Southern Utah University’s football (1-4, 0-1) team heads to Portland to take on the Portland State Vikings (2-3, 0-1). The Thunderbirds are coming off a heartbreaking 24-21 loss to Cal Poly. Kickoff will be Saturday, Oct. 5 at 3:05 p.m. MT.
This is the first road Big Sky conference game for the T-Birds in 2019. The Vikings return home after a 51-24 pummelling by Idaho State last week. Las Vegas’ betting odds opened up with Portland State as a 9.5 point favorite.
The three point loss in last week’s contest was disappointing, but it may have been SUU’s best showing of the season. SUU’s defense responded to the critics and held Cal Poly to just 24 points despite giving up more than forty points per game coming into the contest.
Cal Poly’s triple option never got going against the T-Birds, and the defense will be challenged with slowing down PSU’s offensive attack. The Vikings are averaging 35.2 PPG coming into this contest.
The T-Bird defense is led by middle linebacker Nela Otukolo who has 44 tackles thus far on the season. Otukolo has a chance to make All-Big Sky because of his nose for the ball and strength in tackling.
These teams have not met since 2016 when SUU beat the Vikings 45-31 at Eccles Coliseum.
SUU’s defense is improving but have a heavy test ahead of them in the form of PSU QB Davis Alexander. Alexander has thrown for 1168 yards and ten touchdowns with a 61% completion rate. He’s also taken care of the ball well with only three interceptions in 2019.
Turnovers have been a lifeline for the T-Birds. Against Cal Poly the defense recovered three fumbles, and the T-Birds have three interceptions on the season. Takeaways will keep SUU in the game and will allow them to extend a lead if they’re ahead.
Portland State’s rushing attacks hasn’t been imposing so far this season. Sirgeo Hoffman has been the team’s best back, but is only averaging 41.0 yards per game. Given SUU’s struggle to establish the run (the T-Birds leading rusher, James Felila is averaging 36.8 yards per game), there will be a lot of passing from both offenses.
Chris Helbig has thrown for 1096 yards and four touchdowns with a 62% completion rate. Helbig hasn’t yet found success in the red zone in terms of passing touchdowns, but has run for four touchdowns on the season.
This is a critical moment in the season for both teams looking for their first win of Big Sky play. The Thunderbirds face a difficult gauntlet of Big Sky battles the rest of the way. A road win in Portland could act as a pivot point for their season.
The game will be broadcast on PlutoTV and watchbigsky.com at 3:05 p.m. MT on Saturday, Oct. 4.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics