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Opponent Preview: Southern Utah Defense

Syndication: The Spectrum Sean Ellertson / USA TODAY NETWORK

Having secured their first home win since September 14, 2019, the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah University will be looking to keep the DeLane Fitzgerald era rolling when they visit the #13 Utes this weekend in Salt Lake. Despite already matching last season’s abysmal win total, it’s hard to imagine they’ll have enough thunder to stop Utah’s deeply talented offense.

Fitzgerald’s first season at SUU is off to a promising start, and there’s reason to believe this team could make some noise in the newly resurrected WAC this season thanks to a handful of transfers from Frostburg State University, Fitzgerald’s last coaching job where he led the Bobcats to an impressive 62-19 overall record and three conference titles over seven seasons split between the New Jersey Athletic Conference and Mountain East Conference. One of those transfers is sophomore defensive tackle, Payton Payne (5’11”, 295 lbs), who recorded two unassisted tackles and a sack in his debut for the Thunderbirds. He’s joined by the team’s defensive leader, Josh Dunn (sophomore, 6’1”, 205 lbs) as another Frostburg transplant making the jump from DII football to FCS DI. Dunn recorded an impressive five solo tackles, one assisted, and a forced fumble during SUU’s 44-13 win over St. Thomas-Minnesota in week one.

One of SUU’s star returners is junior safety Rodrick Ward (5’11”, 180 lbs), who will be hoping to bounce back from a solid 2020 campaign followed by no playing time last season. Ward recorded his first career INT during last week’s win and has been a reliable defender in the secondary, recording 30 career solo tackles prior to the start of this season (which includes the abbreviated six game 2020 campaign.

It’s almost unfathomable to think this Thunderbirds team will have enough to really compete against a top-ranked P5 program like Utah. The goal this week should be to avoid injuries, which is unfortunate considering the ceiling this team has, especially when compared to recent history. Here’s to hoping for a good year for the thundering birds from southern Utah...this just isn’t their week.