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UND, MSU get fresh start in Big Sky play

GRAND FORKS -- The first few weeks of the college football season haven't gone exactly to plan for Montana State and North Dakota.

Both teams have two losses.

But both teams have an opportunity Saturday to start anew.

UND and MSU will play at the Alerus Center in the Big Sky Conference season opener for both teams. UND's game against Montana two weeks ago was a non-conference matchup.

"We're wiping the slate clean after a disappointing preseason," Montana State coach Rob Ash said. "It's nice to start 0-0, but the problem is everyone's in the same boat with the great conference we have.

"It's a great challenge, and we're going to try to get off on the right foot."

UND coach Chris Mussman has a similar view as his team takes on the preseason favorite in the Big Sky.

"It's huge to get a chance to play at home in the Big Sky opener against a very, very good football team," Mussman said.

UND's focus this week against the Bobcats is to cut down on self-inflicted problems. UND has been penalized 23 times for 210 yards through three games. UND has been penalized 70 yards per game, while opponents have been flagged for just 34 yards per game.

"If we play our best, don't turn the ball over, limit our mistakes and get beat, you can live with that," Mussman said. "But if you go out and lay an egg and dig yourself a hole, that's more difficult."

Offensively, Mussman is concerned with Montana State's pass rush, which sacked UND eight times a year ago and forced four quarterback hurries in the Bobcats' 55-10 victory in Bozeman.

"We had a tough time getting the ball out fast enough," Mussman said. "We have to do better this year. It has to come out on time."

One of the solutions would be running the ball more effectively. UND is averaging 3.4 yards per carry compared to opponents' 5.1 average. The past two games, UND has fallen behind in the first half and primarily thrown the ball in the second half.

"We can't abandon the run," Mussman said. "We have the last couple of weeks. We've got behind and chucked it deep. We have to stick with the run. We can't be one-dimensional."