Weber State and Northern Arizona each resume the spring 2021 football season this weekend after some time off as the No. 2 Wildcats (2-0) host the Lumberjacks (1-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
To get an inside look at NAU, I solicited the help of beat writer Lance Hartzler of the Arizona Daily Sun.
1. The biggest difference between this season and those recently in the past for Northern Arizona is Case Cookus has used his eligibility and is no longer slinging it for the Lumberjacks. What are other key personnel differences from 2019 when WSU and NAU last played?
LH: The biggest one that flew under the radar, is that All-league wide out Brandon Porter opted out of the spring season. He is expected to return for the fall — and NAU has a loaded WR group — but his absence still takes some versatility out of the NAU playbook considering Porter’s ability to line up at QB.
Another key change from way back in 2019, which seems like ages ago, is the running backs. At that time NAU had a few small, quick running backs like Joe Logan who were better pass-catchers. Now, the running backs are a bit more bruising and are used between the tackles a bit more this season.
2. In the first two games, who are the players who have stood out the most as the offensive playmakers for NAU?
LH: Wide receivers Stacy Chukwumezie and Coleman Owen. The two have been huge big-play targets in the passing game early on, and Owen had the game-winning catch in the Lumberjacks’ season-opening win over SUU. He did it in a smart way too, breaking off his route and making something out of nothing to get free for Keondre Wudtee to find him.
Then, of course, Wudtee has been solid. He was good against SUU in the passing game, and backup Jeff Widener led a scoring drive as well in his one series.
3. Same question, but on the defense. Who’s been making plays on D?
LH: Carson Taylor has had a resurgent start at edge. He had a rough 2019 adjusting to playing stand-up edge rusher in the new 3-4 scheme, but now he seems the natural fit that he looked like initially. Taylor has one sack (NAU’s only one per the NAU stat page, believe it or not) and two TFLs early, and is credited with one QB hurry, but that is likely higher from what I have watched. He has helped others get free for penetration.
4. NAU beat Southern Utah and competed against Eastern Washington for a couple quarters before things got sideways. What did success look like for the ‘Jacks in those times they played well?
LH: Success is when the offense is rolling, in a groove and getting downfield in a hurry. Then on the other side, the defense gets off the field in a hurry but that hasn’t happened as much. Both SUU and EWU went off on the NAU defense, but we all knew the defense was a work in progress considering the Jacks start two freshman corners.
5. Weber and NAU have each played just two games. WSU staggered games between weeks off, while NAU has now had two straight weeks off. How have the team and coaches approached this stretch, given that the postponed game with Idaho seemed to be based on COVID protocols on Idaho’s side?
LH: NAU took the time to get healthy really. A few guys were in COVID-19 protocol, and some were banged up (Wudtee being the most notable, but he should be good to go Saturday), so the team just needed the break to get healthy. This spring is a chance for NAU to just get better with its youth. Sure games are great, but Ball seemed to embrace the added practice time.