For Dixie State and Southern Utah, this week’s Football Championship Subdivision action provides both programs with the opportunity to build momentum in a shortened season.
A new challenge for Dixie State
Dixie State is diving right in as a first-year FCS member. The Trailblazers will wrap up their spring season before the end of March, but if nothing else, they showed they could be competitive, when Dixie State upset No. 22 Tarleton State 26-14 on the road during its season opener last week.
It was a win that had head coach Paul Peterson beaming from ear to ear while talking with the media afterward, and considering what’s next for the Trailblazers — a “road” game against FBS independent New Mexico State on Sunday (3 p.m. MST, Fox Sports Arizona Plus) — it set a strong tone for what this spring could do for the program in its first Division I year.
“Football is such a great sport because no one is going to give you anything — they’re not going to give you an inch. You’ve got to earn everything that you get,” Peterson told reporters after last week’s win.
Now New Mexico State awaits the Trailblazers in a game that will be played in El Paso, Texas, at Sun Bowl Stadium. The Aggies did not play during the fall — they were one of three FBS programs not to play in the fall — and are playing two games this spring. New Mexico State already lost the first game, 43-17, to the same Tarleton State team that Dixie State just beat.
The Texans put up 501 yards of total offense in their win over New Mexico State, while holding the Aggies to 241. Could Dixie State, which forced five turnovers last week, put up a similar performance against the higher-division opponent?
In the coming years, Dixie State will have even more opportunities to face FBS teams. The Trailblazers will play BYU in 2022 and 2024, Utah in 2028 and 2030 and Fresno State in 2027. The Cougars, Utes and Bulldogs are sure to provide much stiffer tests than New Mexico State is expected to.
For now, though, there’s the opportunity to build upon the momentum from last week’s win.
Budding QB-WR connection at SUU?
Southern Utah came out on the short end of a heartbreaking 34-33 loss to Northern Arizona last week to open its season, when the T-Birds gave up a touchdown on the game’s final play.
The T-Birds’ offense looked strong, though, behind first-time starter Justin Miller, who prepped at Summit Academy. Miller completed 29 of 40 passes for 288 yards and five touchdowns, along with one interception, and the redshirt sophomore routinely relied on another sophomore, Brandon Schenks, and senior receiver Landen Measom (10 catches or 118 yards and one touchdown).
Schenks, who had just one catch as a freshman, finished the season opener with five receptions for 74 yards. More importantly, he scored three touchdowns. Two were short second-quarter scores that helped SUU build a 20-9 lead, and the third — a 41-yarder early in the third quarter — helped the T-Birds recapture the lead at 27-21.
“He’s a team leader, and he did a great job in the locker room afterwards,” SUU coach Demario Warren said of Miller, per the team’s website, while adding about Schenk, “He’s been phenomenal for us and we’re excited about his future.”
Up next for SUU is its home opener against Idaho State on Saturday at noon (Pluto TV).
What games to watch
Weber State, which jumped to No. 2 in the Stats Perform Top 25 poll after its season-opening 49-21 win over Idaho State, is on bye this week.
Three games that feature top 25 matchups this week should offer plenty of action for Wildcat fans to follow. On Thursday, No. 4 North Dakota beat No. 21 South Dakota 21-10 in a Missouri Valley Conference matchup, which gives the Fighting Hawks wins over three ranked teams, including No. 8 South Dakota State and No. 11 Southern Illinois.
On Friday, No. 13 Albany travels to No. 14 New Hampshire (5 p.m. MST) as both teams open their 2021 spring season in a Colonial Athletic Association contest. Then on Saturday, No. 3 Northern Iowa hosts No. 15 Illinois State (3 p.m.) in a Missouri Valley game of two programs hoping to establish some momentum after dealing with close early season losses.