For the final game of the season, the Weber State University Wildcats are coming to Cedar City. Not only does this game mark the end of the season for Southern Utah University, it will be the end of an era.
Starting July 2022, SUU will leave the Big Sky Conference and become members of the Western Athletic Conference. After joining in 2012, SUU won the conference title in 2015 and 2017.
The annual in-state matchup between Weber State and Southern Utah is a historic one that has come to be known as the “Beehive Bowl.” Weber leads the rivalry with a 20-8 record. The rivalry reached its peak in 2017 when the two schools were named co-champions of the Big Sky Conference.
Four years later, the schools have gone down very different paths. Weber has gone 30-8 overall. The Thunderbirds meanwhile, have gone 6-33. Since that 2017 matchup, the Wildcats have won every meeting.
But again, this season has a lot more on the line. With this being the last time the two teams meet as conference rivals, it is unknown when the rivalry will continue.
The Thunderbirds hosted the Wildcats in April 2021 as one of their six games of the spring season. As so many other games went that season, SUU lost by one score. Weber had come into the game on a three-game win streak, and were one of the top teams in the FCS.
SUU started off strong and went up 16-9 after three quarters of play, but Weber struck back in the fourth and scored on back-to-back drives. The Thunderbirds had an opportunity to score with 50 seconds remaining, but a costly penalty forced them to punt and sealed the victory for the Wildcats.
A look at the opponent
Weber comes into this game 4-5 overall with their most recent game being an 18-30 loss when they hosted Portland State University. The loss dropped Weber out of the FCS top-25. Earlier this year, in what was by far their biggest win this season, the Wildcats beat Eastern Washington University who is currently ranked No. 7.
Their offense is led by quarterback Bronson Barron, a true freshman averaging just under 190 yards per game. He has thrown only three touchdowns to four interceptions and has completed 59% of his passes.
They have two running backs with over 60 carries this season. Josh Davis appeared to be their lead back, but has not played in their last two games after suffering an injury. Since then, Donte McMillan has seen an increase in carries. The team as a whole has averaged 145 yards per game on the ground.
Keys to victory
Control the trenches:
SUU has given up over 250 rushing yards in four of their last five games. At the same time, the Thunderbirds have only cracked the 150 yard mark twice all season. Stopping the run is obviously good for the defense, but it also helps the offense. Controlling the other team’s ground game will allow more time for SUU to possess the football. Too many times this season an ineffective run game has made it easier for opponents to stop the pass. Establishing the run will in turn set up the passing attack.
Air it out
Brandon Schenks is an expert after the catch. As evidenced by the sophomore’s 40-yard catch and run against the University of Northern Colorado, the 6’3” receiver knows what to do with the ball in his hands. On top of that, sophomore Ethan Bolingbroke has emerged as a reliable chain-mover with his team-leading 53 catches. If these two can get rolling, SUU’s offense will succeed.
Pressure the quarterback
This season, SUU’s pass defense is allowing almost 10 yards per attempt. The logic here is simple — get to the quarterback fast so he cannot throw the ball. During SUU’s lone win this season and their three one-possession losses, they have at least two sacks and one quarterback hit. If they want a chance to win, they need to get to the quarterback.
Where and how to watch
Being their final home game of the year, the team will celebrate senior night. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at the Eccles Coliseum and can also be watched on ESPN+ for those that cannot make it in person.
Story By: Christian Esparza