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SUU should be a battle

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - It took the University of North Dakota less than two minutes to score its first touchdown at Southern Utah last year. The Sioux continued to push the issue, scoring on their first three possessions en route to a 37-10 win agai...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - It took the University of North Dakota less than two minutes to score its first touchdown at Southern Utah last year.

The Sioux continued to push the issue, scoring on their first three possessions en route to a 37-10 win against the Thunderbirds.

"We jumped on them so quick," UND coach Chris Mussman said. "We may have taken them by surprise."

Southern Utah, however, has pulled a few surprises of its own this season. After going winless in 2007, the Thunderbirds are 3-5 entering tonight's game against UND in the Alerus Center.

"Southern Utah is a much improved team," Mussman said. "They believe they're going to win and that's half the battle."

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The Thunderbirds have two legitimate wins - the first against Texas State and the second against Youngstown State, the team that beat North Dakota State early this season.

Southern Utah has a new coaching staff, a new philosophy and an interesting defense - one that doesn't have a name but has been effective much of the year.

"They've played hard this season and their players have bought into the system brought in by their new coach," Mussman said.

"They're philosophically different on both sides of the ball. They'll throw the ball around a lot and their defense is vastly different. It's a little like our stacked defense. It gives them more flexibility to move kids around like the 3-4. You have to guess where their pressure is coming from. It's something we haven't seen up to this point."

There are other angles to tonight's game as well.

It will be UND's first Division I FCS game at home in addition to being the school's first night home game in November.

And it also will be the last home game for 19 UND seniors - the class that was asked to lead the way in the program's ascent to Division I FCS competition.

More important, the game presents UND a chance to finish its first FCS season with a winning record. The Sioux are 5-3, with games remaining against the Thunderbirds and South Dakota on Nov. 22.

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Southern Utah also is fighting for a winning season.

"They're going to come in here with something to prove, especially after last year," UND receiver Brady Trenbeath said.

A different start time

UND traditionally has played most of its home games in the afternoon. There have been occasional night games since Sioux football moved into the Alerus Center in 2001.

UND may move toward more night games.

Tonight's game also will go head-to-head with the opening of the region's deer hunting season.

Sioux players didn't seem to mind the late start.

"There is a different type of energy for a night game," UND quarterback Danny Freund said.

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Looking ahead

When he has a few minutes, UND coach Chris Mussman watches some of the marquee games in college football.

Lately, he's had the chance to watch Texas Tech.

Like many, he's amazed by the high-powered Red Raiders, who will play UND in the 2009 season opener for both teams in Lubbock, Texas.

There is a chance UND could watch Tech unveil a national championship banner when the Sioux play there next season.

However, Mussman isn't thinking that far ahead.

"We really can't worry about it," Mussman said. "But it can be something we can use in our recruiting. Hopefully, we can take a player to a place like that every year, or every other year."

Texas Tech stunned No. 1 Texas last week. The Red Raiders are ranked No. 2 in the country.

Freshmen improve

At Southern Illinois last week, Sioux freshman cornerback Kenny Watkins made his best play of the season when he broke up a pass intended for Damian Sherman.

He had perfect position as both went up for the ball in the end zone. He knocked down the fourth-down pass, a play that kept the Sioux in the game.

Of offense, UND true freshman receiver Ismael Bamba caught another touchdown pass, his third of the season.

The two freshmen, said UND coach Chris Mussman, continue to make strides.

"You have to realize that the last game Kenny played before he stepped on the field at UND was a high school game," Mussman said. "He's gotten a lot better. And he'll continue to get better as he figures it out. Ismael is getting better and better every game, too.

"For the players we don't redshirt, they don't go through the freshman weight program or play on scout teams. So it's a different mentality for those kids compared to 99 percent of our true freshmen."

Watkins is from Plano, Texas, while Bamba is from Montreal.

The Sioux will continue to recruit in Texas and Canada.

"We have to get more of those guys with that kind of athleticism," Mussman said.

Today's promotions

There will be a handful of promotions at tonight's game.

Fans will receive $5 off a ticket purchase with the donation of a non-perishable food item.

The first 750 fans will receive a Fighting Sioux mini football.

All military personnel can purchase a single-game ticket for $5. And all area youth who wear their football jersey will be admitted free.

The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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