Weber State vs. Dixie State football preview: Transfers lead offensive skill positions for DSU
When Weber State gets to St. George for Saturday’s Week 2 matchup against Dixie State, the Wildcats should face a crowd at Greater Zion Stadium eager for some football, supporting both teams.
The Trailblazers opened their first full Division I schedule last week hosting Sacramento State, a 19-7 loss, in front of an announced crowd of 6,656 people. That stadium holds 10,500, and last week’s game kicked off at 7 p.m. with a temperature of 98 degrees.
Though Saturday’s high is forecast to be 99 degrees, sunset should come about 15 minutes before kickoff and help mitigate the heat.
And, not a bad haul to host two Big Sky teams at home for a first full DI season.
“It was fun this past weekend. It was a little toasty out there, but it was fun. We had plenty of fans. They were trying to find some shade on that east side but once that sun went down, I felt like our crowd was into it,” Dixie State head coach Paul Peterson said. “I expect it to be a packed house this weekend when Weber travels. We’re just down the street, everyone from Utah loves coming to St. George and if I lived in Ogden, I’d love to come to St. George, too.”
As it’s Sept. 11, Dixie State is planning pregame ceremonies to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001 and honor members of the military.
“It’s always awesome to honor those people. So it should be a fun atmosphere,” he said.
Most of Dixie State’s skill-position starters are manned by transfers.
At quarterback, junior starter Kody Wilstead was a highly recruited prep from St. George who originally began his career at BYU and played four games at Coffeyville Community College in 2018.
Wilstead is in his third season at Dixie State and is the incumbent starter from the spring season. In 13 games between 2019 and the spring 2021 campaign, he’s 199 for 356 (55.9%) for 2,979 yards (229 per game) for 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
STORY: Weber State, Dixie State compliment each other’s toughness
DSU will like to throw as much as is effective with Wilstead. In last week’s opener against Sacramento State, he was 15 of 30 for 159 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and took four sacks. The run game netted 50 yards.
On the depth chart, he’s backed up by sophomore transfer Kenyon Oblad, who appeared in 12 games over three seasons at UNLV. He hasn’t thrown a pass at DSU yet; freshman Kobe Tracy appeared in two spring games and attempted 26 passes.
“We thought Kody gives us the best chance to win. We’ll do that with whatever quarterback. If Kody’s starting to struggle, we’ll put the next-guy-up mentality, and that’s all positions,” Peterson said. “It’s a performance-based business in football. He gave us the best chance to win so we kept him in the whole time.”
With DSU seemingly open to changing signal-callers if needed, Hill said Weber will worry about itself.
“We’ll play whoever steps out on the field,” Hill said. “But the Wilstead kid is a good player. They’re very capable for sure. Who they play at quarterback really doesn’t affect us much, we’ve got to go out and do our thing.”
At running back, the Trailblazers will have JUCO transfer Drew Kannely-Robles and UTEP transfer Josh Fields.
Arizona State sophomore transfer Keith Davis is a playmaker at receiver, with freshman David Fisher and Snow College transfer senior Jalen Powell. 6-foot-8 DSU senior stalwart Deven Osborne is listed as a starter on the two-deep, but did not catch a pass last week against Sacramento State.
Leadership for Dixie State’s defense starts with junior linebacker Malaki Malaki, the native of American Samoa who was awarded the No. 3 jersey in honor of the late Abraham Reinhardt, a first-team all-conference linebacker who died in March 2019 of a sudden illness his family said was linked to abnormally low sodium levels.
“He’s just kind of the heart and soul of our defense,” Peterson said. “He’s got a great personality, plays with tremendous effort.”
Malaki totaled 11 tackles against Sacramento State. Colorado State transfer defensive lineman Livingston Paogofie totaled three of DSU’s nine tackles for loss, and freshman defensive back Tyrell Grayson totaled 12 tackles.
Peterson also said junior safety Darrius Nash is a key leader.
Peterson indicated it would be key for the Trailblazers to make big plays offensively if they want to defeat Weber State, and keep WSU from doing so offensively. He said Sac State took lots of big shots downfield in the pass game and DSU kept them at bay.
“But I think we’ve got to get them in harder down-and-distances where they’re throwing it and doing some things where they’re not as strong,” Peterson said of WSU. “They love third-and-short so let’s keep them off schedule.
“Both defenses are really good. I don’t expect it to be a 40- to 50-type shootout game, the way they play offense and defense.”
Hill said he was pleased with the progress of the passing offense during practice coming out of a long weekend following the Thursday loss at Utah. Freshman quarterback Bronson Barron threw 21 of 33 for 213 yards, one touchdown, one interception and took three sacks against Utah.
“Bronson is still playing at a pretty high level. The continuity between him, Justin Malone, Rashid Shaheed, Ty MacPherson continues to get better, so I like where they’re at,” Hill said. “The defense, they’re going to be solid. There’s a lot of guys on that side of the ball who have played a lot of football. We’ve just got to prepare the right way.”
Hill detailed the status of injured Wildcats or those yet to take the field as the Wildcats hit mid-week of preparations.
First, senior offensive lineman Ty Whitworth, who left the Utah game with an apparent leg injury: “He’s day by day … We’ll just see how he feels tomorrow, but I don’t expect him to be out a long time.”
Senior receiver David Ames and sophomore offensive lineman Ethan Atagi are both expected starters who missed the Utah game. Hill said Ames missed the game because he entered COVID protocol last week, but he was about to return to practice. Atagi began “ramping up” his practice activity.
“Those will both be big additions to what we’re doing,” Hill said.
Hill said junior receiver Devon Cooley is still with the team but will not play this season. The leading receiver for the team in 2019, Cooley caught just one pass during the spring season. Hill declined to elaborate more about his status, except to say that his situation isn’t a legal matter “or anything like that.”
Junior tight end and Tennessee transfer Jordan Allen has had hip pain that has kept him out of practice recently. Coaches lauded his athleticism and speed during fall camp, and Hill said he should be back to practice.
‘We’ve just got to get him back where he’s feeling good. I don’t think it’s a major injury, we’ve just got to get him back,” Hill said.
LOCALS AT DSU
Dixie State lists three players from Weber County in its two-deep. DSU’s starting long snapper is freshman Baylor Payan from Fremont High School.
Two backups from Roy High hold spots on the depth chart: junior middle linebacker Trace Tupe and freshman left tackle Cannon Panfiloff. Tupe recorded three tackles last week against Sacramento State.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
For predictive purposes, no betting lines were available for this game at the time of this writing.
Longtime college football programmer Jeff Sagarin computes rankings that include a predictive element. Among all FBS and FCS teams, Sagarin currently ranks Weber State 119th and Dixie State 223rd. Using his rating values and accounting for home-field advantage, his ratings predict a Weber State win by 19 points.
TV & RADIO
With an 8 p.m. kickoff time Saturday, Sept. 11, Weber State football will make its livestream debut on ESPN+, a subscription service available on the ESPN mobile/streaming app or at WatchESPN.com.
Weber State’s radio call will air on 103.1 FM and 1031thewave.com, with Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal on the call.