September 25, 2011
Technically I shouldn't blog about SUU's win over UNLV Saturday night because I'm no longer in Vegas. Head coach Ed Lamb said his team wouldn't even think of the victory after the bus ride back to Cedar City either.
However, this one for the books — and an exception to the rule.
I often remind myself how much this football program has changed in the time I came to Utah, but this might be the newest high in the team's history. SUU is literally one successful 2-point conversion away from starting this season 4-0. This comes from a school that didn't even win a game in four years ago.
The T-Birds are No. 23 in the FCS polls, but are poised to skyrocket in the rankings after the victory Saturday. SUU didn't just defeat UNLV — an FBS program — it smacked the Rebels from the beginning.
The T-Birds' only flub was getting caught off guard by a trick field goal in the first quarter and even that was forgivable because it was a great catch by the UNLV tight end. For the most part, SUU's front line stuffed the Rebel rushing attack, forced the Rebels' sophomore quarterback Caleb Herring into terrible decisions and the rest was history.
The most mind-boggling thought was how SUU went into halftime tied 10-10 despite a dismal start from quarterback Brad Sorensen. Sorensen went 7-for-21, 39 yards and two interceptions in the first half. By all accounts, SUU should have only been in the game if its offense was clicking, but it was SUU's defense that did all the damage.
Yes, UNLV shot itself in the foot more than once. There was a Rebel offensive pass interference play when the ball was at the SUU 1 yard line. After the ball was pushed back 15 yards, Herring was stripped of the ball and UNLV didn't score. The game could have easily been over if the Rebels had taken a 14-0 lead.
Even though UNLV wasn't helping itself with penalties, it was getting pressure in the backfield nearly every time it snapped the ball on offense. SUU hit hard and often, played mind games on Rebel offensive line and truly made UNLV look like the FCS team. It's hard to believe this was the same UNLV team that destroyed Hawaii 40-20 last week.
Sam Boyd Stadium was half full at kickoff, but with the exception of the SUU student section, the stadium looked empty by the end of the third quarter. Those UNLV fans who stayed seemed to have nothing else to do on the night but boo their Rebels.
It was something I had never seen before and you have to imagine it could have been much worse for UNLV if Sorensen had played the first half like he did in the second half. Sorensen showed signs of overexcitement at the start, whipping each receiver with a straight-up fastball. However, he played calm and cool in the second half on his way to help SUU tear up the UNLV defense. Sorensen even completed three-straight 3rd-and-9 conversions to lead the T-Birds to a field goal that made the game 27-10.
But the most memorable moments came from the defense, which took three interceptions for touchdowns — a school record. Not only did SUU return three interceptions for scores, each pick came from a different line in the defense. One came from the defensive line, another from the linebacking corps and the final from the defensive secondary.
In fact, Erron Vonner's interception to turn the game from a legitimate surprise to an absolute bloodbath was an exact microcosm of the game in general. SUU's defense forced Herring into a bad throw, UNLV kicked itself in face by having the quarterback overthrow his receiver by a mile, then there was a bone-smashing SUU block to seal the touchdown — just like SUU did. The T-Birds hit UNLV when it should have been looking all game long.
SUU showed that it won't hide just because the name of the university it was facing, or for the conference the team was facing. And this story may stay in Vegas for the football team, but it be something T-Bird fans can remember and talk about for a long time.
This isn't your ordinary SUU football team. This is a team that can easily become a national threat this season.