POCATELLO, Idaho — After nearly a month of preseason camp coaches like to play a game and find out where their team stands.
With its 38-13 loss to Idaho State, Southern Utah found out it is a lot further away than where it wants to be.
"I'm disappointed. I thought we were a lot better," SUU head coach Wes Meier said.
On the contrary, Idaho State may be a lot further along that it expected.
The Bengals scored 28 first-half points—a feat they accomplished only one time last year — and rolled to the 25-point victory.
"It was one of those things were you felt like everything that could go wrong went wrong early," Meier said. "That took us out of our game plan."
Idaho State running back Ken Cornist rushed for 88 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Bengals, while Josh Barnett rushed for 88 more.
Idaho State sophomore Matt Hagler, in his first start for the Bengals, played like a seasoned veteran, by guiding the Bengals on four drives of 8 plays or more, including a 13-play, 87-yard drive in the first half.
He engineered an 11-play 74-yard drive in ISU's second drive of the second half, which essentially put the game away.
He competed 18-of-33 passes for 210 yards, while as a team the Bengals had 407 yards total offense.
"We came out real slow and the execution wasn't there on either side of the ball," senior linebacker Steve Smith said. "We made a lot of mental mistakes."
With the win, the Bengals, who finished 3-8 last year, have won four of the last five with Southern Utah and lead the 14-game series 9-4-1.
Dating back to last year, the T-Birds (6-5 in 2004) had won four of five games.
Defensively, the T-Birds allowed 28 points in the first half alone, while last year they allowed just 28 points in a game just three times. Granted, the T-Birds lost their three top tacklers in Marques Harris, Nick DiPadova and Mike Overly.
"As crazy at it sounds I still feel like we can go back and work hard and become a better team—a team that's going to compete," Meier said. We have to eliminate some of those mistakes that put our backs up against the wall."
For the game, the T-Birds allowed at least 15 plays of 10 yards or more, and 10 in the first half, when the Bengals built, at one point, a 28-0 lead.
Offensively, Zac Connors, in his first start for the T-Birds, struggled early. SUU's first three drives were penalty- and turnover-ridden and were never more than three plays.
Finally late in the first quarter, the T-Birds recorded their first first down of the game.
Hagler led the Bengals to touchdowns on their first two drives. Freshman running back Ken Cornist capped initial 7-play 43-yard drive with a three-yard run, while Akliah Lacey hauled in an 11-yard pass from Hagler six minutes later to build the 14-0 lead.
Cornist eqauled the season touchdown total of two by a Bengal running back last season with a 19-yard run midway through the second quarter. He would score again in the third quarter on a 1-yard run.
Hagler would add a 1-yard run with 1:24 left in the half to increase the lead to 28-0.
Connors finally got the SUU offense moving by going 3-for-4 in a 4-play, 56-yard drive just before the half to get the T-Birds on the board with a 26-yard pass to Joey Hew Len, a transfer from the University of Hawaii.
The twosome would hook up again with 2:21 left in the third quarter on a 59-yard pass to trim the lead to 35-13. Hew Len finished with three catches for 107 yards.
Idaho State added a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Connors completed 17-of-38 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The T-Birds also had two fumbles.
Back-up quarterback Wes Marshall got in the game late and completed just 1-of-8 passes for nine yards.
The T-Birds finished with 247 yards total offense—241 passing and only six rushing on 18 carries.
Southern Utah (0-1) travels to Texas State next Saturday.