College football preview: DSU plays New Mexico Highlands and SUU plays No. 3 South Dakota State

SUU running back James Felila scores a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, Southern Utah University vs. Stephen F. Austin, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — Both Southern Utah college football teams are on the road this week, as the Trailblazers travel to Las Vegas, New Mexico to take on New Mexico Highlands, and the Thunderbirds travel to Brookings, South Dakota to face one of the best FCS teams in the country at South Dakota State.

Dixie State Trailblazers vs New Mexico Highlands Cowboys

Coming off of a comeback win against Fort Lewis, Dixie State heads into this game with some questions still looming. The big one is, who will take most of the snaps at quarterback.

For the first two games of the season, Keaton Mott and Kody Wilstead have each been getting reps at quarterback, but Wilstead came up big for the Trailblazers last week, throwing three touchdowns with two of them coming in the fourth quarter. He went 16-of-32 on the game with 368 passing yards and 69 rushing yards.

Look for Wilstead to get the start this week, but with some consistency issues, coach Peterson may go back to Mott, like he’s done in previous weeks.

Dixie State vs CSU-Pueblo, St George, Utah, Sept. 8, 2019 | Photo by Jacob Griffin, Dixie State Athletics, St. George News

Dixie’s defense clamped down in the second half, holding Fort Lewis to no scores. The Trailblazer defense also forced their first three defensive takeaways of the season in that game, with all three coming in the fourth quarter.

Coming into the game, Highlands is 0-2 overall, with both losses coming against RMAC opponents. In week one, the Cowboys lost to Fort Lewis in a game that was stopped after the first quarter because of lightning. 

In their first full game of the year against Adams State in week two, Highlands gave up 569 yards of total offense, with 472 of those yards being passing. Of the Cowboys 375 offensive yards, 207 of them were rushing. Be on the lookout for New Mexico Highlands’ run game, as two of the three touchdowns they scored in their last game were on the ground.

An area of concern for the Trailblazers is New Mexico Highlands’s secondary. While giving up 472 yards passing, the Cowboys had three interceptions last week, and the defense forced and recovered a fumble, adding up to four total takeaways in their last game.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m., as Dixie looks to follow up last weeks road win with another against an RMAC opponent.

SUU running back Thomas Duckett rushes toward the goal line for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Southern Utah University vs. Stephen F. Austin, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Southern Utah Thunderbirds vs #3 South Dakota State Jackrabbits

Last week the Thunderbirds won an overtime nail-biter against Stephen F. Austin with a touchdown in overtime, and a fourth down stop to win the game. That game marked the first overtime game since 2013.

In a release, coach Demario Warren talked about what the team has been focusing on this week.

“We’ve got to be ready to go play a 60-minute football game against one of the best teams in the country,” Warren said. “I said before UNI we weren’t good enough at that point to go beat a top-15 team on the road, so we’ll see how far we’ve come in the last two weeks. We competed against Northern Iowa, so I have confidence we can compete against anybody. It’s just if we’re willing to execute and think a little bit harder about the game, and our assignments when we’re tired.”

With the win, the Thunderbirds matched their season win total from 2018, and did so against a non-conference opponent.

This week, SUU goes up against another non-conference opponent. This time they’re taking on a football powerhouse in South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits lost last year in the semifinals of the FCS playoffs to the eventual champion, North Dakota State. Last year was their seventh straight year making the FCS playoffs.

This will be another big test for the Thunderbirds, as they take on a highly ranked opponent for the second time this season. In week two, the Thunderbirds traveled to Northern Iowa, at the time a top 15 team in FCS (Division I-AA) football, and lost 34-14.

Quarterback Chris Helbig led the way for the Thunderbirds, with 375 passing yards, completing 35 of his 48 passes. He also caught his first receiving touchdown on a trick play, which was a pass thrown by Lance Lawson. On the receiving end, Lance Lawson had 13 receptions, totaling 131 yards.

The Thunderbirds ran two trick plays against Stephen F. Austin, with both being big yardage plays.

Southern Utah University vs. Stephen F. Austin, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 14, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

The Jackrabbits have a stifling defense, holding the teams they have played to only 240 yards per game, 80.3 yards rushing per game and 159.7 yards passing per game. They have only given up 13 points to their FCS opponents, and they almost knocked off the Big Ten’s Minnesota Gophers, losing 28-21. Their defense has also intercepted the ball four times and has totaled 19 tackles for loss.

Warren also talked about what he has seen out of the Jackrabbits so far this season.

“Their receiver is one of the best guys we’ll see all year long,” Warren said. “I love No. 20 in the backfield, he does a really good job and he’s physical. Their defense doesn’t make mistakes. Their kick returner is in the top-10 in the country in punt yards, so they’ve got a lot of weapons and they’re a really good football team.”

One of the keys for the Thunderbirds will be limiting their penalties. Last week, SUU had 17 penalties called on them, totaling 161 yards.

The last time these two teams faced off was in 2015, with the Jackrabbits winning 55-10. South Dakota State score 48 unanswered points in that game, leading to the overwhelming victory.

The Thunderbirds moved on from the loss and went on to claim their first Big Sky Conference football championship.

Look for the Thunderbirds to come out humble and hungry.

“Just because we won a game I think we should all know how much work we put into that, so we’ve got to put that much work in this week,” Warren said. “I think we got off to a good start, but it’s just a mentality. It’s just us. There isn’t going to be very many SUU fans out there, so we’ve got to really come together and stick together to make plays.”

The game between SUU and SDSU will take place in Brookings, South Dakota, with kickoff scheduled for 5 p.m.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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