Quickly: Southern Utah University says goodbye to its 2012 senior class Saturday when the Thunderbirds host Eastern Washington, the top-ranked team in the FCS, in their final home game of the season.
Southern Utah (3-5/2-3 Big Sky) will be looking to break through at home in a Big Sky game for the first time on Saturday. The Thunderbirds are 2-0 in conference road games but are 0-3 at home in BSC play. Last week the Thunderbirds lost a 24-22 decision to Weber State at home, one week after traveling to Montana and coming away with a 30-20 road win. The Thunderbirds opened BSC play with their first-ever win at Portland State, a 49-42 victory, but lost back-to-back home games to Montana State (24-17) and Sacramento State (27-22) the following two weeks.
Eastern Washington (6-1/5-0 Big Sky) stayed unbeaten in conference play with a 31-28 home win over Sacramento State last week. The Eagles, who are No. 1 in both major FCS polls for the second straight week, have also notched conference wins at Weber State (32-26) and Montana State (27-24), and have home BSC victories over Montana (32-26), North Dakota (55-17) and Sacramento State. EWU also has a win at Idaho (20-3) and the Eagles' only loss came at Washington State, 24-20, in the second week of the season.
The Game: Eastern Washington (6-1/5-0) at Southern Utah (3-5/2-3), Saturday at 1:05 p.m., Eccles Coliseum (8,500/Hellas MatrixTurf).
The Series: Eastern Washington holds a 4-1 lead in the series which began with a 43-21 SUU home win back in 1998. Since that game, however, the Eagles have come out on top of every contest. The last time the teams met the Eagles claimed a 31-24 home win, in SUU's 2010 season finale'. SUU is 1-2 vs. the Eagles in Cedar City. After the win in 1998 SUU lost a 49-14 decision in 2002 and came up short 41-28 in 2009.
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 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 all of Southern Utah's remaining games, both home and away, 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 SUU's home games may be found on the Thunderbird website at www.suutbirds.com. 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 email@example.com 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: The season wraps up with road games at North Dakota (Nov. 3) and Northern Arizona (Nov. 10).
A 2010 Eddie Robinson Award nominee, SUU's Ed Lamb (BYU, 1996) has a record of 24-28 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 0-1 vs. Eastern Washington.
Beau Baldwin (Central Washington, 1996), fifth season as a head coach, takes a record of 39-17 - all at EWU - into the game. Coach Baldwin is 2-0 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. Eastern Washington is also a member of the Big Sky.
Killebrew Named National Co-Freshman of the Week: SUU free safety Miles Killebrew was named national co-Freshman of the Week by The Sports Network for his performance in the Thunderbirds' 49-42 win at Portland State. Killebrew tallied 15 tackles in the game, including 11 solo stops. It was the highest tackles total by an SUU freshman since the 2002 season when Steve Smith tallied 21 at Arkansas State and the most by any T-Bird since 2009. One of Killebrew's tackles went for a loss and he also broke up a pass against the Vikings.
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.
College Football Performance Awards: Three Thunderbirds were honored by CFPA following the Weber State game: QB Brad Sorensen, K Colton Cook and P Brock Miller. Sorensen completed 33-of-47 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown while Cook converted 3-of-3 field goals and Miller averaged 51.6 yards per punt on five punts.
SUU In The FCS National Ranks:
SUU has 11 players ranked among the FCS top-50 in 16 statistical categories this week, while the team figures among the top-50 programs in six major categories and among the top-30 in three.
Defense: Linebacker Zac Browning ranks seventh in total tackles with an average of 11.57 per game. Defensive tackle Cody Larsen ranks 22nd in tackles for loss with an average of 1.38 per game while DE James Cowser is 27th in TFLs with 1.31 per game.
Offense: Quarterback Brad Sorensen ranks among the top 50 in six categories: he is eighth in total passing yards with 2,159, 12th in completions per game with 24.75, 12th in passing yards per game with 269.9 yards, 18th in points responsible for with 14.75 ppg, 24th in total offense with 263.3 yards per game and 50th in passer efficiency at 129.68. Wide receiver Mitch Jessop ranks 40th in receiving yards per game, with 74.1 and Fatu Moala is 38th in receptions per game with 5.6.
Special Teams: Brock Miller ranks 10th in punting with an average of 43.4 ypp while Colton Cook is fourth in field goals per game with 1.62 and Josh Smith is 45th in kickoff return average, at 22.4 ypr.
Team: In the team categories, SUU is fourth in turnover margin at plus-1.5, ninth in net punting with an average of 38.6 ypp and 17th in passing offense with 269.9 yards per game. SUU is also 38th in kickoff returns with an average of 21.7 ypr, 47th in tackles for loss with 6.0 per game and 49th in sacks with 2.13 per contest.
In a couple of more obscure categories the Thunderbirds are tied for first in fumbles recovered with 13, rank second in turnovers gained with 22 and are second in red zone offense with a 96 percent success rate. SUU is also tied for third with just two fumbles lost and tied for 21st in interceptions with nine.
Notes from the Weber State Game: SUU went without an interception for the first time all season against the Wildcats. ... Colton Cook was 3-for-3 on field goals, giving him two games this season with three field goals, the second-highest single-game total in SUU history. ... Brad Sorensen completed a season-high 33 passes against WSU. ... Brock Miller punted five times for 258 yards, an average of 51.6 yards per punt, which is the third-best single-game average in SUU history. ... LB Mike Needham led the team in tackles with a career-high 13, one better than his previous best of 12, a tally he finished with against both Sacramento State and Montana.
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. Sorensen became the first Thunderbird to pass for over 8,000 yards against Weber State when he threw for 320, giving him a career total of 8,313 yards. Sorensen also passed Robins to move into second place on the total yards list vs. CSUS. Sorensen now has 8,231 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 56 TD tosses and has completed 702 passes, and he moved into first place on the pass attempts list vs. Weber State, with 1,059.
Eastern Washington has proven itself on the road this season. The Eagles are 3-1 away from Roos Field, including a 20-3 win at FBS-level Idaho, and their lone loss was a 24-20 setback at Washington State. The other road wins came at Weber State (32-26) and at Montana State (27-24). The Eagles have only been involved in one lop-sided game, a 55-17 home win over North Dakota, and outside that game and the Idaho game the margin of victory in the other five EWU contests has been less than a touchdown.
The Eagle offense averages 146.4 yards per game on the ground and 269.0 through the air for 415.4 yards per game, while the defense has given up 363.6 yards per game, 154.5 on the ground and 209.1 through the air.
The Eagles use two quarterbacks, junior Kyle Padron (6-4, 220), a transfer from SMU who started the first two games of the season, and redshirt freshman Vernon Adams (6-0, 180), who has started every subsequent game. Padron has completed 62-of-124 passes for 978 yards and six touchdowns, while Adams is 73-118 for 893 yards and 10 scores. Both QBs have thrown four interceptions.
Wide receiver Brandon Kaufman (6-5, 215, Jr) leads the team with 36 receptions for 711 yards and eight touchdowns, while WR Greg Herd (6-3, 200, Sr) has caught 31 balls for 380 yards and four scores. Ashton Clark (5-11, 185, Jr) has 21 receptions for 277 yards and two TDs.
When it comes to rushing the football, Quincey Forte has carried 81 times for 315 yards, 45.0 yards per game, with a touchdown, while Jordan Talley has 63 rushes for 218 yards, 43.6 ypg, and three TDs in five games. Adams is third on the team with 32.8 yards per game on the ground and Demetrius Bronson averages 37.2 rushing yards and has scored two touchdowns in five games.
Defensively the Eagles have been led by LB Ronnie Hamlin (6-2, 210, Jr), who has 69 tackles, with four tackles for loss and he is one of the team's five players with an interception. LB Grant Williams (6-1, 225, Sr) is second on the team with 53 tackles. DE Jerry Ceja (6-3, 220, Sr) leads the Eagles in both TFLs and sacks, with nine and eight, respectively.
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 five tacklers are first-year starters, and four of those are freshmen, including linebacker Zak Browning, who leads the team with 81 tackles as a true freshman. Miles Killebrew, a redshirt freshman linebacker, is third with 50 tackles, while redshirt freshman defensive end James Cowser is fourth with 47 tackles as well as the team's co-leader in sacks with 4.5 while his 10.5 tackles for loss rank second on the squad. True freshman linebacker Mike Needham, who became a starter against Sacramento State, is fifth on the team with 43 tackles and he co-leads the team with 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 10th on the team with 26 tackles.
The two first-year starters who aren't freshmen are senior linebacker Namari Flentroy and junior cornerback Tyree Mills, who are second and eighth on the team with 53 and 22 tackles, respectively.
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.
Needham and Browning were again 1-2 on the Thunderbirds' tackles chart vs. Weber State, but in this one it was Needham at the top, with 13 tackles (including 10 solo stops), while Browning had 10. Killebrew was among four players with four tackles vs. the Wildcats, including Mills, Flentroy and junior DT Brad Meyer. Collet was third on the team with five tackles.
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 11.0, leads the team with 5 QB hurries and is the co-leader in sacks with 4.5 . He has also forced three fumbles and recovered two more. During his career Larsen has notched 17 sacks, which ranks sixth on the all-time SUU list.
Good Vibrations: Senior tailback Brian Wilson didn't play against Weber State after suffering an injury at Montana. However, although he has been the Thunderbirds' leading rusher all season he didn't notch a rushing touchdown until he finally got into the end zone against Sacramento State on a one-yard run midway through the third quarter to cap a 10-play, 83-yard drive. It was his fourth TD of the season but the others came on receptions. 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 all-purpose total since Minefee also had 140, against Northern Arizona in the fifth game of the 2010 season. Wilson led the team with 64 yards on 19 carries at Portland State and also caught three passes for 18 yards, including a 16 yard TD reception. He was the rushing leader again vs. Montana State, with 15 carries for 76 yards, and he caught three passes for 14 yards, including a six-yard touchdown catch. He saw his string of leading the team in every game come to an end at Montana, however, when he carried just seven times for 12 yards and Myles Crawford-Harris wound up with a career-high 64 yards on eight carries.
Record Book Performances At PSU: Southern Utah had a handful of performances worthy of the SUU record books at Portland State. Josh Smith's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown is tied as the sixth-longest in the school's history, while his 173 KO return yards in the game rank fifth. Brad Sorensen's four-touchdown, 311-yard day also changed the books. Sorensen became just the second Thunderbird to pass for over 7,000 yards in a career (along with Rick Robins) agains the Vikings and he tied the second-highest total for TD passes in a game with four, one shy of his own SUU record.
Benchmark Stat: SUU has won eight consecutive games in which it rushed for 100 yards.
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. 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).
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 25 of the 26 times the team has advanced the ball to the opponent's 20 yard line, or 96 percent of the time. The Thunderbirds have scored 17 touchdowns once reaching the Red Zone and have converted eight scores via field goal. The only blemish 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. Since that play SUU has converted 25 consecutive drives into the Red Zone into points.
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. Including the Weber State game - when SUU again came out on top of both the turnover and penalty phases of the game - the Thunderbirds have turned the ball over 10 times so far (eight interceptions, two fumbles), while opponents have given it back 22 times, with SUU the beneficiary of 13 fumbles and nine interceptions. As far as penalties go, SUU has been whistled 51 times for 443 yards while opponents have drawn 77 flags for 688 yards.
Left-footed kickers: 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 49 times for 2,126 yards to rank 10th in the country with his 43.39 yards per punt average. He has pinned the opponent inside the 20 yard line 20 times, with four 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.
Placekicker Colton 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. He is now 13-15 on field goals and 22-24 on extra points this season. Cook's 13 field goals rank third on the SUU single-season list, behind Ryan Griffith's 15 in 2009 and Cook's own 14 last year. His 27 career field goals rank fourth on SUU's all-time list, while his 48 career PATs rank sixth.
Kick Start: Cook's three made field goals against Sacramento State and again vs. Weber State tied the total for second-most field goals in a game at SUU. The record for field goals in a game at Southern Utah is five (by Ryan Griffith vs. Dixie State in 2009), but kickers have now booted three in a game seven times for the T-Birds.
Play Of The Day: Cameron Morgan's 37-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half at Cal was judged as the play of the day by ESPN. Morgan jumped high in the air to make a one-handed grab on a ball that had been tipped by a Cal defender, then pulled it in and got his feet in bounds before falling out of the back of the end zone. The circus catch came on an untimed down following a pass interference call with no time remaining in the second period.
Big Crowd: The paid attendance for SUU's game at Cal was 57,745, the largest crowd ever to watch a Thunderbird football game. It bettered the 42,137 that watched SUU play San Diego State in 2009.
SUU's paid attendance vs. Montana State, 8,417, was the largest ever for a day game at Eccles Coliseum.