It’ll have been two long weeks since we last saw the Griz at home so I’m expecting a warm welcoming this Saturday as the Griz take on Southern Utah. I’ve heard nervous rumblings that attendance might dip come game day as some fans have already given up on the team. If that’s the case… good. Griz football is on a rocky path right now coming off the most tumultuous off-seasons ever. Yes there’s issues, yes there’s concerns but if fans are going to willingly give up on the program this quickly – quite frankly I don’t want them to be part of Griz Nation anyways. Give me a stadium 75% – 90% full of pure Griz fans, I could do without that upper crust that turns coat and runs at the first sight of trouble.

So onto the game, SUU, lets do this:

Record 2-4

3-34 loss to Utah State: USU opened fast, going up 21-0 in the 1st quarter. They absolutely wrecked SUU’s defense passing for 304 and rushing for 265. It could’ve been worse too as USU lost a fumble and threw a pick inside SUU’s red zone.

31-50 loss to Cal: Cal rolls up a 20-3 lead and is setting pretty until as time expires in the 1st half SUU connects on a 40 yard TD pass and suddenly the game is 20-10, then SUU takes the opening kickoff and marches 75 yards for another TD making it 20-17 and we have a ballgame, right? Well, not really. Cal wakes up and rattles off 24 unanswered points which start in the 4th qtr. Cal’s offense got 14 of the 24 points, their D nabbed a pick-6 TD, and their ST took a punt back for a TD. All of this scoring occurred in about 7:30 of clock time. SUU drives and adds a TD and Cal answers with a 77 yard rushing TD. SUU adds one more late and that’s the final. Cal ran for 290 and passed for 230 while SUU had nearly 300 passing but only 80 rushing.

45-23 win vs New Mexico Highlands: It was 21-20 at the half with NMHU getting 14 points on two pick-6 TDs. SUU tightened up in the 2nd half forcing 3 fumbles (also forced 1 fumble and 1 int in the frist) and not allowing NMHU into the endzone at all. It was a sloppy game, SUU had 2 ints for TDs while NMHU had 5 total turnovers. Before you smirk at SUU getting all they could handle from NMHU I pulled up their record, they’re 5-1 and have pretty easily beat most of the other teams they’ve played.

49-42 win vs Portland State: What a back and forth battle. PSU jumps all over SUU to go up 21-3 in the first quarter, but SUU then scores 17 points in the 2nd qtr to PSU just adding 1 more TD to set the score at 28-20 going into the half. Then it gets nuts, SUU returns the opening kickoff and converts the 2-point conversion to tie it, they then get the ball back quickly but Sorenson is picked off and PSU scores to go up 35-28. SUU ties it up again on a long drive but then PSU answers and re-gains the lead 42-35 as the teams head into the 4th qtr. PSU early in the 4th loses a fumble in their own territory and SUU cashes in shortly after to tie it up at 42. SUU then holds PSU to a 3 and out, and then getting the ball back they go on a time consuming TD drive to grab a 49-42 lead with just 1:30 to play. But PSU wasn’t done, they quickly move down the field and get a 1st and goal to go on the 2 yard line with 18 seconds left in the game and 2 timeouts still to use. SUU stuffs a run on 1st down, PSU throws 2 incompletes on 2nd and 3rd, and then SUU stuffs a 4th down QB sneak and wins the game. SUU passed for 320 yards and only ran for 86 while PSU ran for 317 and passed for 270, heavily out-gaining Southern Utah. PSU had 4 turnovers to SUU’s 1.

17-24 loss to MSU: It was a close one the whole way and MSU didn’t have the win secured right until the end. The cats were up 14-7 at the half and 17-7 through 3 quarters but SUU stormed back scoring 10 unanswered and knotted the game at 17-17 with 8:29 left to play. MSU lost a fumble on the next drive but SUU shot themselves in the foot going 3 and out and then missing a fieldgoal. MSU then marched down and grabbed the lead 24-17 with just 2:59 to play. SUU with the ball back got all the way to the cats 27 yard line but with time expiring they had to heave a pass to the endzone which was picked up. MSU beat SUU with a balanced attack, just over 400 total yards split almost evenly between rushing and passing, while SUU didn’t rush much (just 70 yards) and passed for 250. SUU had to be kicking themselves as the forced 4 turnovers to just their 2 committed, but they still lost the game.

22-27 loss to Sac St: SUU kicked a fieldgoal to shore up a 16-7 lead at the half. In the 3rd qtr they found themselves having to fight back a resurgent Sac team who scored an early TD on a 63 yard rush, making it a 16-14 game. SUU scored again but missed the PAT and it was 22-14, Sac then scores once again but fails to get the 2 point conversion and it’s 22-20 with 3:55 left in the 3rd. SUU puts together a small drive but then has to punt, Sac take the ball and 12 plays later cashes in a TD with 9:00 left in the 4th to grab a 27-22 lead. Suddenly both defenses wake up, SUU forces a few 3 and outs, as does Sac. SUU with one final chance and 1:30 left tosses an interception on their own 18 yard line and its game over. Similar story in stats, Sac went balanced with 160 rushing and 200 passing while SUU went pass heavy with 61 rushing and 320 passing. Once again SUU won the turnover battle, but didn’t win the game.

Players to watch:

#4 Brad Sorensen – Brad is a BIG QB and a very good one at that. He’s 6-5 and 230 pounds. Last year he passed for 3150 yards, 17 TDs and 11 INTs which would’ve put him 2nd best in the conference behind just Bo Levi Mitchell. This year his per game average is lower by about 30 yards/game. He’s thrown for about 1500 yards, 14 TDs and 8 INTs. Last year his completion % was 68% while this year it’s 60%. Brad’s not much of a runner but will scramble if he needs to.

#8 Fatu Moala – Sorensen’s favorite target, a 6-2 wide receiver Moala is not the big yardage guy, he’s got just 266 yards on 27 grabs and 4 TDs.

#13 Mitch Jessop – The home run threat, with 2 less catches than Moala, Jessop has 423 yards and 3 TDs, his per game average is 84.6 yards. Jessop will be handful for our defense, he’s a big 6-4 kid.

#7 Henna Brown – A big 6 foot, 233 pound running back, Brown does a lot, he’s 3rd on the team in receptions with 19 for 212 yards and 1 TD, he’s also got 53 rushing yards this season.

#40 Brian Wilson – The SUU roster says he’s a DB, but he’s their main running back. Wilson has 415 yards on the ground and 1 TD, he averages about 70 yards/game. He’s also got 100 receiving yards and 3 receiving TDs.

#3 Griff McNabb – A shorter/smaller WR at 5-7, 165 McNabb has 166 receiving yards this season with 1 TD. He’s also the main punt returner with a 7.2 yard average return.

#82 Josh Smith – A red-shirt frosh WR with just 7 receiving yards but the main kickoff threat. He’s got a 95 yard kickoff return TD and a big 23 yard per return average.

#35 Zak Browning – a true freshman linebacker, he leads the team in tackles with 53, he’s got a sack a 4 forced fumbles! Could be the makings of a great linebacker if he’s doing this as a true freshman.

#28 Miles Killebrew – RS frosh DB that’s 2nd on the team in tackles with 46, he’s also got a fumble recovery TD.

#58 Cody Larsen – A big D-lineman at 6-4, 300 pounds Larsen has the most sacks on the team with 4 and TFLs with 9. He’s also got 23 tackles, 4 QB hits, and 2 forced / 2 recovered fumbles.

#53 James Crowser – A Wagenmann-type of D-end, smaller at 244 but a quick rusher. He’s got 34 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 1 INT, and 1 forced fumble.

#5 Namar Flentroy – A linebacker transfer with 45 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery and 2 forced fumbles. One of the few seniors of the top playmakers on defense.

General Stats:

SUU’s offense averages 28 points per game while the Grizzly defense allows 27 points per game. On the other side of the ball SUU’s defense allows 33 points per game while Montana’s offense allows 33 points per game. So… uh… if you were to pick a score I’d say 33-27.

SUU’s primary attack is through the air, and it seems like they use shorter passes to set up the home run shots. They average just 11.4 yards per catch (Montana is 10.5 so we are similar there). SUU passes on average of almost 39 times per game (Montana passes on average 28.5 times per game). The SUU passing attack averages just about 260 yards per game.

SUU has the 2nd worst defense in the Big Sky, behind only Idaho State, allowing a total of 462 yards per game on average. As you can see from their key players, they’re young on defense. They allow 262 passing yards per game (3rd worst, UM is just slightly better at 250 per game) and they allow 200 rushing yards per game, compare that to who we just faced, UNC who allows 191 per game.

Southern Utah has tossed 8 interceptions and grabbed 8 interceptions. It’s fumbles where they’re damn good. They’ve only lost 1 fumble this whole season and have only put the ball on the turf 4 times. Their defense on the other hand has FORCED 21 fumbles and recovered 11 of those. It’s because of their fumble forcing defense that SUU has the very best turnover margin in the Big Sky at +10. Montana is -4 and is tied for the most amount of fumbles lost with MSU at 9.

When SUU gets in the red zone, they score, they’re 2nd best with scoring % in the redzone, scoring 94% of the time (only EWU is better with 100% scoring). Also as bad as their defense is statistically, it’s the best defense in the RZ to prevent scores, they’ve allowed scores 76% of the time (Montana is the worst, allowing scores 100% of the time).

SUU allows a 13.1 yard per return average on punts, only Weber and ISU have given up more punt return yards this season.

SUU is the 4th least penalized team in the Big Sky, but when playing against them, their opponents average the highest amount of penalty yards per game in 90 yards.

Looking at scoring SUU has only scored 6 points this whole season in the 1st qtr, needless to say they start slow, however the 2nd qtr is their best scoring qtr on average, the 3rd is a little shaky and they finish strong in the 4th. Their defense allows the most amount of scores in the 1st half, allowing pretty even amount of points over the 1st and 2nd qtr, they tighten down in the 3rd but allow quite a bit in the 4th.

Keys for a Grizzly victory:

– SUU is going to pass a ton on us, they’re not much of a running threat and realize our pass D is suspect. Being that they like the shorter passes we’re probably going to have to have Josh, Chief, Nate, and Sean play closer to the WRs. It seemed against UNC when they played soft coverage that was when Labato made more completions – that is probably exactly what SUU is hoping for, soft coverage. If the DBs creep up a bit and prevent from the quick screens as much that could bottle up the running game.

– Being that they’ll be passing a ton this should give our DEs some chances to bat a few passes down and get after Sorensen. He’s a big QB but he’s been sacked a bunch this year, meanwhile Montana has one of the most amount of sacks (18) on the year. Wags, Harris, Crittenden, and Holmes need to get in his face. Also send Coyle and Stu up the middle.

– Run that ball. The best way to not get burned by SUU’s passing game is to keep the ball out of their hands. Our O-line has flat out dominated the last two weeks and statistically this front 7 is even worse. They have good size, maybe even better size than UNC did, but they’re inexperienced. Get after them and grind it out.

– Get Trent rolling. Outside of probably ISU this will be the worst grouping of DBs we’ll face this year. Some short/medium passes could turn into big plays, play-fakes will go big time after quite a few runs as well. Trent’s gotta connect on those deep balls though. Against UNC those over-throws didn’t matter much, against a better team in SUU missed opportunities will mean the difference between a win and a loss.

– Don’t get comfy. Notice a trend in SUU’s games? Close ones that they wind up winning or losing in the 4th. They DON’T quit, and will fight back. If the Griz hop out early and get cozy this could be NAU all over again. SUU has a knack to come from behind – building a big lead and NOT getting conservative even if we’re up 35-17 in the 3rd (or something) will only come back to bite us in the butt.

– Play smart, SUU apparently is good it making its opponents mad. Mick was unhappy with how many penalties the Griz had last week, can’t do that again this week.

– While we don’t see it much I know the coaches have either put a linebacker like Stu or Owen against the slot or split-out WR, that could help to disrupt the short passing game.

– Win on special teams. I like how our ST is coming together, there’s glaring errors still like the kick return TD last week and 4 missed extra points, but consider that Lider is 8-8 on fieldgoals and we’ve got our return game rolling, also coverage outside of that 1 return last week has been solid. I could see Pete getting another PR touchdown this week.

– Hang onto the ball. Didn’t hear me? HANG ONTO THE BALL!!!!! This team makes up for its errors and inexperience by forcing fumbles, and as luck would have it we cough up the ball a ton. Protect the ball, take a few less yards if you have to but don’t be dumb when running with it.

I’ll say Griz win this one, back at home, and starting to click, finally. It’ll be tough as Sorenson will get his yards against us and that big 6-4 WR will give us major fits. I’ll say Griz win this in a nail biter 44-36.