Weber State coach Jody Sears wanted to use Saturday’s game against a heavily favored in-state opponent as a gauge to measure the Wildcats’ toughness.
WSU (0-2) lost to BYU, 45-13, to drop a second straight game against a Football Bowl Subdivision program to open the season.
So, where are the Wildcats on that toughness gauge?
“Probably on a scale of 1 to 10, I would say maybe a seven,” Sears said. “I like it, I like where we are. I think we’ve got some callous to us, I think we’ve got some guys that are craving some contact and they (don’t) shy away from being tough and being in those tough environments. I kind of like where we are from a toughness standpoint, but by no means are we where we need to be, no question. We’ve got to continue to build and get better.”
One guy who couldn’t have been much better was Weber State defensive back Tony Epperson, doing double-duty as the punter.
Epperson was the Wildcats’ surprise secret weapon Saturday in Provo. He led the Weber State defense with 10 tackles to go with an interception, a fumble recovery and a series of record-setting punts — even a scrambling left-footed one.
That kind of all-around game was a first for the Park City product.
“Never in my life (have I played a game like that),” he said. “It was an interesting game. I felt good punting, they did a good job blocking for me on most of the punts. Defense, it just came in preparation. I felt good, I was confident and everyone did my assignments to put me in position to make plays like that. It was a good game, but it can still get better.”
Sears was impressed with his double-threat defender/punter.
“He turned the field for us I don’t know how many times,” Sears said.
Epperson, a Park City product, boomed 10 punts for 507 yards. His 50.7 yards per punt average was the fourth-best single game average in Weber State history, including a pair of monster punts of 74 and 70 yards.
In the first half, he scooped up a Cody Hoffman fumble after Chris Wheeler knocked the ball away to make up for a Weber State fumble on the previous drive.
Epperson picked off pass from BYU quarterback Riley Nelson pass in the first half and returned it 25 yards. He also rescued a near-disastrous punt late in the second quarter, grabbing a bad snap and getting the rugby-style kick away with his left foot for a 33-yard punt.
“I have never kicked a ball left-footed in my life,” Epperson said. “I just decided that it was all I could do right there.”
Epperson’s 50.7 yards per punt was the fourth-best single game average, and his 74-yard missile punt was the seventh longest in school history.
All that’s behind Epperson and the Wildcats now as they prepare for their home opener and first FCS game against McNeese State (2-0) Saturday at 6 p.m. at Stewart Stadium. The Cowboys are 2-0 and defeated FBS school Middle Tennessee State in Week 1.
“That’s one of the biggest things,” he said. “You can’t dwell on the past, there’s nothing we can do about what happened at Fresno, there’s nothing we can do about what happened (last Saturday) except go in there, watch film, make our corrections. Now we’re back to playing Double-A (FCS) teams, it’s business as usual. I prepare for these (FBS) games the same as any other team, but we’re looking ahead to McNeese State and getting ready for them now.”
WSU running back C.J. Tuckett rushed for just 21 yards in Week 1 against Fresno State. The great-nephew of former BYU baseball coach and athletics director Glen Tuckett did better than that on the first play from scrimmage against the Cougars, breaking off a 28-yard run. Tuckett finished with 80 yards on 12 carries to average 6.7 yards per try. Collectively, the Wildcats improved with 115 yards rushing at BYU compared to 67 at Fresno State.
Tuckett said WSU wanted to see progress in its ground game.
“We had to work some kinks out (after Fresno State). On the offensive line, they were definitely undersized (against BYU), but they blocked their hearts out,” he said.
The Wildcats watched a lot of film to prepare.
“We got embarrassed (vs. Fresno State) in the run game so we kind of made it a point as a running back corps to come out and give it everything you’ve got,” Tuckett said. “We were able to make some plays, make some improvements from last week and hopefully carry that momentum on to the next weeks.”
Weber State’s Wildcat Club luncheon will be held today at noon at the Ogden Marriott Hotel on 24th Street. The luncheons are open to the public; cost is $10 per person. For more information, call the Wildcat Club at 801-626-6576 or visit weberstatesports.com.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports for the Standard-Examiner. Follow @RoyBurton on Twitter, read more about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.