The Fighting Sioux head on the road this week to take on the Southern Utah Thunderbirds in a battle of ranked teams. The game is also the Great West Conference opener for both. The T-Birds are ranked #19 and the Sioux come in at #24 in the coaches poll. SUU looks poised to make a run at the playoffs this year. The game can be seen on Midco Sports Net Channel 323 for all those with Midcontinent and on the Fightingsioux.com website for those without. Game time is 2pm central time.
UND Offense vs SUU Defense
This SUU defense is talented as they showed last weekend by putting the clamps down on Mountain West member UNLV. It also slowed down a very good Sacramento State offense that put it on PAC-12 member Oregon State and won in Corvallis a week earlier. Defensively, the Thunderbirds are a base 4-man front with a variety of looks in the secondary, including primarily cover 2, 4 and 1. They will also occasionally switch it up and go into a 3-man front “stack” look similar to UND’s defense, which they like to blitz out of. The strength of this defense lies in the D-line as all 4 starters return including 2 All-GWC performers in #32 Tyler Osborne and #58 Cody Larsen. They are very athletic and very good at rushing the passer. However, there is some opportunity for the Sioux offense to run the ball on them. This athletic defense has had a knack for being opportunistic this year by scoring points on their own as they returned 3 interceptions for TD’s last week against UNLV.
The running game will be the absolute key for UND this week. We feel the O-line will have its hands full trying to protect Bradley in the pocket against the SUU pass rush. The running game will allow the UND defense to stay on the bench and keep Sorenson and the high-powered SUU offense off the field. When SUU decides to bring pressure, UND will have to be good at slowing them down and executing the screen and draw plays to keep them on their heels. The UND offense MUST dictate the tempo of the game. We have seen in the past what SUU is capable of on offense when they are in charge.
We cannot say enough how important it is for UND to hit and execute a few deep balls to stretch out the defense and rip the cover off the top of the secondary. Needless to say, UND has yet to do that enough this year and Bradley has missed some open receivers down field. Greg Hardin MUST have a big game and get more involved in the vertical passing game.
Overall this is a huge litmus test for the UND offense and will be a sign of what we can expect moving forward with the remaining 2011 Great West Conference schedule and with UNC later on in Greeley. This offense must get better and must gain confidence heading into the Montana Western game and bye week on October 15th.
UND Defense vs SUU Offense
Even though the Sioux have played two FBS teams this season, the Southern Utah offense will be the best they have faced to date. They are averaging 37 points per game and 367 total yards per game. They do most of their damage through the air every game with an average of 274 yards. But, when it comes to scoring they have 7 rushing TD’s compared to 6 passing.
Southern Utah runs a shotgun, spread type of passing offense. They run alot of 3 and 4 receiver sets with one back. They like to spread you out and throw quick routes to isolated receivers. They will hand it off to the lone back but that is not what they want to do.
The offense is led by their Preseason All-American QB Brad Sorenson. The 6’5″ 225lb transfer from BYU is a perfect fit for their offense with his quick release and very strong arm. He is also extremely elusive in the pocket, being very adept at making blitzers miss. We remember the Sioux missed a handful of potential sacks last season. On the year he is 97-145 (67%) for 1076 yards and 6 TD’s vs. 5 Int’s. He will be the key to the game. If the Sioux can get pressure, and they should be able to, they absolutely have to finish off the play or he will beat them.
The running backs are #2 Austin Minefee and #6 Deckar Alexander. They both share carries equally back and have nearly identical stats in rushing and receiving. Minefee has 179 yards rushing and 5 TD’s and Alexander has 193 yards and 2 TD’s. Minefee is the teams second leading receiver with 17 catches for 111 yards and Alexander is fourth on the team with 14 catches for 113 yards. They both are guys that SUU likes to swing it to out of the backfield to let them try and make the first guy miss. Both are smaller, quicker backs – similar to UND’s combo in Jer Garman and Jake Miller – just a little stockier. Both are senior’s, however.
The receiving core took a huge hit in the offseason when All-American Tysson Poots and Fesi Sitake both graduated. They were one of the best tandems in the country and gave the Sioux bigtime trouble last season. The leading receiver this season is #5 Jared Ursua. He has 25 catches for 341 yards and 4 TD’s. He has definitely picked the slack and is their go-to guy. #84 Brady Measom is third on the team with 16 catches for 205 yards. All together 12 different SUU players have a reception this season.
The Sioux pass defense is in for it’s biggest test of the year this week. They have not faced and will not face another offense like this the rest of the season. Last year SUU came in to the Alerus Center and shredded UND’s pass defense to the tune of 413 yards. This season the Sioux secondary is a year more mature and have as good of athletes as they have ever had. They are going to get put in one-on-one situations and are going to need to respond.
This is the most important game of the year for the Fighting Sioux. It is the GWC opener and we all know how huge it would be to beat a ranked team on the road and start conference play 1-0. The keys to the game as we laid out are whether UND can run the ball and whether they can match up with SUU’s WR’s. It is going to be very tough for this young Sioux team to win on the road vs. an SUU team that is extremely good at home.
Southern Utah 31
North Dakota 27