With a 1-0 start to Big Sky play, Weber State football (3-2, 1-0 Big Sky) hosts in-state rival Southern Utah (1-5, 0-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday for Homecoming.
I reached out to SUU beat writer Chris Kwiecinski of The Spectrum and Daily News of St. George and Cedar City to get more insight on the Thunderbirds.
Here are five questions with Kwiecinski, who you can follow on Twitter @OchoK_.
1. Southern Utah seems to be able to score the ball some, despite being 1-5. When the offense is playing well, what is usually working in that regard?
Kwiecinski: When SUU is in a rhythm, they’re pretty solid offensively. Chris Helbig is accurate in the short and intermediate range, and the versatile running game compliments that well. The T-Birds optimize a short pass game kind of like a running game, which can lead to a faster-pace offense that keeps defenses off guard.
Interrupting that pace with penalties and backwards plays is what’s plagued SUU so far this year.
2. This will be SUU's third game against a top-10 opponent, plus they've played an FBS team. SUU was unlikely to contend for the playoffs this year but to give the team a fair shake, sometimes that many tough games make it hard to judge just how much the T-Birds should be able to compete in a Big Sky schedule. What's your take there and the talk around the team in that regard? How are their spirits?
Kwiecinski: It’s difficult losing as much as they have in such a short amount of time. With only two games at home so far it’s been difficult to string together momentum and success. After SUU beat Stephen F. Austin there was some major relief that the team finally got a good win under its belt.
Then the Cal Poly loss dealt a huge blow in this regard, and the first half of the Portland State game was even more brutal. A back-loaded home slate and an extremely tough schedule has seemingly worked against the T-Birds so this year. That, and it just feels like SUU can’t catch a break.
3. After a pretty regular rotation of quarterbacks last season, SUU looks like it has landed exclusively on Chris Helbig this year. SUU's passing game appears to be the team's strength; what does Helbig bring that has helped him hold on to the starting job?
Kwiecinski: The one thing Helbig brings, quite simply, is health. SUU played four QBs last year because they kept getting hurt, and now that he’s settled in as the starter Helbig has really fit in well as the starter, for the most part.
4. SUU allows 217 rushing yards per game, which isn't good, but the T-Birds have forced 10 turnovers, including forcing 11 fumbles with seven recovered. Who are the key players who are important to keeping SUU in ballgames?
Kwiecinski: One of the key players so far defensively has been redshirt freshman Carlton Johnson, who has stepped in at corner after starter Jalen Russell got hurt against UNLV. He’s had his bumps, but he played well against SFA, South Dakota State and Cal Poly, which really helped keep SUU in at least those two contests. Aaron Romero is the best pass rusher and plays well in passing situations.
5. Big picture: Southern Utah is 2-15 since Weber beat the Thunderbirds 30-13 in the 2017 playoffs. Demario Warren is a respected coach around the Big Sky, but what's the feeling around campus and around the program, given that brutal stretch?
Kwiecinski: Honestly, there’s still some good buzz around the team. Fans remember they aren’t that far removed from playoff appearances in 2015 and 2017, and they have shown out at the first two home games of the season.
Winnable games against U.C. Davis, Idaho State and Northern Arizona will be the best opportunities SUU has left, and it helps all those games are at home.