The Southern Utah University football team will look to rebound after dropping its third game of the 2021 season in the final seconds as they take on the No. 2/No. 3 Weber State University in Cedar City.
Last week against the University of Idaho, the T-Birds allowed Vandal third-string quarterback Nikhil Nayar to march down the field and throw a seven-yard touchdown to take a 33-32 lead with just seven seconds remaining on the game clock.
SUU has now lost three games by a total of four points this season.
In his fourth career start, quarterback Justin Miller continued his strong offensive season by throwing for 422 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately for Miller, he threw two interceptions against Idaho, bringing his season interception total to three.
The Thunderbirds continue to show how strong their receiving core is, as Brandon Schenks racked up 126 yards last week, while Landon Measom totaled 89. Lance Lawson and Dayne Christiansen each snagged 50 or more yards each.
The T-Bird defense has shown flashes of brilliance this season at times, and they currently lead the Big Sky in total sacks. However, they were unable to slow down either of Idaho’s quarterbacks, as starting QB CJ Jordan threw for 183 yards and Nayar threw for 143.
SUU’s defense was also unable to stifle Idaho’s run game, allowing the Vandals to gain 209 yards on the ground.
With the highly-rankedWildcats in town, the T-Birds will look to right all of their previous wrongs and steal a win against their in-state conference rival in the Beehive Bowl.
The Wildcats will enter the Eccles Coliseum ranked No. 2 in the AFCA Coaches Poll, the highest ranking in program history.
Still, Weber State showed some signs of vulnerability when they beat Northern Arizona University last week thanks to a 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown as time expired.
Junior quarterback Randall Johnson looks to lead the Wildcat offense Saturday. Johnson took over under center last week after Bronson Barron went down with a wrist injury and completed 11 passes in 19 attempts. That effort was good enough for 3 touchdowns and just 1 interception.
Johnson was, however, sacked five times.
Josh Davis leads the Wildcats’ rushing squad. Last week he gained 141 yards on 16 carries. Johnson has demonstrated that he has the ability to do it himself as well, as he ran for 70 yards against the Lumberjacks.
Weber State currently leads the Big Sky with nine total interceptions forced on the season. SUU has just one. Conner Mortensen and Logan Lutui each have two picks this season for the Wildcats.
Mortensen leads the Wildcat defense in tackles per game, averaging 8.8. Desmond Williams follows right behind, averaging 6.8.
The defense is second in the conference only to SUU in total sacks on the season with 16.
Keys to the Game
- Pressure the QB
While it may go without saying, making the quarterback uncomfortable should be a huge part of Saturday’s game plan.
Johnson showed a tendency to panic under pressure against NAU and has the potential to make mistakes if he launches the ball under duress. However, hurrying the quarterback often prompts a QB scramble, and Johnson demonstrated last week he’s not afraid to make plays with his legs.
Containing the run will be a focal point for Southern Utah, but if they can force a couple of Weber State turnovers through the air, that gives Miller a couple more possessions to work his magic under center.
2. Continue the balanced attack through the air
It’s no secret Miller has two go-to targets in Measom and Schenks. Both receivers have demonstrated an elite ability to get into open space and Miller is especially adept at finding them.
However with their success, it may be easy to forget the equally important role that Lawson and tight end Tanner McLachlan remain in the short game for Miller.
Miller’s ability to dump quick passes in the middle to Lawson and McLachlan will continue to open up Schenks and Measom for big plays down the sidelines.
Last week against Idaho, Schenks took home a 68-yard touchdown, while Measom followed it up with a 60-yarder of his own.
Miller will need to remain balanced throughout the game simply because the Weber State secondary is very quick to adapt to passing patterns and might easily read the quarterback if he favors one target over the other.
3. Avoid crunch time situations
Or… at least be on offense in the clutch.
Maybe it’s the unorthodox season, maybe it’s the colder weather, maybe it’s spring fever, but SUU’s defense has been essentially unreliable this season with under two minutes to play.
Rivalry games are, most of the time, heated battles from start to finish. With SUU’s reluctance to maintain a late game lead and Weber’s recent late game heroics, if the game is close at the death, the odds loom in the Wildcat’s favor.
The T-Birds will need to establish an insurmountable lead early and maintain it with their offense, as Weber’s solid offense is sure to make a late game run.
This will be incredibly difficult, as the Wildcats defense leads the Big Sky in scoring defense, allowing just 19 points per game.
Where, When, How?
Saturday’s Beehive Bowl game will kick off at 2 p.m. inside the Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City. The game will be streamed live on PlutoTV channel 1055.
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletic Department Strategic Communications