SAN JOSE, Calif. – While there were plenty of highlights for the Southern Utah University football team Saturday night, there were also too many big plays surrendered to stay in reach as San Jose State claimed a 45-14 victory in the 2021 season opener at CEFCU Stadium.
The loss dropped Southern Utah to 0-1 on the year while San Jose State improved to 1-0.
“San Jose State is a really good team, and we knew that going in,” said Southern Utah head coach Demario Warren. “We made some mental mistakes early on defense and kind of gave them confidence to get going. I thought we settled in in the second half after we finally got a stop, so there were some positives. We’ve got some really young players who got the ball turned over on defense and special teams, which is something we weren’t able to do during the spring season. We protected the ball on offense and got the run game going, which isn’t easy to do against San Jose State.”
SUU’s first half scoring plays were both SportsCenter Top-10 worthy as the first touchdown of the season resembled the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Philly Special” from Super Bowl LII. Judd Cockett took a lateral and rolled right to find his quarterback, Justin Miller, in the endzone for the score. Later in the quarter, cornerback Kobe Singleton picked off SJSU quarterback Nick Starkel and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown.
Despite the exciting plays, the Thunderbirds could not prevent the Spartans from putting together a plethora of their own highlights. SJSU scored on passing plays of 75 and 65 yards on consecutive drives in the first half. Additionally, San Jose State quarterback Nick Starkel connected on passes of 38, 43 and 47 yards to set up more scoring plays.
Although held scoreless in the second half, the Thunderbirds move the ball efficiently on multiple drives. In the fourth quarter, a 26-yard pass to Philip Brown and a 28-yard run by Karris Davis moved SUU down to the two-yard line. The Thunderbirds were unable to convert on fourth down, which ended their scoring chances for the night.
Miller completed 15 of 29 passes on the night for a total of 117 yards. Brown led SUU in receiving with 32 yards while Isaiah Williams caught three passes for 27 yards. Davis was Southern Utah’s leading rusher with 36 yards on the night. He was closely followed by David Moore III with 32 yards on 10 attempts.
Defensively, AJ Stanley led the Thunderbirds with seven tackles while Jayden Clark added six. Singleton and linebacker Trent Whalen helped SUU win the turnover battle by intercepting a pass and recovering a fumbled punt return, respectively.
The Thunderbirds face a quick turnaround as they will travel to take on another FBS opponent in Arizona State, Thursday, September 2, in Tempe, Arizona. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. MT with the game being broadcast live on the PAC-12 Network.
- Judd Cockett tallied the first passing touchdown of his career when he found quarterback Justin Miller for an eight-yard score and SUU’s first touchdown of the season. Subsequently, it was also the first receiving touchdown of Miller’s career.
- Kobe Singleton’s interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter was both the first interception and first touchdown of his career.
- With a fumble recovery and interception, SUU’s defense matched its entire turnover total from last season in the first game of 2021.
- Jake Gerardi booted a career-long, 70-yard punt in the first quarter. He later pinned the Spartans on the two-yard line on a separate punt.
- Saturday was SUU’s first turnover-free game since the spring 2021 matchup against Idaho State. It was the first turnover-free contest against an FBS opponent since playing Oregon State in 2018.
“We have to be more efficient in the pass game and stop giving up explosive plays on defense. We also have to tackle a lot better. There’s a lot of work to do, but there are some positives to take out of the game.”
-Warren on what SUU needs to improve on moving forward
“Running back is one of our deepest positions, and they go down throughout the season. We want to keep guys fresh and healthy as much as we can. We got over 100 yards on San Jose State’s defense, and it wasn’t just some late yardage. We did a good job of making plays and the O-line did a good job of grinding it out.”
-Warren on the team’s rushing efforts
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Arizona State doesn’t care what we just went through. They’re going to be a top-25 team, so we’ll see what happens. We’ve got to get right back to work tomorrow and get a game plan in and try to get ready for another game on Thursday.”
-Warren on facing a quick turnaround against Arizona State
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Story and photo courtesy of: SUU Athletics Strategic Communication