Five questions with Brett Hein, Weber State football beat writer for the Ogden Standard-Examiner. No. 5 Weber State hosts No. 9 Northern Iowa Saturday.
1. What's up at quarterback? Will Jake Constantine play or is he still a week or two away after a minor knee procedure?
Barring a clearer feel for his knee prior to Saturday, Constantine will essentially be a game-day decision. Jay Hill said with a knee scope, there's often a day where the player breaks through and the knee feels good again. Based on what he said Tuesday, it sounds like Hill would like to play Constantine as long as the pain is manageable or gone, and his effectiveness isn't compromised too much.
2. Weber State, on paper, reads a lot like UNI's team. Two offenses that have struggled to find their way early, while both teams defenses have been more than solid. Give a quick synopsis of the Wildcat's season to date.
Weber State has only played one FCS opponent so far, so the quick synopsis is that the jury is still out on exactly what this team is and how good it can be. On one hand, losing by six to two FBS teams is a really good showing. On the other hand, with just a tiny bit more from the offense in those games, Weber wins both, is 3-0 and ranked No. 1 or No. 2. On the third hand (ha), how much can you evaluate an offense that has struggled when the sample is mostly against teams from the upper division?
In the lone game against an FCS opponent, which was a Cal Poly team that just might challenge for a playoff spot, Weber State had two 100-yard rushers and dominated from start to finish. So what we know: the defense looks pretty good, even surviving a potent air attack at Nevada and keeping the Pack out of the end zone; and, the offense looks like it could be capable enough, but the sample size is somewhat lacking.
3. Adam Rodriguez and Jonah Williams sound like a terror to prepare for offensively. What makes them good and who are some other defenders to watch with the Wildcats?
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Williams is a handful because he's just a strong, powerful dude. Rodriguez is strong, but he's got more speed off the weak-side end. San Diego State and Nevada struggled to slow them down, and Weber's D-line goes 8-9 deep pretty effectively. So everyone stays fresh and in attack mode. Outside of that unit, Conner Mortensen has been a bright spot at linebacker stepping into a starting role alongside senior Auston Tesch, who is a proven commodity, and new starting middle backer Noah Vaea. The secondary is young, but Marque Collins at corner and Preston Smith at safety, among others, have looked capable so far.
4. Offensively, who are some game-breakers to watch for?
Running backs Josh Davis (sophomore) and Kevin Smith (junior) are the guys to watch, they're the two backs who ran for 100-plus each against Cal Poly. Davis is the reigning national freshman of the year and Smith sat last season with a knee injury. It's a tough duo when things get rolling. Outside of them, WSU is always looking for better, more efficient ways to get receivers Rashid Shaheed and Devon Cooley the ball. Shaheed is possibly the best kick returner in the country, and Cooley was once committed to UCLA. But that's been the chase for two seasons: getting those two the ball more effectively.
5. What is the game day atmosphere like in Ogden? Pictures show a spectacular view and Stewart Stadium packed. What should Panther fans making the trip expect and where should they head pregame?
There's no arguing the scenery, for sure. Stewart Stadium is nestled into the foothills of the city. The atmosphere is getting better by the game and by the season. While the stadium won't be packed, it's a solid showing at the FCS level and the baseline attendance at each game appears to have grown from around 6,000 to 8,000. We'll have to see if the forecast of rain will affect that. The in-game atmosphere got a boost this year with the completion of a new north end-zone facility that encloses the stadium on that end, and with new videoboards in each end zone, including a massive board to the south.
Traveling UNI fans who are expecting a tailgate scene won't find a typical set-up. Pre-game festivities largely consist of a family-friendly group of activities for parents to bring their kids to, along with some sponsor booths with food and drinks. Fans from the midwest who arrive with time will probably want to experience a taste of the mountain west, finding a moderate hike in the mountains or getting to Snowbasin Resort for a gondola ride to a mountaintop with a breathtaking view. Ogden's other spots of interest might be the downtown area of Historic 25th Street and The Junction on 23rd Street. And, Salt Lake City and Temple Square is just 40 miles to the south, easily driveable or accessible by the public commuter train system.