SUU Football in Crisis

The close loss to Northern Colorado Southern Utah’s football team put the Thunderbirds in the direst of straits.

The T-Birds are currently 1-7 with three games remaining on the schedule. If the squad turns things around and wins out, they’ll finish the season at a respectable 4-7. If they don’t, this season may go down as one of the worst in program history.

In the last 10 years SUU has had a three win season only once, in 2014. Since the team’s winless season in 2007, the squad has enjoyed steady .500 teams and has even won two Big Sky Championships.

There are many contributing factors to the team’s rough season. Chief among them are injuries. The squad has played four different quarterbacks due to injury, and injuries have popped up on offense and defense.

While there isn’t much that SUU’s coaching staff can do about injuries, there are plenty of questions to be asked concerning the team’s lack of success coming off of a Big Sky championship in 2017.

The first is what on earth is wrong with the defense? Head Coach Demario Warren has been in charge of defensive play calling this season. The unit has been abysmal, giving up 41 points a game.

The defense is currently 122nd in total defense out of 124 teams in the country. They are giving up 546 yards per game. Last year the team surrendered 28 points and 414 yards per game.

That’s a huge jump from one year to another. The team lost 20 players to graduation, including defensive standouts Mike Needham and Anu Pole’o, but that doesn’t entirely explain what was once a stingy defense turning into a flimsy pile of leaves in one off season.

Last year defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Rod Chance left SUU to take a position at the University of Oregon. Warren took it upon himself to call plays for the defense, and it may have contributed to the defense’s lack of success.

No one on campus will tell you that Coach Warren is the problem, because he isn’t. Warren is beloved by his players and just last year led the team to the first FCS playoff game played in Cedar City’s history. He also just recently signed an extension through 2022.

Warren’s seat is far from hot, but he needs a defensive coordinator. You aren’t going to win many games giving up 41 points a game. The offense has been in the top half of the Big Sky’s statistics despite inconsistent quarterback play, so the responsibility of the team’s failure has to come down on the defense.

If the defense can somehow pull something together and salvage the season, it will have to come from the defensive line. The team has 11 sacks thus far, and generating pressure will be key. The line has also been abysmal in plugging up the run. The rushing defense is the worst in the Big Sky, and the T-Birds are allowing 269 yards a game on the ground.

They made Northern Colorado’s Milo Hall and Trae Riek look like Walter Payton and Herschel Walker. Shoring up the run defense will allow for flexibility in pass defense.

No matter what changes are made, they need to happen quickly, because if not the T-Birds will end up in the record book for all the wrong reasons.

Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz