After a quick summer break, Southern Utah University football is ready to return to action. They will open their fall season on the road against the San Jose State University Spartans.
SUU is looking to bounce back after a spring season that saw them go 1-5 against a Big Sky-only schedule. Out of those five losses, only one of them was by more than three points, an 8-point loss to Northern Arizona. Close losses last season led to defensive coordinator Robert Bala putting an emphasis on finishing over the summer, hoping to prevent anymore heartbreak.
Last Time Out
The last time the Thunderbirds took on the Spartans, again at SJSU, was all the way back in 2010. It was a nail biter, with SUU holding an 11-10 lead for much of the fourth quarter until the Spartans scored a touchdown in the final minute to give them a 16-11 win.
A lot has changed since then, and SUU comes into this game as the heavy underdog. Taking on FBS schools has become a regular occurrence for Thunderbirds football, but it hasn’t been pretty as of late. Over the past five years, Southern Utah has played four FBS schools; the University of Utah, University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and UNLV. SUU lost all four games, by a combined score of 205-69.
On the bright side, SUU looks ready to turn it around this year. They return a majority of their starters on both sides of the football, and had six players named to Phil Steele’s preseason Big Sky All-Conference Team. For an in-depth look at SUU’s roster this year, head here.
The Spartans played an eight game schedule last fall, with a record of 7-1 on their way to their first Mountain West Conference Championship where they defeated Boise State 34-20.
Offensively, they are returning every starter aside from their top two receivers. Quarterback Nick Starkel finished with over 2,100 yards last year, including a record-setting 453 yard performance in the Mountain West title game vs. Boise State. Behind Starkel is their dual-threat quarterback Nick Nash, a player who is deployed regularly as an option in the run game. Their offensive line was one of the better pass-protecting units in the Mountain West, but struggled at times to open holes on the ground.
Defensively, they are returning 10 out of 11 starters. Their defensive line projects to be fearsome, coming off of a season where they registered 27 sacks across their eight games. Defensive end Cade Hall was tied for third in the FBS with 10 sacks and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. They have a solid, deep rotation of linebackers and defensive backs, but that group of players isn’t as big of a threat as the defensive line. I wouldn’t be surprised to see SUU attack through the air.
Hall vs SUU’s left tackle Braxton Jones should shape up to be a fun matchup. Jones has drawn interest from NFL scouts due to his impressive size (6’7”) and play, as he didn’t allow a sack in the Thunderbirds’ spring season. If Jones and the rest of the offensive line can keep Justin Miller upright, expect the receivers to do some damage.
Kickoff is at 8 p.m on Saturday, August 28. The game can be watched on CBS Sports Network or listened to on KSUB 590 AM.
Story By: Christian Esparza
Photo Courtesy Of: SUU Athletics