Weber State football’s in-state matchup with Southern Utah has developed into somewhat of a rivalry. WSU leads the series 17-8 but is only 6-8 since winning the first 11 matchups of the series.
Recently as Big Sky foes, it’s really heated up.
In 2016, WSU scored 23 unanswered fourth-quarter points to turn a 36-14 deficit into a 37-36 win. It was a pivotal game that essentially decided the playoff fates of both teams. Weber finished 7-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. SUU finished 6-5 and 5-3, and missed the playoffs.
In 2017, SUU’s regular-season win in Ogden was the only thing standing between the Wildcats and an undefeated season against FCS foes and resulted in the Thunderbirds getting a first-round playoff bye. After Weber won in the first round, the Wildcats went to Cedar City and smashed SUU 30-13 in a second-round game.
Now, Weber State travels to Cedar City for the third time in three seasons.
“We always love our matchup with SUU and love going down there to play because it’s a great atmosphere down there,” senior linebacker LeGrand Toia said.
It’s another decisive game, but only for one side. The other can play rivalry spoiler.
Weber State (7-2, 5-1 Big Sky) is ranked No. 3 and is chasing a high seed in the playoffs. Southern Utah (1-8, 1-5) is scuffling, needing to win both of its last two games to avoid its worst season since going 0-11 in 2007.
Head coach Jay Hill has said the playoff race makes every win big and the next game bigger, regardless of opponent.
“It’s definitely a rivalry and it’s a game that’s become very important to us. We talk about it, but, the preparation is still the same,” he said. “Us getting ready to stop another high-powered offense is still the same. We’re taking the approach right now that this is about how we prepare this week, how we practice. If we do that, we’ll like the results.”
SUU is fourth in the Big Sky at 439 yards per game despite a quarterback carousel that, due to injuries and other factors, went from sophomore Chris Helbig to junior Aaron Zwahlen to converted freshman receiver Austin Ewing.
Then, two games ago, the mantle fell to freshman and former Roy High standout Tyler Skidmore. In his first game in nearly four years, Skidmore took over early for an injured Ewing and threw 27 of 43 for 330 yards and a touchdown in a 42-39 loss to Northern Colorado.
Last week in his first career start, Skidmore threw 22 of 41 for 138 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a lopsided 57-14 loss to Montana.
“He throws it well. He’s competitive and looks like he already has a good grasp of the offense,” Hill said about Skidmore. “I see him going to the right places with the ball. From what I’ve seen from him right now, I don’t see any tail-off from what they were getting at quarterback.”
Hill said the Thunderbirds’ offense hearkens back to earlier games against South Dakota and Northern Colorado, teams who push the tempo and try to cause mismatches with personnel.
On the other side, senior linebacker Chinedu Ahanonu is a tackling machine (75 tackles, 9.5 for loss) but, otherwise, SUU’s defense gives up nearly 100 yards per game more than the next-worst defense in the Big Sky at 556 allowed per contest.
Even after eliminating two losses to FBS teams (48-25 to Oregon State, 62-31 to Arizona), the Thunderbirds allow 39.6 points per game to its seven FCS opponents.
Does that set an expectation for Weber’s offense to perform?
“We’re going to have to make plays in the run game and the throw game,” Hill said. “I never put a goal like ‘we’ve got to get 500 yards’ or anything like that. Bottom line, we need to be efficient, take advantage of field position and win the field position battle. If we do those things, we’ll like the outcome.”
The game kicks off at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. It is set to air on Eleven Sports on DirecTV, the Pluto TV app channel 236, and on WatchBigSky.com. A radio call with Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal will air on 1430 AM KLO.
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Betting service 5Dimes has Weber State as a 16.5-point favorite. Combining that with the over/under of 57.5, that line expects a 37-20 score.
Jeff Sagarin maintains a computer prediction and rating model for college football (once used in the BCS formula) that includes both FBS and FCS teams. Ratings can be used to mathematically provide a prediction for a given matchup.
Weber State rates at No. 114 (out of 255 Division-I teams) and Southern Utah is No. 199. Using the associated ratings and values for home-field advantage, Sagarin’s formula favors WSU by 16.5 points.