ST. GEORGE — Southern Utah University starts FCS (Div 1-AA) play on the road against Northern Iowa, who is ranked No. 12 in the coaches poll, and No. 11 in the Stats FCS Top 25 poll.
The Thunderbirds are coming off of a 56-23 loss against FBS (Div 1-A) University of Nevada Las Vegas, which was played in Las Vegas.
“It was disappointing,” SUU head coach Demario Warren said. “Our players and coaches worked too hard to come out and have a performance like that. The effort was there, the want was there, I thought we did a great job on special teams, and that’s a great sign of guys wanting to be there and compete. It’s just actually doing what you’re supposed to do, and if we can do that we’re going to play well.”
As for Northern Iowa, the Panthers started off the year playing the FBS No. 21 ranked (currently No. 25) Iowa State. Northern Iowa took the Big 12 team into triple overtime, eventually losing on a game winning touchdown by the Cyclones.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us this week,” Warren said. “We’ve got No. 11 on the road, they don’t lose often, and they’re in one of the best conferences in the country. We need to do our part in this conference showdown and help our league. It’s a lot more than just us and them this week, and it will have a lot of playoff implications down the road for not only us but for the entire Big Sky. It’s a big challenge for us.”
One thing Warren saw on film from the Panthers is that they are not going to beat themselves.
“That’s something we’ve been preaching, and they do a great job at it. You have to go take a win; they’re not going to give it to you. They’re going to be tough, physical and nasty. They’ve got a lot of grit. They don’t fold under pressure; if something goes wrong they’re not going to blink. It’s what we want to be as a team.”
In week one, Warren saw some fight from his defense, but with a new defensive coordinator in Brandon Fisher, son of former NFL player and longtime head coach Jeff Fisher, there will be a learning curve.
“Fish (Brandon Fisher) is doing a great job. It was game one for him too,” Warren said. “He came to me the next day with a bunch of notes with things he couldn’t wait to get better at. It was his first time calling a college football game, and he’ll get better with the work ethic he’s got.”
To start the game against UNLV, the Thunderbirds defense was playing well, forcing two 3 and outs on both of the Rebels first two possessions. SUU held UNLV to seven points in the first quarter, but the Rebels found their rhythm in the second and third quarters, where they scored all of their 56 points.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces from last year, and I think we can be really good on defense,” Warren said. “There’s some issues that we had on Saturday that we weren’t able to correct in game, but those first couple drives were fun to watch. We’ve got a lot of team speed, we’re much more physical up front and we’re learning. Everyone’s learning.”
SUU plays Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for 3 p.m. MDT. The Thunderbirds will return to Cedar City for their home opener in week three, when they will play against Stephen F. Austin. That game is scheduled to start at 6:05 p.m. MDT on Sept. 14.
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