The Thunderbirds will look to end a skid of three straight close losses this week as they take on 20th-ranked Stephen F. Austin at home. The Lumberjacks come to Cedar City fresh off a 41-24 victory over Western Athletic Conference foe Tarleton State University. Southern Utah University nearly took down Abilene Christian University last week, falling on the road 21-18.
The Thunderbirds have had ups and downs this season, including some close games that could have gone either way. The Thunderbirds are sitting at 3-4 on the season with a 1-2 conference record so far. Southern Utah is 2-1 at home, having picked up a 44-13 win against the University of St. Thomas and a 31-17 win against Utah Tech University.
Stephen F. Austin State University has a conference record of 1-0 and an overall record of 4-3 this season. The Lumberjacks have played to a 1-1 record in road games, but their other two losses have been in neutral site contests. SFA won their first true road game of the season when they beat Alcorn State University 31-27 but lost a road game at Louisiana Tech University 52-17. Stephen F. Austin currently sits in the top spot of the WAC-ASUN power rankings.
In the most recent FCS football national statistics report from Oct. 15, Southern Utah ranked as the top team in the country with a 43.18 net punting yards average and sits in fourth with a 1.29 turnover margin and 16 turnovers gained despite failing to turn the ball over at Abilene last week. Stephen F. Austin has averaged 35.89 punt return yards per game to rank first in the nation, and their four blocked kicks check the Lumberjacks in fourth overall.
Southern Utah’s Jake Gerardi remains the national punting leader with an average of 50.3 yards per boot, and teammate Zach Strand ranks fifth in the FCS with two fumble recoveries alongside SFA’s Edward Bobino. Bobino is also sitting fifth in the country with two blocked kicks this season. Rodrick Ward’s 1.9 pass breakups per game is the second-ranked total in the country while Justin Miller is fourth in passing yards with 1,897.
The Thunderbirds’ receiving core is led by Isaiah Wooden, who has 642 yards and five touchdowns on 27 catches this season. There are four Thunderbirds who have over 100 yards on the ground this season: Bobby Cole with 170, Isaiah Williams with 149, Braedon Wissler with 127 and Elijah Burns with 125. Justin Miller has 65% of his passes this season and has thrown for 12 touchdowns.
Southern Utah’s defense has been led by linebacker Kohner Cullimore, who has 59 total tackles including 2.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss. The defensive line has been anchored by graduate transfer Zach Strand, who has 20 tackles on the season. Interior defensive lineman Payton Payne leads the team with four sacks on the season. Rodrick Ward has led the defensive backs with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups this year.
The Lumberjacks are led on offense by Trae Self, who has thrown for 1,446 yards and has 13 touchdowns on the season. Xavier Gipson leads the SFA receivers with 531 yards and four touchdowns this season. The ground attack for the Lumberjacks has been on the legs of Jerrell Wimbley and Miles Reed, who have 371 and 332 yards each. Self is a dual-threat quarterback and has added 104 yards rushing and four touchdowns of his own.
The Stephen F. Austin defense relies heavily on the strong safety Myles Heard, who leads the team with 59 tackles. Defensive end Edward Bobino is the heart of the defensive line with 24 tackles on the season, including 5.5 tackles for a loss. B.J. Thompson leads SFA in sacks with 4.5 this season.
The game will be Saturday, Oct. 22, at 1 p.m. at the Eccles Coliseum in Cedar City, Utah.
Article by: Parker Haynie
Photos by: SUU Athletics