FOOTBALL: Grading the SUU Game
(Graphic courtesy of ESPN)
In what appears to be their penultimate game of the season, Weber State narrowly escaped Cedar City with a 19-16 victory over the SUU Thunderbirds (1-4) to improve to 4-0 on this spring football season. We asked our panel to grade the offense, defense and special teams from WSU’s fourth consecutive victory over the T-Birds.
AC: This is a tough one. Weber State outgained SUU by a pretty substantial margin, the running game looked decent, especially for the last 16 minutes of the game when Dontae McMillan went full on Adrian Peterson and ran for like a billion yards and a touchdown - probably should have had another. Ty MacPherson had an explosive play in the first quarter and ended with 87 total receiving yards. We know that the explosive potential is there and we have seen it periodically throughout the season. With all that said, the offense only scored 19 points and struggled to get into the endzone. I’ll give them a B-.
Joe Traub: C. Despite it feeling like a stagnant, sluggish performance from watching the game, going back through it provides more reason for optimism. The running game was quite a force, led by McMillan, as he continued his torrid spring season. McMillan ran for 139 yards against Southern Utah, single-handedly leading a game-tying drive and then putting the Wildcats on top with another touchdown in the fourth quarter. The only problem was that he was ruled down, despite replays showing a much different result. (He was in, folks.) Josh Davis and Daniel Wright added 73 and 45 yards on the ground, respectively, and both did a nice job of chewing the clock and putting pressure on the T-Birds front. It sort of reminded me of when Davis exploded for 225 rushing yards the last time these two teams met in Cedar City. Bronson Barron was off-and-on all day, with the highlight being a touchdown pass to Dallin Jamison. Based on total yardage (Weber outgained SUU 392-226, including racking up 225 in the second half), it would appear to be an easier win for the Wildcats, but they left a plethora of points on the board, with penalties being the bugaboo many times. The ‘Cats must clean this up and play more disciplined football.
Chappy: B. It’s equal to what WSU has had for the past three years. Could it be better? Yes. Have they won many, many games with an offense as potent as what they have now? Also yes. If they can just finish drives, fans will feel about 90 percent better than they do now, in my opinion. The problems finishing seem to be a combination of bad luck and inexperience, both of which can be corrected. I do give the offense credit, however, for having an absolute wealth of depth at running back. Weber State is down two of their top three on our depth chart from the start of the season and we are still killing it in rushing. Credit to not only Davis, but also McMillan and Wright Jr.
Colby Peterson: B. As previously noted, the offense actually outgained SUU in this one by 166 yards, but it didn’t feel that way, after a sluggish first half. The Wildcats seemed to find offensive success in the second half with short, quick passes into the flat, and simply handing the ball to McMillan for 138 net yards on the day. The passing game was much improved, seeing Barron return to toss for 167 yards on 23 total attempts. In contrast, SUU’s QB Justin Miller threw for 172 yards on 41 attempts, making Barron’s day look far more efficient. As Chappy noted, not the greatest offensive performance we’ve ever seen from the Wildcats, but when you really look at the numbers, not the absolute worst day, either.
AC: Another terrific performance from the defense earns them an A. They didn’t meet the “rule of six” that we’ve heard about, but they created a lot of pressure on Miller throughout the game. George Tarlas had one of his best games of the season and got home for a sack. Desmond Williams continues to be a force in run support, getting a big hit, causing and recovering a fumble that helped change the tide of the game. I don’t think I have enough positive things to say about this secondary, either. Miller is a good quarterback. The Wildcat defense just shut him down and forced his worst game of the season.
Joe: B+. Arguably, the play of this game occurred in the fourth quarter, when Williams stuffed T-Birds stud running back Jay Green Jr. and forced the ball out, creating the only turnover for either squad. Southern Utah was on the brink of wearing down the Wildcats defense on multiple occasions, but they stood tall throughout. SUU’s Miller entered the day with some of the more impressive numbers in the Big Sky during this abbreviated season, but Weber State was able to hold him to 24 completions on 43 attempts for just 181 yards, after he had previously averaged a hair under 300 per game. Jay Hill takes pride in his defense shutting down streaking quarterbacks, and the game plan of his staff worked once again.
Chappy: A+. Dominating defensive performance by the Wildcats. They held QB with the best numbers in the conference to his worst day and simultaneously held SUU to just over 50 yards of rushing. The defensive backfield was especially dominant on Saturday. Overall, just a great performance typical of what we see under Coach Hill, but not something that Wildcat Nation should ever take for granted.
Colby: B+. As expected, the Wildcat defense impressed against a decent SUU offense. Analysts knew the game would depend on how well SUU could throw the ball against Weber State’s secondary, and the Wildcats came prepared. SUU’s Miller averaged 297.5 yards per game, going into Saturday’s Beehive Bowl. As I said above, he came away with just 172 yards to show for the day. The Wildcats also did a terrific job stopping the run, holding SUU to just 54 yards on the ground. However, a concern I continue to have is the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, leading to sacks. Tarlas was the only one to bring Miller down. That will have to change if the Wildcats hope to have any success in the playoffs, should they win next weekend at home against a surging Idaho State team.
AC: Kicker Kyle Thompson was named Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week for nailing a pair of field goals; one was beyond 50 yards that, frankly, he made look easy. Rashid Shaheed wasn’t given many chances in the return game to do something. The big blemish on special teams for the day was the blocked punt. Had that not happened and we make the assumption that SUU doesn’t score a touchdown after a successful punt, I think this game is a lot easier for WSU fans to digest. That one play put some major kinks in the Wildcats’ plans and forced them to play from behind. Special teams get a C- from me.
Joe: B-. Literally, as I was working on this segment, I saw a tweet announcing Kyle Thompson was named conference Special Teams Player of the Week. I think it is well deserved, as his 51-yard field goal early in the game was a thing of beauty, then he came up clutch with the eventual game winner on a chip shot in the fourth quarter. As we’ve seen so many times, short field goals can often lead to devastation for fanbases (sorry, Vikings fans), and the mental game is sometimes even more critical when lining up for an extra-point type kick than a 50-plus yarder. Mackenzie Morgan continued to impress in the punting game, averaging 38.8 yards per kick on six attempts. The last two regular punters for Weber State have been absolute studs (seriously, how spoiled were we to watch Jake DeMaio and Doug Lloyd?), and they do not seem to be missing a beat at all with Morgan. It was unfortunate the two-point attempt did not pan out in this game, but I have little doubt Jay Hill and Matt Hammer will continue to use this formation for the rest of spring ball and into the autumn. The reason for a lower grade this time is because the Wildcats surrendered a blocked punt that was returned for a score, a rare occurrence against this unit.
Chappy: C- for an atypical performance by the Wildcat special teams. The blocked punt was almost the difference in the game, and the failed two-point conversion just felt like an off play. But the thing about special teams, the way Weber State does it, is that the big special teams plays absolutely boost momentum and are a positive, but when they don’t work or are negative, I think it almost has the opposite effect. The only reason I didn’t give them an F is because Thompson kicked a 50+ yard field goal, and that’s awesome.
Colby: C+. Normally a strength for Weber State, special teams have struggled a bit this year. As my colleagues noted above, a major turn in the game came from the blocked punt that resulted in a scoop-and-score. Without it, the game would have looked very different. The line will need to clean up those kinds of mistakes up in order to return to their former glory. Yet, a bright spot came, as AC mentioned, from Thompson’s performance, knocking down a 51-yard field goal to take the lead early in the first quarter, with the wind changing directions every five minutes. If that kind of performance can continue, Thompson could comfortably become the successor to Trey Tuttle, who left the team prior to this season.