CSUN DOMINATES AGAIN; MATADORS IMPRESSIVE; MONTANA TEST IS NEXT : CSUN 44 SO. UTAH 17.
The offense ran swimmingly for the third consecutive game. The defense dominated until it didn't matter anymore.
Cal State Northridge trounced a chippy Southern Utah squad that still looked groggy from a 10-hour bus ride a day earlier 44-17 on Saturday in front of 3,317 at North Campus Stadium.
And now CSUN can look forward to playing its biggest game as a member of Division I-AA. Perennial Big Sky power Montana, ranked 21st, comes to CSUN in a game that should go a long way in determining postseason possibilities.
``We're excited about it,'' CSUN coach Ron Ponciano said. ``We've accomplished some of our goals, but that's obviously a goal. We've never beaten any of the Montana schools. We're excited they're coming to town.''
But first CSUN had to dispatch of Southern Utah, which turned out to be, without question, much easier than the final score indicated.
The residue emanating from the rout is mostly good news for the Matadors.
CSUN has its first three-game winning streak since 1990 - when the school was still Division II - and the Matadors (3-1) are also off to their best start since they went 7-1 that same season.
``They beat Montana, and their losses were to ranked teams (McNeese State and Western Illinois), so this was a big win,'' CSUN quarterback Marcus Brady said. ``We're sitting 26th in the nation, so this was a win that could put us in the rankings.''
But there is a downer for CSUN. Or three of them. The defensive line was decimated by suspect blocking schemes by the Thunderbirds.
Sean Beard (broken leg), Mike Colunga (strained ankle) and Marcus Nance (strained MCL) each left with right leg injuries the CSUN coaching staff contends came after illegal chop blocks.
Still, the defense kept an opportunistic and potentially explosive offense scoreless until late in the third quarter. Though the Thunderbirds (1-3) ran for 372 yards, their 200 yards on 18 penalties more than offset the ground gains.
And the CSUN defense, vilified a week ago for yielding 502 yards and 35 points against Eastern Washington, had five sacks and forced three turnovers. Interceptions by Vito Clemente and Donnell Day led to touchdowns as Southern Utah quarterback Matt Cannon completed 3 of 10 passes for 43 yards.
``I didn't think they were going to pass that much,'' said CSUN linebacker Brennen Swanson, who had four sacks. ``All they do is run the option.''
While the defense was banging Cannon around, Brady again was sensational. He threw for three touchdowns and 257 yards in less than three quarters as the Matadors, averaging 34 points per game, continue to run an efficient and sometimes unstoppable offense.
Southern Utah (1-3) never did figure how to defend the wide receiver screen CSUN used so often. Blocks from receivers downfield made it easy for Aaron Arnold (five catches, 128 yards, two touchdowns) and Anthony Ramos (seven catches, 78 yards, one touchdown) to churn out yards after the catch.
``With their defensive style, blitzing a lot with five defensive backs, that opened up our screen game,'' Brady said. ``We haven't been running many screens in our games, but once they saw it I guess they didn't know how to adjust to it.''
However, a young offensive line, playing with three freshman because of an injury to left guard Mike Barnes, made Brady use his scrambling abilities early.
After taking a 7-0 lead on a Melvin Blue one-yard plunge on its opening possession, CSUN's offense stalled under a swarm of pressure from Southern Utah.
Still, the Matadors made the second half irrelevant by scoring on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter. Blue made it 14-0 on a two-yard run and Brady, who was sacked five times, hit Ramos (2 yards) and Mike Ogas (8 yards) for touchdowns to put CSUN ahead 28-0.
``I thought we could shut them out,'' Ponciano said. ``Could we play better? Yes. But I'm happy with how we played. I think our kids played with a lot of class. It could have gotten ugly and out of control at times.''
CSUN vs. SOUTHERN UTAH: A CLOSER LOOK
Many could grab the honor this week, but Cal State Northridge quarterback Marcus Brady gets the nod based on his ability to break the game open. He played less than three quarters and completed 20 of 24 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. Indeed, a splendid day, but it's become the norm for the freshman.
The joint effort goes to the Southern Utah coaching staff, with special attention being paid to head coach C. Ray Gregory. This goes beyond an awful showing for the Thunderbirds on the scoreboard. It's the delay of game after a timeout and the bundle of late hits on the sideline that showed an atrocious lack of discipline. Even when they scored a touchdown late in the third quarter, penalties left kicker Jerry Holstrom attempting a 50-yard PAT.
STAT OF THE GAME
The game was a laugher, but CSUN's running game continues to be a problem. It wasn't until Melvin Blue ran 31 yards late in the third quarter that the Matadors got away from the negative numbers. The Matadors finished with 41 yards on the ground. Take away the five sacks allowed and CSUN still ran for only 79 yards.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
``I handed him (game) stats and said, `Good luck the rest of the way,' and he said, `Best of luck getting some better facilities.' ''
CSUN spokesman Ryan Finney, after talking to Southern Utah coach C. Ray Gregory.
NOTEBOOK: Maligned defense vindicates itself against So. Utah
Early last week, Cal State Northridge head coach Ron Ponciano ``talked'' with his defensive staff about preparation. It came in the face of allowing 502 yards to Eastern Washington.
And though it's only possible through hindsight, playing a spread triple-option team like Southern Utah may have been the best thing.
In CSUN's 44-17 win Saturday, the defense kept Southern Utah scoreless until 1 minute, 34 seconds remained in the third quarter. By that time the Matadors had built a 37-point lead.
``One of the reasons teams run option offenses is because it makes teams play vanilla defenses, and we only played three or four (different) fronts,'' CSUN defensive coordinator Craig Wall said. ``I think it did benefit us this week because we did simplify things this week. It was good for the guys, good for our coaching staff.''
Southern Utah did amass 372 yards rushing (62 carries), but not much of it mattered.
``We have a pretty good feeling, like there's some (vindication),'' CSUN defensive lineman Shawnbay Jones said. ``We were holding onto the goose egg for a while, but the way they run the ball, 17 is a good number of points to allow.''
That was planned?: A couple things come to mind after watching Southern Utah. First, how did the Thunderbirds beat Montana earlier this season? Second, what is going on with those special teams?
Punter Brad Austin averaged 19 yards on his first two punts, but it's not really his fault. Southern Utah's plan was to punt the ball low and try to hit an unsuspecting CSUN player in the back to recover the fumble.
Yup. That is correct.
On one occasion it gave CSUN the ball on the Southern Utah 35, which led to the Matadors' second touchdown.
``It's a weird deal,'' said assistant head coach Jeff Kearin, who handles CSUN's special teams. ``I have know idea where they're going on that stuff.''
Recruiting trail: Ponciano figures the program will attract a number of skill-position players, but the hard part will be getting linemen.
So that's where the recruiting focus will be, on the offensive and defensive lines.
A few recruits were at North Campus Stadium, and they are all linemen.Offensive lineman Phil Sperry, a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder out of West Hills High in San Diego, is being courted by CSUN as well as some Western Athletic Conference schools.
Riverside defensive lineman Cory Kipp, who had 22.5 sacks last season, and Jason Stanztberry, a 300-pound offensive lineman out of Bakersfield High, were also in attendance.
- Brian Dohn
Photo: Brennen Swanson and the Northridge defense was stingy against Southern Utah.
Michael Owen Baker/Daily News
Box: CSUN vs. SOUTHERN UTAH: A CLOSER LOOK (See Text)