Southern Utah University’s football team (1-5, 0-2 Big Sky) take on rivals No. 4/5 Weber State (3-2, 1-0) in the Beehive Bowl Saturday Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.
The Wildcats have not beaten the Thunderbirds in Ogden since before SUU joined the Big Sky Conference in 2012. The Las Vegas betting odds opened with Weber State as a 23 and a half point favorite.
It will also be Weber’s homecoming game for the 2019 season. The teams have a highly contested history. In 2017 both teams held a share of the conference title and Weber knocked SUU out of the Football Championship Series playoffs.
The Thunderbirds are coming off a 52-31 loss against Portland State University. The Vikings scored 28 points in the second quarter and SUU couldn’t crawl back into it.
Weber put together a solid 41-35 victory against Idaho last week. They’ve lost to two Mountain West Conference teams (San Diego State and Nevada) on the season and have established themselves as one of the best football programs in the FCS.
Chris Helbig leads the T-Bird offense with 1,398 yards and seven touchdowns.Lance Lawson has been Helbig’s favorite option in the receiving game with 52 catches for 482 yards and three touchdowns. Lawson leads the Big Sky in catches. Isaiah Diego-Williams (24 catches for 213 yards) and Zach Nelson (13 for 200) have also emerged as solid options through the air.
James Felila has run for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Helbig leads the team with five rushing touchdowns.
Weber State hangs its hat on its defense. The Wildcats are only surrendering 16.5 PPG and 355.3 YPG. The 35 points that Idaho scored might show some chink in their armor, but Weber State has one of the best defenses in the land.
Weber (202.3 YPG) and SUU (205.0 YPG) both have top 40 pass defenses in the FCS. This game may well be decided on the ground, and that favors the Wildcats. The Wildcats are giving up 3.83 yards per carry and the T-Birds are giving up 4.59.
The two headed rushing attack of Josh Davis (180 yards, 2 TDs) and Kevin Smith (172 yards) will test the Thunderbird front seven. The T-Birds have given up more than 200 rushing yards in four of six contests this season.
Keys to the game:
1. Special Teams errors.
Southern Utah have made an uncanny amount of special teams mistakes this season. First it was the long snapping, then it was punt protection, then it was field goal kicking struggles and last week All-Big Sky return man Judd Cockett muffed a punt.
Weber is a near impossible challenge for the T-Birds, and they’ll have to play close to perfection to even stay in this one. Any special teams mistake will put them in a hole too deep to crawl out of.
2. Get creative offensively.
Offensive coordinator Justin Walterschied has an affinity for trick plays, and he’s probably got some special installations for this rivalry contest. Sometimes the trick plays have worked for touchdowns, others have been disastrous losses.
Walterschied will have to reach deep into his bag of tricks to confuse the Weber State defense. If the running game can’t find its footing early on, then Weber will be content to force Helbig to pass.
The offense cannot be too predictable, and when they can’t stay on the field the defense suffers. Outside of South Dakota State, this will be the offense’s toughest test of 2019.
3. Embrace the Beehive Bowl passion.
A rivalry game like this one is the perfect setting for an upset. A top five team faces an underdog who has struggled against other top flight teams. The teams have a bone to pick, and the players are feeling inspired on the road. It’s a decent recipe for an upset.
SUU will have to find more fuel to add to the fire if they want to win this one. They need to be amped up and tenacious from the opening kick and not slow down until the final whistle blows.
They’ve played high ranked teams three times already this season. The T-Birds have nothing to lose, so they might as well throw everything they’ve got at Weber.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz