Southern Utah football (1-7, 0-4) hopes to fend off the Idaho State Bengals (3-4, 2-2), Saturday, Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. at Eccles Coliseum.
Idaho State is a seven and a half point favorite according to Las Vegas betting odds. The T-Birds beat the Bengals 52-27 when they met in Pocatello in 2017.
The Bengals are coming off a 45-21 beat down at the hands of Idaho. Idaho scored 17 points in the first quarter and 21 in the third, and dominated ISU on the ground, averaging 3.9 yards per carry as a team.
SUU has struggled to get the running game going all season, but picked up 140 rushing yards against UC Davis in the 33-25 loss last week. James Felila is the team’s leading rusher with just 261 yards on the season.
Both teams have struggled on defense this season. The T-Birds are giving up 38.6 PPG this season, No. 113 out of 124 FCS teams. The Bengals aren’t much better, giving up 29.3 PPG on the year.
This is one of SUU’s lighter games after a schedule packed with highly ranked opponents. Idaho State and Northern Arizona are SUU’s best chances to shake off the losses and build some winning momentum heading into next season.
For now though, the team needs to focus on learning and preparing for the future. The T-Birds were 1-10 last season and essentially brought back that same squad minus former standouts Marquez Tucker and Chinedu Ahanonu who graduated, and Jalen Russell, who was lost for the season with an injury.
Head coach Demario Warren has expressed frustration because he feels the team’s work ethic in practice is not reflective of their record. They’ve made mistakes on special teams, given up far too many penalty yards and turned the ball over in key moments. No matter how hard you work, those are near impossible hurdles to manage.
The defense has struggled but deserve more credit than they get. They kept the offense in the game against UC Davis with clutch third down stops. They held Cal Poly’s triple option offense to 21 points.
The overtime game with Stephen F. Austin ended with a stop by the defense. They’re dead last in the conference in turnovers forced, but they’ve been solid at home this season. Idaho State is ninth in the conference in scoring, so the T-Bird defense should at least keep them in the game on Saturday.
Struggles have really come on the offensive side of the ball in recent weeks. The T-Birds are second to last in the conference in time of possession and they put a lot of pressure on their own defense because they don’t stay on the field for very long.
Landen Measom’s 11 catch, 156 yard explosion against UC Davis is an encouraging sign, and Lance Lawson continues to lead the Big Sky in receptions with 62. Idaho State has one of the most exposed secondaries in the conference, giving up more than 275 yards per game. Hopefully Measom and Lawson can do enough to keep the offense on the field.
Idaho State probably thinks they’ll come out and dominate this game. SUU is deep in the conference cellar right now. They’re the only winless team in conference play and have only kept two of their losses to single digit deficits. The T-Birds have looked overmatched in almost every game they’ve played this season.
That means SUU’s best case scenario sees them in a close game headed into the fourth quarter. Hopefully the defense can keep the Bengals under 35 points and the offense can stay on the field for awhile. Assuming there are no special teams miscues and penalties are kept to a minimum, the T-Birds can win this game.
But if it’s going to be close, SUU needs sophomore quarterback Chris Helbig to step up and make plays. Helbig has thrown nine interceptions this season, tied for the most in the Big Sky.
The defense stopped UC Davis on fourth down and got him the ball back with 8:53 remaining in the fourth quarter. The T-Birds were down 11 on UC Davis’s 42 yard line. A miraculous comeback was in the making.
31 seconds later Helbig criminally underthrew Dallin Brown on a double move route and the pass was intercepted. It effectively ended the game. Helbig has to be better than that if SUU want to win again this season.
Kickoff is set for 2:00 p.m. at Eccles Coliseum. It will be broadcast on PlutoTV channel 536 and watchbigsky.com.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by Mitchell Quartz