Weber State may have fallen in the FCS quarterfinals tonight, but if you think this is a temporary burst of winning in Ogden, you haven't been paying attention the past two seasons.
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First of all, tonight's loss wasn't an upset. I don't really care about the FCS seeding … this was a 50/50 game and you could see it coming from a mile away.
Weber State has been a brutally tough team to "out", especially defensively, in 2017 and 2018. Just ask James Madison, Western Illinois and today? Maine.
And don't forget that the current roster made a 2016 playoff trip too, just two years removed from a 2-10 record. That's what has happened under former Utah assistant coach Jay Hill and his staff. The Wildcats have once again finished firmly within the FCS national top 10, and truly … probably the top five. Again.
MAINE VS. WEBER STATE: The Breakdown
The Wildcats do it differently than most in the Big Sky Conference. While many of their annual opponents love to grip it and rip it in the high altitude Rocky Mountain air, Weber State has remained grounded and the staff decided long ago to go the route that works in the FCS playoffs — tough defense, stellar special teams (which is Hill's forte from his time with Kyle Whittingham and Urban Meyer at Utah) and a ground game that grinds you down to a pulp. Finesse is fun to watch on a Saturday TV screen, but playoff football is won the way that Weber State plays.
Maine scored 42 points in the first half against OVC champion Jacksonville State last week. The Black Bears scrapped their way to seven points in the first half against Weber State, and only 23 total — mostly thanks to their own defense, which harassed the Wildcats like nobody had all season since the season opener at Pac-12 Utah — when Weber State opened up with a 10-0 lead on the Utes before the P5 team opened up the whoop.
When Maine coach Joe Harasymiak came on the FCS Coaches Corner this week, he praised what he saw on film when it came to Weber State — almost a foreign entity (literally, UMaine isn't that far from Canada, and a few of its stud players are Canadian). Harasymiak said he didn't always see that kind of organization and play calling when he watched film, but he was seeing it from Weber State. He knew it would be a tough trip to Ogden, Utah, and it was.
The good news for Weber State is this: Most of its roster has now been to the FCS Quarterfinals two straight years and come within a hair of the semifinals. The roster has time to simmer (if not boil), for many months, over how close it is to not only reaching the semis, but Frisco.
Tonight's starting lineup had the following:
- Nine underclassmen on offense
- Four underclassmen on defense
- Everybody returning on special teams
Even while losing stars like LB LeGrand Toia (probably to the NFL Draft) and OL Iosua Opeta (ditto), along with WR Darryl Denby, DT Filipe Sitake, LB Landon Stice and the entire secondary, this is very likely a reloading situation and not a rebuilding, because that's what it has been coached to be by Hill and his staff. Some FCS programs are cyclical, but this one is one of the rare ones that is built to reload.
Weber State will be a team that should be in the Top 10 in 2019. It will be on my ballot. Where it goes from there is contingent on how the new names on the backside of the defense adapt, and my guess is they will adapt well.
The 2019 candle's been lit.