Southern Utah 101: Can Cougs avoid let down?

THE GURUS HAVE already tabbed WSU's next two games as token victories for the Cougs but there are plenty of reasons to think SUU can give Wazzu a scare. So far, they've defeated an FBS team in South Alabama and completely demolished Division II Fort Lewis 49-0. Whether the Thunderbirds will contend for FCS glory is unclear, but WSU could have a fight on their hands Saturday in their home opener.

Southern Utah won't be awed by playing a Pac-12 opponent. Last year, the Thuderbirds hung around with Cal longer than WSU did.

The worry here is that old college football standby: a let down in the game after a big win. You see it often despite all the player quotes during the week stating otherwise -- and especially when going against an undervalued opponent.

Cougars (1-1) vs Thunderbirds (2-0)
3:30 pm Pacific Time

Martin Stadium (33,522)

Pac-12 Network

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WSU by 21.5


This is the first meeting.

Cougs 31, SUU 13


Players to Know
Aaron Cantu, QB: The junior college transfer has looked solid in his first two games. He is big framed (6-2, 225) and very accurate with the ball (70 percent completion rate).
Raysean Martin, RB: The freshman was the featured weapon in SUU's opening game. He carried the ball 23 times for 107 yards and a touchdown.
Fatu Maola & Griff McNabb, WR: Maola led the team with 65 catches for 801 yards and 9 touchdowns last year. McNabb, a senior, is a transfer from Utah, where he was a regular contributor on special teams for the Utes and caught a few passes as well. Undersized (5-7, 165) but very quick, McNabb leads the team with 9 catches for 116 yards.

SUU had a more pass oriented offense last year, but with the loss of Brad Sorenson to the NFL, they want to be much more balanced in 2013. The win over Fort Lewis was so lopsided, little can be learned from it -- the Thunderbirds were up 42-0 at halftime and the starters did not play in the second half. South Alabama offered the best glimpse of SUU's strengths and weaknesses. The Thunderbirds ran the ball somewhat effectively (134 yards) but struggled in pass protection (three sacks for -41 yards). They generally run out of a pro-set formation.

Southern Utah will try to keep the game close and set up turnovers. Expect a fairly plain vanilla attack so long as the game is tight, with the Thunderbirds opting to take most of their risks on defense.

Key Statistic
14-of-15 passing: Aaron Cantu was nearly perfect against Fort Lewis in one half of work. Granted it was Fort Lewis, but most quarterbacks don't do that well against their scout team in practice..


Players to Know
James Cowser, DE: Earned freshman All-America honors last season leading the Thunderbirds with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss.
Zak Browning, MLB: Big Sky freshman of the year in 2012, leading the team with 116 tackles.

The Thunderbirds operate a base 4-3 defense that has looked outstanding against the pass, but vulnerable to the run. The group as a whole is fairly young but plays aggressive, generating four turnovers in the first two games. And they are well aware that if they want to win this game, turnovers will be the key.

Given WSU's passing game struggles -- i.e. interceptions -- SUU should be more of a challenge than people are expecting. SUU will really try to pressure Halliday into making mistakes. The simple solution is to run the football more, but I don't expect Mike Leach to let his offense off easy. He will want them first and foremost to show improvement in the passing game against a solid pass defense.

Key Statistic
5.5 yards per pass attempt: SUU's pass efficiency defense has been outstanding and has garnered 3 interceptions in two games.

Punter Brock Miller has a booming leg, averaging 45.1 yards per punt and has generated touchbacks on 8 of 9 kickoffs. The Thunderbirds are confident in their ability here.

-It is a bit of a reversal of roles from last week. SUU believes in themselves and really wants to turbo charge their season with a signature win over a big name school. The challenge for WSU is to want to beat the Thunderbirds more than SUU wants to beat them.
-SUU proved their ability to play against the Pac-12 in the Cal game last season. The Thunderbirds were down only 3 points in the fourth quarter before Cal finally took control.

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