After winning its first game away from home since Nov. 11, 2017, last week, the Southern Utah University football team will travel for its final road game of the 2021 spring season against the University of Idaho on Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho. SUU has only faced Idaho once since joining the Big Sky Conference — a 31-12 loss in Moscow in 2018 — and lost the only other matchup between the schools by a score of 43-10 in Cedar City in 1994.
This game marks the start of the second half of the season for the T-Birds, who are coming off a bye after beating California State Polytechnic University 34-24 on March 13.
Quarterback Justin Miller led the T-Birds to an insurmountable 31-7 halftime lead to secure the team’s first win of the 2021 spring campaign. Miller completed 22 of 29 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Miller found sophomore Brandon Schenks for two touchdown catches in the game — including a 73-yard scamper on SUU’s first possession. Jay Green Jr. ran for 84 yards on the ground on 17 attempts while Dayne Christiansen added 30 yards and a score in the rushing attack.
Quaid Murray had 11 tackles, including one TFL, to lead the defense while La’kea Kaho’ohanohano-Davis pitched in seven tackles, including two for loss. The T-Bird defense recorded seven sacks in the win, the most in a single game since generating six sacks against University of California, Davis in 2015.
Scouting Report: Idaho Vandals (1-1)
Saturday’s match up with SUU will be Idaho’s final home game of the season. The Vandals have not played in two weeks after having their road contest against Northern Arizona University pushed back to April.
The Vandals were previously ranked No. 19 in the FCS standings before their loss to the University of California-Davis back on March 6, 27-17. The Vandals simply couldn’t keep up with a strong fourth quarter performance by the Aggies.
One of the first things that stands out about Idaho football is the team’s commitment to special teams. The Idaho punting unit is currently leading the country in net punting, averaging 45.0 yards per punt, while the kickoff return unit is currently fourth in the nation averaging 30.0 yards per return.
Quarterback Mike Beaudry has had a decent start to the season, throwing for three touchdowns but also throwing three interceptions thus far. He’s demonstrated that he’s not scared to use his legs, as he carried the ball eight times for 44 yards against UC Davis on March 6.
Idaho’s rushing load is split pretty evenly between two halfbacks: Nick Romano and Roshaun Johnson. Romano has 58 yards on the season and one touchdown while averaging just 2.8 yards per carry, while Johnson has totaled 48 yards and is good for 3.4 yards per carry.
Neither back has been able to break runs beyond the line of scrimmage and into the secondary yet, however, with Romano’s longest run being 15 yards and Johnson’s being eight.
The Vandals would much rather prefer to put the ball in the air. Hayden Hatten has caught 14 passes on the season for 212 yards and is averaging 15.14 yards per catch. He broke free for 138 yards in Idaho’s season opener against Eastern Washington University.
Cutrell Haywood follows in tow with 109 yards on the season and one touchdown. Haywood is often used on quick hit routes and only averages about 9.08 yards per catch.
The main defensive man for the Vandals is the junior linebacker, Tre Walker. Walker has double the amount of solo tackles than anyone else on the team, and has combined for 34 on the season, the second highest mark in the Big Sky.
Defensive back Tyrese Dedmon is the only Vandal to record an interception this season.
Keys to the Game:
- Don’t Let Idaho Be the Hero
Idaho’s season opening victory came against No. 12 ranked Eastern Washington on a late Beaudry-to-Hatten touchdown with 54 seconds to go.
Southern Utah lost their first game in Flagstaff on a last second NAU touchdown, and their second game in Cedar City to Idaho State on a final minute field goal.
The Beaudry to Hatten connection has been fierce this season. SUU needs to create space between themselves and the Vandals in order to avoid any late game connections between the pair.
The T-Birds also need to avoid giving their opponents opportunities to score with no time left.
- Let Justin Cook
Miller is off to a tremendous start this season. Through three games, the junior has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
Much of this is due to his offensive line being solid under pressure. Miller hasn’t had to rush much this season, only carrying it 5 times, but has thrown for over 750 yards already.
The sophomore QB has a go-to man in Brandon Schenks. Schenks has more than 180 receiving yards on the season and is averaging above 60 yards per game.
Miller also has two solid safety valve receivers in Tanner McLahlan who has caught 10 passes for 109 yards on the season, and Lance Lawson who has 103 receiving yards on the season. Each of those two has only gained around 35 yards per game but provide necessary space for Schenks to go deep.
With the weapons Miller has at his disposal, he should be able to pick apart the Idaho secondary — which has allowed an average of 309 yards through the air per game.
- Take Care of Business on Special Teams
While it may be easier said than done against this Vandal team, SUU has to keep Idaho’s special team units at bay, particularly their kick return squads.
The Vandals have yet to return a kick or a punt for a touchdown this season, but have put up 110 yards in returns so far, providing them with excellent field position at times.
Unfortunately, the T-Bird defense has yet to demonstrate whether or not they can manufacture stops in big moments, so they need field position to be on their side at all times.
Judd Cockett is the main return man for the T-Birds and is currently averaging 31.0 yards per punt return and 28.0 yards per kick return.
What, When, and How?
The T-Birds and Vandals are set to kick off at 12 p.m. in Moscow on Saturday, March 27. The game will be broadcast live on PlutoTV channel 1060.
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen and Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletic Department Strategic Communications