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OGDEN —The Weber State Wildcats are 0-4, but that doesn’t seem to bother them much.
The Wildcats have a chance to pick up their first win of the season Saturday when they take on in-state rival Southern Utah in Cedar City. Both teams have struggled early. The Thunderbirds are also 0-4. Of note, Southern Utah has faced two Mountain West Conference teams (Nevada and Fresno State) in the process.
Last season, Weber State held a fourth-quarter lead in Ogden, until the Thunderbirds came back to steal a road win, 27-21. The cast of characters has changed, both players and coaches.
However, the Wildcats’ keys to the game reflect exactly what this game is — an in-state rivalry game, featuring two closely linked foes.
Being a rivalry game, this matchup will be filled with emotions. Regardless of how much these teams respect each other, there will be moments where players are going to want to do things they shouldn’t. So, it will be important for Weber State to stay under control, and to continue playing hard in the face of an opponent they badly want to beat.
In his pregame comments, Weber State coach Jay Hill mentioned penalties as a prime reason the Wildcats are winless. Thus, Weber can’t afford to shoot itself in the foot with personal fouls.
Last week, Southern Utah quarterback Ammon Olsen threw for 309 yards while the Thunderbirds rushed for only 57 yards. Olsen is a BYU transfer and has a live arm. The Wildcats will need to change looks on him throughout the game, whether they be blitzes or coverage schemes.
Just as Southern Utah has struggled running the ball, so has Weber State. The Wildcats are averaging 108 rushing yards per game and they need to improve that mark to diversify their offense. Tailback Zach Smith needs to get more touches, and will as he keeps getting healthier. On the season, Smith is averaging 5.7 yards per rush.
Along with penalties, the Wildcats have made turnovers a habit over the past two games. In games at Sacramento State and Stephen F. Austin, the Wildcats fumbled the football five times, losing four. Against an opportunistic defense like Southern Utah, Weber can’t afford to give a struggling Thunderbirds offense any extra possessions.
Weber State receiver Shaydon Kehano is leading the Big Sky Conference in receptions with 38 catches. He has also caught four touchdowns. Kehano has proved himself to be a game-changing receiver for Weber State as well as a possession receiver. Against a Southern Utah passing defense that is surrendering 252.8 yards a game, Kehano is a weapon the Thunderbirds will struggle to defend.