“I thought they were very well coached, I thought they were ready, they appeared to be very fast, their speed was a problem for us, their strength was a problem for us, they blocked us, they knocked us off the ball,” SUU Coach Ed Lamb observed after the game. “I don’t think they threw the ball in the second half and they probably could have done that the whole game, they really pushed us around.”
The Aggies scored the first three times they touched the ball, all in the first quarter, to run out to a 21-0 lead, and although Southern Utah came back to win the second quarter, 3-0, they weren’t able to climb back out of the early hole.
USU, which had the sixth-best rushing attack in the NCAA Bowl Subdivision last year, hurt the Thunderbirds with the run but early on did the most damage through the air, taking a 14-0 lead on a pair of long passes.
Utah State put together an 11-play, 97-yard drive on its first possession, with quarterback Chuckie Keeton finding Chuck Jacobs on a 48-yard touchdown pass at the 8:51 mark, then less than three minutes later Keeton hit Matt Austin for a 35-yard touchdown.
A 27-yard Joe Hill run staked USU to a 21-0 lead as time expired in the first period.
The Thunderbirds didn’t record a first down or complete a pass in the first period when they had just 19 yards of offense, all on the ground.
The first SUU first down came on a 10-yard Brad Sorensen run at the 14:52 mark of the second period and that play sparked the Thunderbirds, who went on to drive to the USU three yard line before the drive stalled and Southern Utah was forced to settle for a 22-yard Colton Cook field goal. The Thunderbirds’ first completion of the game also came on the drive, an 18-yard completion from Sorensen to Griff McNabb.
Hill scored on a 19-yard run at the 11:53 mark of the third period to give the Aggies a 28-3 lead, then went 33 yards on the first play of the fourth period to make the Aggie advantage 34-3.
Sorensen struggled, particularly early on and finished with 153 yards on 12-of-33 passing with one interception, which came on the final play of the game on a ball that was tipped high in the air.
“Brad did not play his type of game, he was off of his game for sure,” Lamb noted. “Our receivers did a good job of getting open and Brad was just not accurate today, it was very frustrating for him.”
“They threw different looks at us,” Sorensen said. “We were planning them for more man coverage, they gave us a little more zone than we expected, but their defensive backs did a good job. They jammed up our guys good but I thought our receivers played well but their coverage obviously gave us some problems.”
Keeton had an outstanding day, completing 22-of-26 passes for 304 yards, while Hill finished with 116 yards and a career-high three TDs on 11 carries.
Keeton “was so dynamic,” Lamb said. “He did an outstanding job as a passer, I think he really elevated his game as a passer tonight. We knew he could run and we were very concerned about that but he put some balls on the money down the field too.”