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Size matters for Thunderbirds’ O-line
CEDAR CITY — The expression may go that the numbers don’t lie, but when looking at 2008, the offensive line for Southern Utah may feel like the numbers are a cold slap in the face. Opponents sacked T-Bird quarterbacks 26 times to 16 secured by SUU in 11 games.
Opponents averaged more than double the yards on the ground — 4.8 per carry against the T-Birds’ 2.2.
With a full year’s worth of experience under their belts, this year’s starting five in charge of protecting quarterback Cade Cooper and busting open holes for running backs like Deckar Alexander to run through is brimming with confidence.
Seniors Aarron Po’uha, Levi Mack and Joe Ellis and sophomores Zack Brackus and Stephen Boyer make up the group projected to start on the line heading into the Sept. 3 season opener against Dixie State.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last year and way ahead of where we were in the spring,” said Po’uha, a transfer from Snow College who was a second team All-Great West Conference selection after starting every game at a guard spot last season. “We can move the ball with our running and protect our quarterback.”
“Our offense will be a strong point,” added Mack, who came to the T-Birds from Eastern Arizona JC and had a redshirt year at BYU. “We’re well-rounded at receiver and running back, and everything works.”
Po’uha believes his linemates have found a comfort level working together and they get an added boost with Cooper calling the signals at quarterback.
“Last year, a lot of us on the line didn’t know who we were working with. but now we’re all together on one page,” he said. “Cooper knows what we’re doing and what we want.”
As a unit, the group averages 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, 50 pounds heavier than they were before the start of last season. Mack and Po’uha are listed at 325, Brackus added 12 pounds to push his weight to 312, and both Boyer and Ellis are now at 310.
“When we start getting in (game) shape, we’ll be more where we want to be,” Po’uha said. “You can only do so much in the weight room compared to on the field.”
“We’re all bigger, faster and stronger with the emphasis we had in the weight room,” added Boyer, who put on 25 pounds from last season.
“I had the seafood diet — if I see food, I eat it,” the sophomore joked about his added weight.
For Brackus, the freedom to eat more and put on the weight mixes in with the necessary work in the weight room.
“The weight training helps the added weight take care of itself,” he said.
With the line’s increased size, Ellis has already noticed a difference, even though the team is still two weeks away from seeing the results on the field.
“We’re not giving up a lot of sacks now,” he said. “We have more unity than we did in the past.”
Another goal for the line is to increase the team’s rushing average to 100 yards a game from 61.2 last season.
“It’s a big emphasis,” said Ellis, who added that the transition to Cooper at quarterback hasn’t felt like much of a change.
“It’s been a smooth transition. With Cade, we just pick up and go,” he said.
For offensive line coach Jason Anderson, the improvement is there and goal for the line is “less than a sack per game.”
“We’re a lot bigger, stronger and faster, and we have a quarterback who can protect the ball for us. With our size and another year under our belts, it’ll help tremendously,” he said.
Southern Utah Thunderbirds
Coach: Ed Lamb
2008 Record: 4-7 overall, 1-3 Great West Conference
Key returnees: QB Cade Cooper (sr.); S Robert Ah Sue (jr.); WR Tysson Poots (jr.); CB Akeem Anifowoshe (jr.); LB Robert Takeno (sr.); OG Aarron Po’uha (sr.); OT Levi Mack (sr.); RB Deckar Alexander (jr.).
Schedule: Sept. 3 vs. Dixie State; Sept. 12 at San Diego State; Sept. 19; at Northern Arizona; Sept. 26 at Utah State; Oct. 3 vs. Texas State; Oct. 17 at Cal Poly; Oct. 24 vs. North Dakota; Oct. 31 vs. UC Davis; Nov. 7 at South Dakota; Nov. 14 vs. Eastern Washington; Nov. 21 at San Diego.