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Improved Southern Utah could be tough for Weber

Last time teams met, in 2001, Thunderbirds won

OGDEN — With one win already under the 2003 belt, Weber State football coach Jerry Graybeal has another score to settle this week.

Graybeal has never coached the Wildcats to a win over the Southern Utah Thunderbirds. He is 0-1 against SUU at home and 0-2 overall. The coach will get another chance to change that fact tonight at 6 in Stewart Stadium.

Tonight's game will be the 14th meeting between the two schools, with Weber leading the series 11-2. The last meeting between the schools took place in 2001 when the T-Birds overcame a 14-point deficit to beat the Wildcats 28-21.

Southern Utah finished the 2002 season with a disappointing 1-10 overall record but made some serious changes in the off-season as SUU hired former University of Utah assistant Gary Andersen as the new head coach.

Andersen wasted no time in creating a new image for the T-Birds. Not only has the team changed from white to black helmets with the SUU logo on the side, but he has also transformed the old spread option offense to a one-back, four-receiver set attack. He also brought in a proven junior college quarterback in former Dixie State star Casey Rehrer. Besides bringing in several recruits, Andersen returns 14 starters from last year's squad.

Southern Utah's program appeared to take the changes in stride as the T-Birds took Nevada right down to the wire in their first game of the year. It took a blocked PAT late in the fourth quarter for the Division I Wolf Pack to top the T-Birds, 24-23.

No doubt Graybeal expects the T-Birds to be a handful.

"No question they should have beat Nevada. Coach Andersen has them playing hard from whistle to whistle on both sides of the ball," Graybeal said. "They also have excellent speed and quickness on both sides. This has become a good rivalry, and I expect them to be extremely prepared."

Weber State is feeling confident coming off a season-opening win against Division II Western State, 38-13. After a 14-0 lead was almost squandered, backup quarterback Kyle Bauer replaced starter Tate Bennett and led the Wildcats to a comfortable win. Another big game was contributed by Weber's James McCowan, who ran the opening kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown. The effort earned McCowan the Big Sky Co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors. It was the junior's second kickoff return for a touchdown in his career with the Wildcats.

"We had good times and bad times. We can't just turn it off and on when we want to. We have to play hard every down, every whistle, every second," Graybeal said of the inconsistent efforts in last week's win. "I told our players that if they play this Saturday like they did last Saturday, that SUU will have a very pleasant and joyous ride home to Cedar City after the game. We need to focus and improve this week."