Sacramento State will welcome one of the newest members of Big Sky football when it kicks off its conference schedule this Saturday at home against the University of North Dakota.
For the past four seasons, North Dakota (2-1, 0-0) has been a part of the Great West, but transferred in when the Big Sky expanded to 13 schools.
Although his team is new to the conference, North Dakota head coach Chris Mussman said his team is familiar with many Big Sky teams, having played Portland State already this season in a non-conference game, Montana in 2011 and Northern Colorado in 2010.
“We are excited for our first opportunity in the Big Sky,” Mussman said. “It is a big event in UND football history.”
Mussman said the Hornets will not be an easy opponent in the school’s first conference game.
“They have a very balanced offense and we have to make sure we don’t give up any big plays,” Mussman said.
Currently, North Dakota’s offense ranks third in the Football Championship Subdivision, scoring 50.3 points per game.
“They are very explosive on offense,” said Sac State head coach Marshall Sperbeck. “Their quarterback is doing a good job of keeping plays alive and getting the ball down the field.”
Senior quarterback Marcus Hendrickson comes into the game leading all Big Sky quarterbacks with 12 touchdown passes in just three games played.
North Dakota received its first loss of the season last week to San Diego State despite five receivers finishing for a combined 407 yards.
“They have a great receiving core,” Sperbeck said. “It is a nice blend of receivers that play well together. It’s going to be a challenge for us. They are playing very well right now.”
Although Sac State (2-1, 0-0) won its first home game of the season against Northern Colorado last week, the Hornets come into their game against North Dakota ranked second to last in pass defense.
Junior cornerback Osagie Odiase helped the Hornets with an interception and fumble recovery, but as a team, Sac State gave up 327 yards passing to the Bears.
Senior defensive back Ryan McMahon said his team will have to play tough defense and not focus on what Hendrickson has done previously this season.
“We are looking to corral the quarterback and contain his athleticism,” McMahon said. “They throw the ball all over the field, so we are going to have to cover all aspects.”
This will be the first time Sac State has played North Dakota since 1979 when the Hornets travelled to Grand Forks, N.D., and were shut out 31-0.
Kickoff will be at 6:05 p.m.
Ryan Kuhn can be reached at @rskuhn