four pass interference calls. A fifth pass interference call was declined after the receiver caught the ball. At Cal the Thunderbirds drew seven flags for 56 yards while the Bears were penalized 12 times for 106 yards. The NMH game certainly had too many penalties and turnovers for either staff as SUU was whistled nine times for 70 yards but the Cowboys had 11 penalties for 92, and in the turnover department SUU gave away two interceptions but no fumbles while Highlands gave the ball away four times on six fumbles and once more on an interception. All seven turnovers led to touchdowns, as both SUU interceptions were pick-sixes, two of the NMH fumbles were returned directly for scores, and the other two Cowboy fumbles and the interception led to Thunderbird scoring drives.

Left-footed kickers: For the second year in a row, Southern Utah's kickers are both left-footed. Both specialists are off to good starts. At Utah State Brock Miller punted nine times for 411 yards - including a 72-yarder on his first boot of the game - and pinned the Aggies inside the 20-yard line four times, at Cal he booted six punts 250 yards, a 41.7 yard average, pinning the Bears inside the 20 twice. Cal did return one punt for a touchdown, but it was certainly no fault of Miller's, as the receiver - Cal all-American Keenan Allen - muffed the fair catch, then scooped it up and ran 69 yards around the right end for the score. Just one punt was returned more than 10 yards at USU and just two were returned at all. Highlands he had six punts for 266 yards, a 44.3 yard average with three inside the 20, one touchback and only one returned, for minus-8 yards. Kicker Colton Cook has gome 1-for-1 on field goal attempts in each game and has averaged 62.2 yards on his kickoffs, including a 60.4 yard average in the heavy air at Cal, 65.0 at USU and 62.6 at home vs. NM Highlands.

Thunderbird Quick Hits:

  • SUU is in its 50th season as a four-year football-playing institution and its 27th as a member of the NCAA. The 2012 season also marks the Thunderbirds' 20th as a member of the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision and is the school's first in the Big Sky Conference. SUU competed in the Great West Conference the past eight seasons.
  • The opener at Utah State marked the eighth time in the last 10 seasons the Thunderbirds have played their first game of the season on the road, including the last three in a row. Last year SUU opened at South Dakota State, in 2010 it opened at Wyoming. The other openers at the road during the past 10 years came at Air Force (2008), at Montana (2007), at Idaho State (2005), at Weber State (2004) and in 2003 the opener was at Nevada. The two openers at home were in 2009 against Dixie State and in 2006 when the 'Birds kicked off the season against Montana Tech at Eccles Coliseum.
  • The Thunderbirds have five players returning who earned first-team all-Great West Conference honors last year, including the four preseason all-Americans and linebacker Chad Hansen.
  • SUU has eight returning academic all-GWC honorees, including Larsen, senior offensive linemen Russell Petersen and Dylan Fox, junior defensive lineman Brad Meyer (who had the only 4.0 GPA among football players on the list), junior cornerback Tyree Mills, junior linebacker K.C. Rawlinson, sophomore defensive lineman Kouri Jones and sophomore receiver Easton Pedersen.
  • SUU plays 10 of its 11 games against NCAA Division I opponents this year, with eight against teams from the championship subdivision and two from the bowl subdivision. Utah State and California are the two FBS opponents and SUU faces a Division II opponent for the first time in two seasons when it hosts New Mexico Highlands.
  • About half of the players on the roster are Utah natives, with 45 hailing from the Beehive State. California is the next-most represented state, with 24, while nine call Nevada home. Four players come from Texas, with two from Florida, Idaho and Washington, and one each from Arizona, Colorado and Tonga.

Viking Notes:

Portland State will be playing its second home game of the season and first since the season-opener. The Vikings are 5-2 at home over the past two seasons and have never lost to the Thunderbirds in Portland, where the Vikings are 6-5 under Coach Nigel Burton and 56-31 since moving to the Division I level.

The Vikings have averaged 235.7 passing and 143.0 rushing yards per game this season, while allowing opponents an average of 244.0 yards through the air and 147.0 on the ground. PSU has been a second-half team after being outscored 92-45 in the first half but coming back to out-perform opponents by a 43-25 margin after the break, including a 37-8 edge in the fourth quarter.

Freshman quarterback Kieran McDonagh (6-1, 240) has completed 47-of-89 passes for 671 yards and six touchdowns with four interceptions and he has been sacked just twice this season. His favorite targets have been WR Keitrell Anderson (5-9, 170, Sr) and WR Justin Monahan (6-2, 200, Sr), with 11 and nine receptions, although Anderson's 11 catches have gained just 52 yards while Monahan's have piled up a team-high 209 yards and two TDs in just two games. The Vikings have made big plays to their receivers, as five of the 11 players with receptions have at least one catch of 35 yards or longer.

When they go to the ground game the Vikings have gone primarily to DJ Adams (5-10, 210, Sr), who has carried 39 times for 261 yards and three touchdowns despite not starting a game. Adams averages 6.3 yards per carry and 82.0 yards per game. McDonagh is second on the squad in rushing, averaging 29.3 yards per game with a TD on 23 carries, and RB Shaquille Richard (5-8, 175, So) - who has the team's long reception on the year, an 80-yarder - has carried 25 times for 85 yards, an average of 28.3 ypg.

Defensively, the Vikings have been led by LB Ian Sluss (6-0, 225, Sr), who has team-highs of 18 solo and 29 total tackles and he is one of three players with 3.5 tackles for loss. LB Khalil Bass (6-2, 230, Sr) has 20 tackles, including 15 solo stops and 3.5 TFLs, and LB Jaycob Shoemaker (6-0, 230, Jr), who also has 3.5 TFLs, is third on the team's tackles list with 18 and is one of three Vikings with an interception. Shoemaker returned his interception 32 yards for a touchdown vs. Carroll College in the season-opener.