The WSU Cougars are looking to build off their surprising win over USC last weekend when they host the FCS Southern Utah Thunderbirds in Pullman at 3:30 p.m. PDT on Saturday. The game can be found on Pac-12 Networks.
WSU and SUU have never met before, and the Cougars have experienced extreme success against the Big Sky Conference. WSU is 43-2 in those games, and has won 16 straight. The Cougars have not lost a game against a team that is currently in the Big Sky in more than 65 years, dating back to a 13-12 road loss to Montana in 1947.
All of that is to say that a loss to the Thunderbirds today would be devastating for the Cougars coming off such an important victory last week. They've played well two weeks in a row, but a loss in the home opener against an FCS would erase virtually all of the good feelings generated by the win.
Southern Utah is a fringe FCS top 25 team, and those sorts of teams have given Pac-12 teams trouble over the last couple of years, including the Thunderbirds themselves last season: They trailed Cal just 20-17 before finally falling 50-31.
"The difference was speed and depth," SUU coach Ed Lamb told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Our offense and defense played hard for a long time. We were able to move the ball and get stops. But they hurt us with their special teams, speed and depth."
Offensively, the Thunderbirds are a running-oriented team -- they have 86 attempts on the ground to 45 attempts through the air. Raysean Martin and Malik Brown more or less split the load in the backfield, while Aaron Cantu is the quarterback. He has completed 70 percent of his limited passes with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Defensively, the playmakers are linebacker Matt Holley, who has 5.5 tackles for loss in two games, and free safety Tommy Collet Jr., who has a pair of interceptions.
The Cougs, on the other hand, will be looking for quarterback Connor Halliday to take a big step forward with his decision making against a defense that has a bunch of interceptions this year covering receivers far less talented than what WSU will roll out today. And one has to think that a team running right into the teeth of the Cougar defense will be an advantage for WSU.
Although this is easily the toughest test of the season for SUU -- the Thunderbirds edged out FCS South Alabama and steamrolled Division II Fort Lews in their first two games -- everyone remembers how Eastern Washington took WSU down to the wire last year. Hopefully there will be no repeat of that today.
Game Time, TV schedule: 3:30 p.m. PDT, Pac-12 Networks
Radio stream: Tune-In Radio (pregame starts at 2:30 p.m. PDT)
More from CougCenter:
- WSU vs. Southern Utah: Gameday morning links
- Targets and Deflections against USC: Have yourself a day, Damante Horton
- A closer look at how USC stymied WSU's offense
- Despite interceptions, sticking with Connor Halliday is the right call
- The CougCenter Hour, Episode 5: Looking back at a great win and forward to Southern Utah