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Utah Football Opponent Breakdown: Southern Utah Thunderbirds

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NCAA Football: Michigan at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 college football season begins this Thursday for Utah football. The Utes open up the schedule against the reigning Big Sky champion Southern Utah University Thunderbirds. SUU has undergone some major personnel changes from last years team so there will be plenty of new faces on the field for SUU. Let’s take a look at a few of those changes.

Coaching

The biggest change from a non-player stand-point was head coach Ed Lamb leaving the program after 8 years to coach for another in-state school. Head coach Demario Warren takes the reigns going into his 9th season at SUU.. Warren was most recently the defensive coordinator for the T’Birds under Ed Lamb.

Offense

From an offensive player standpoint, SUU will be replacing Ammon Olsen (QB - Colts). BYU transfer and Jordan HS alum McCoy Hill will start QB for the T-Birds, and apparently he is not too worried about Utah’s defensive line (those BYU quarterbacks never learn).

Hill will have some help from returning starters Malik Brown (SR RB), Brady Measom (SR WR), and Mike Sharp (SR WR). Brown had just over 800 yards rushing last year, but I can’t imagine him having much success against Lowell Lotulelei, Filipo Mokofisi and the rest of Utah’s defensive line. Sharp and Measom combined for over 1,400 yards receiving in 2015 for the T’Birds. Both are good players, and depending on the time in the pocket and how well McCoy Hill throws the ball they may be the match-up to watch: SUU WRs vs UTAH DBs.

NCAA Football: Southern Utah at Utah State Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Defense

Defensively, SUU lost the most talent from their 2015 championship team with Miles Killebrew (SS - Lions), James Cowser (DE - Raiders), & LeShaun Sims (CB - Titans) all being either drafted or signed to NFL teams. With Warren being promoted to Head Coach, I’m sure the emphasis for SUU will be on defense. SUU’s 4-3 defense will be led by seniors Josh Talbot (DE), Josh Thornton (CB) and Junoir Tufuga (LB). Thornton has the most NFL draft potential. He is currently ranked 465th in CBSsports.com 2017 NFL draft prospect rankings. The rest of the defense consists mostly of juniors starting for the first time in their collegiate careers.

Prediction

SUU will be fired up to be playing at a PAC 12 venue against an in-state school, but let’s be honest, they are facing a very talented Utah team with possibly the best defense in school history, a deep offensive line and a revived “throw game.” I expect Utah to score often against the rebuilding SUU defense, and to prove a point that the passing game is a real threat this year. Expect Troy Williams to play two to three quarters with Tyler Huntley taking the remainder of the time to get him some experience. Four to five RBs should also see the field in order to get experience.

Utah’s defense should dominate and I would be shocked if SUU really moves the ball much during the game. This thought is mainly due to Utah’s defensive talent and less so SUU’s lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball. It should be a good opportunity for Utah’s Linebackers, who have a combined 0 starts, to get some real game experience.

Lastly, Utah has Kyle Whittingham, who is 14-1 in non-conference games since joining the PAC 12. Need I say more?

Utah 56 SUU 3

And there you have it...an FCS opponent breakdown...FML.