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Sioux hope to put together complete game

SAN LUIS, OBISPO, Calif. -- In Week 2 of the season, the University of North Dakota went to Northern Illinois after a 45-point loss at Idaho. UND coach Chris Mussman still had a vision that good things were still possible for the Sioux -- a youth...

Dominique Hawkins
Photo by Sarah Kolberg/Grand Forks Herald/Forum Communications Co. University of North Dakota defensive back Dominique Hawkins, right, eyes Northwestern State's John Shaughnessy during a game on Sept. 25 at the Alerus Center.

SAN LUIS, OBISPO, Calif. -- In Week 2 of the season, the University of North Dakota went to Northern Illinois after a 45-point loss at Idaho.

UND coach Chris Mussman still had a vision that good things were still possible for the Sioux -- a youthful team in the fourth season of Division I FCS competition.

UND's play in DeKalb, Ill., was head-and-shoulders above what it was in Moscow, Idaho. UND rallied from a 16-0 deficit and had a chance to beat the FBS Huskies on the last play of the game. Northern Illinois, which beat UND 23-17, is now 5-2 and sits atop the West Division of the Mid-American Conference.

The search is still on for that UND team that went toe-to-toe with Northern Illinois. Sioux coach Chris Mussman hopes the team that left DeKalb will be the one on the field tonight against Cal Poly.

"That's the team I envisioned when we started fall camp," Mussman said. "It's the vision I have when I still look at our football team and its potential."

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Inconsistent play, however, has been the trademark of the 2010 Sioux. They've had both eye-opening and eye-closing moments -- signs of a young team making the Division I transition.

"The margin of error is a lot smaller for this young football team," Mussman said. "As our schedule shows, we can play with anybody but we can also get beat by anybody on our schedule."

UND is 2-4 and a common theme exists in UND's four losses.

"Defensively, (giving up) the big play has been our Achilles heel," Mussman said. "We have to make sure we defend the big play because we know it's coming.

In back-to-back losses against South Dakota and Southern Utah, the Sioux defense allowed 14 plays that covered 16 or more yards. Five of those plays resulted in gains of 32 or more yards. Offensively, there are concerns, too.

"We have to be more productive on first down and we have to limit our penalties," Mussman said. UND didn't have many penalties in the second half at Northern Illinois. The Sioux didn't give up the big play and their offense consistently moved the ball.

A second-half surge by the Sioux depends on consistency. And the UND players are well aware of that.

"We've seen glimpses of (good play) in all of our games," Sioux defensive back Mitch Kudrna said. "We just haven't been able to put it together for four quarters. That's been our big downfall. You want to put together your best game but it's frustrating when you can't. It shows by our record and that's not where we want to be."

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Early risers

The routine for Cal Poly players is different than from most college football programs.

The Mustangs practice at 6 a.m., then head to class.

"Our guys have labs in the afternoon," Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said. "If we practiced in the afternoon, we'd have hardly anyone there."

Cal Poly spent the last five weeks on the road, playing in Texas, Louisiana, Virginia, Utah and California.

"For the last five weeks, we spent between 28 and 30 hours each week on either a bus, in an airplane or at the airport," Walsh said.

"It was demanding, emotionally and physically."

There are few FCS teams on the West Coast, making scheduling difficult for Cal Poly.

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But scheduling for Cal Poly will ease considerable once it joins the Big Sky Conference in 2012.

Nelson is the Sports Editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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