Eagles face motivated Southern Utah team
Two of the hottest Football Championship Subdivision teams in the country will try to keep their impressive late-season rolls going Saturday afternoon when Eastern Washington University entertains Southern Utah in an intriguing non-conference matchup that kicks off at 1:05 p.m. at Roos Field.
Both teams come in having won their last five games and hoping to pad their FCS playoff resumes.
Southern Utah (6-4 overall) claimed the Great West Conference regular-season title with a 4-0 record, but does not get an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs – a fact that Eastern coach Beau Baldwin expects to greatly enhance SUU’s focus and motivation against his Eagles (7-2, 6-1 in the Big Sky Conference), who are ranked No. 5 in this week’s The Sports Network/Fathead.com top-25 poll.
“They’re on a very good roll right now,” Baldwin said of the Thunderbirds, “but that doesn’t surprise me, because they’re a very good team. They started a little slow, but shoot, they played two (FBS) opponents early, and they’ve been playing great of late.
“It’s going to be a serious challenge, and I expect the game to have a playoff feel to it. I’m sure in their minds – with this being their last game and having a chance to get a seventh win – they think they’ll have a good shot at postseason play if they beat us.”
Southern Utah lost to FBS schools Wyoming and San Jose State by a combined total of just 13 points and fell to Northern Arizona 26-23 before starting its current winning streak, which includes last weekend’s 52-0 rout of Division II Dixie State.
The Thunderbirds’ top offensive weapon is quarterback Brad Sorensen, a 6-foot-5 first-year junior college transfer, who originally signed with Brigham Young University, where he redshirted in 2009.
Sorenson, who won the starting job last spring, currently ranks sixth nationally with a pass efficiency rating of 151.6. He has completed 67 percent of his passes (227 of 337) for 2,729 yards and 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
“He’s a very good player, and he’s getting better as the season goes on,” Baldwin said of Sorenson. “He operates really well within their system. He just completes footballs and moves the chains – that’s the easiest way I can say it.
“He’s going to make his plays and move the football, so it’s just a matter of us being able to get in his face and make him as uncomfortable as we can.”
Eastern, which is coming off a bye week, would seem to be a playoff lock, and could secure at least a share of the Big Sky’s regular-season title with a home win over BSC cellar dweller Idaho State next Saturday. But the Eagles, who put together one of their best overall performances of the year in beating Portland State 50-17 on the road two weekends ago, know a win over SUU would help their postseason seeding.
“We are going to approach it as a playoff game,” Baldwin said, noting how difficult it was to put the Thunderbirds away in Cedar City, Utah, last fall when his Eagles built an early three-touchdown lead and hung on for a 41-28 win. “We know what we’re up against.”