UND looks to make another statement against No. 23 Cal PolyGRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota took a big step forward last week, beating Sacramento State in the program’s first official Big Sky Conference football game.
By: Wayne Nelson, Forum Communications
GRAND FORKS — The University of North Dakota took a big step forward last week, beating Sacramento State in the program’s first official Big Sky Conference football game.
At 5:05 p.m. Saturday, UND can take a big leap forward — one that could put the Green and White in decent shape to make a run at the league title.
UND hosts No. 23 Cal Poly at the Alerus Center in a game between two Big Sky newcomers trying to make a statement in their new home.
“This is going to be fun,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “It’ll be as big a game we’ve had in the Alerus Center in a while. Obviously, the South Dakota game last year had a huge significance to it.
“But this early in the year, you have a game between two pretty good football teams; two teams new to the Big Sky; and it’s an opportunity to take a big step in the Big Sky.
“There is a lot riding on it. But it’s early enough in the year that both teams, no matter what happens, can recover from it.
“We’re excited about the game. You can kind of feel the excitement in the community. It’s good to have that feeling back.”
Both UND and Cal Poly won their inaugural Big Sky games last week. Cal Poly is 3-0 overall, including a win over FBS program Wyoming. UND is 3-1, with its loss an eight-point setback at San Diego State — another FBS team.
While both teams are new to the Big Sky, they’re familiar with each other.
Both were in the Great West Conference before joining the Big Sky. The teams have faced each other the last three seasons, with Cal Poly taking 23-19 and 22-21 wins the last two years. UND won 38-21 in 2009.
Last year’s loss was one UND would like to forget.
“Watching the film from last year, it was ugly football,” Mussman said.
It’s been a lot smoother this season for UND, especially offensively.
“We’re more explosive,” Mussman said. “Now we have the opportunity to get the ball downfield a little bit more.”
And UND proved its run game is still around, too. Against Sacramento State last week, UND rushed for 294 yards.
“We got back to what we know how to do and what we do best,” said UND running back Mitch Sutton, who finished with 162 yards and three touchdowns.
Who’s at QB?
Marcus Hendrickson, who is second this week in FCS passing efficiency (179.5), is expected to start Saturday.
Braden Hanson, the North Carolina transfer who opened the season as the UND starter, could play, though, as he’s nearly recovered from a broken bone in his leg.
“Braden is getting better,” Mussman said. “We’ll stress him even more this week in practice. Last week, he couldn’t backpedal or even hand off a stretch play to his left.
“We’ll have to see if he can handle that this week in practice. If he can handle it, he’ll play. How much? I don’t know.
“We’re being cautious. We have a luxury with Marcus, with the way he’s playing.
“But at this point in time, Marcus is the starter.”
Miller ready to go
Jake Miller hurt his shoulder last week at Sacramento State. The junior running back sat out the second half. Sutton took over and headed a running game that dismantled the Hornets.
Miller, however, will be ready for Cal Poly.
“Jake is fine,” Mussman said. “He has his full range of motion in his shoulder.”