GRAND FORKS, N.D. - The UND football program will honor 16 seniors prior to Saturday’s home finale with Southern Utah. Most of the players in this class have been with the program since the transition to the Division I level started with the 2008 season. The 1:05 p.m. CT kickoff will be the earliest of the season at the Alerus Center.
• Fans should expect some aerial fireworks in the Alerus Center as both teams rank among the top four in passing offense the Big Sky. UND is second, averaging 299.0 ypg, while Southern Utah is fourth at 283.4 ypg. These two teams have combined for 5,242 passing yards and 45 passing touchdowns this season.
• Southern Utah is the only team that UND has played each season since making the move to the FCS level in 2008.
• In fact, this will be the sixth straight season the two teams have played as UND defeated the Thunderbirds 37-10 in 2007, which was the school’s final one as a Division II member.
• SUU holds a 3-2 edge in the all-time series after winning the first three meetings at the FCS level, including both games in Grand Forks, but UND snapped that brief winning streak last season in Cedar City with a 26-20 road win over the T-birds.
• The six-point victory over 17th-ranked Southern Utah marked the first road win over a ranked opponent for UND since its move to the DI level. It was also the first win for fifth-year head coach Chris Mussman over the Thunderbirds.
• Both teams come into the contest with 4-5 overall records. UND fell to 4-5 and 2-4 in Big Sky play after a 55-10 loss at No. 4 Montana State, while SUU is riding the momentum of a 30-27 upset of No. 1 Eastern Washington at home. The victory over the Eagles evened the Thunderbirds Big Sky record at 3-3.
LIVE FROM GRAND FORKS
Fans wanting to follow all the action from UND’s Senior Day contest vs. Southern Utah can do so in a variety of ways.
TV: Midco Sports Network (Locally Channel 27; HD 623)
Video: Big Sky TV (www.BigSkyTV.org - FREE webcast)
Radio: UND Radio Network (96.1 FM — Grand Forks) - pregame show at 12 p.m. CT
Audio: UND Radio Network broadcast also available at www.UNDSports.com
Chat: New Media Director Matt Schill will chat live at www.UNDSports.com
Stats: Live stats available at www.UNDSports.com
Twitter: For live scoring updates and game notes follow @UNDFootball
LAST TIME OUT
Montana State’s offense churned out a school-record 695 yards en route to a 55-10 victory over North Dakota. The fourth-ranked Bobcats were the highest-ranked opponent UND has faced since moving to the FCS level. The visitors answered the first Bobcats’ touchdown of the game with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Braden Hanson to Greg Hardin, but MSU would outscore UND 48-7 the rest of the way. The Green and White did block two kicks in the game to bring their season total to seven, which ranks third among FCS schools this season. Freshman Kenny Golladay had a career-long 60-yard reception and finished with team highs of four catches for a career-high 83 yards.
The North Dakota football program will honor its 16 seniors in a brief pre-game ceremony before Saturday’s home finale with Southern Utah. Most of these young men have been with this football program from start to finish of its transition to the Division I level and will always be considered the foundation to that process.
Here is a look at those 16 seniors and some career highlights:
90 Devin Benjamin (NG, Minneapolis, Minn.)
• Has registered 72 total tackles in his career
• Will play in 40th career game vs. Southern Utah (19 starts)
98 Ross Brenneman (DE, Omaha, Neb.)
• Has posted 25 tackles for a loss in his career (40 games)
• Ranks third on UND’s all-time charts with 17.5 sacks
• Named a permanent team captain for 2012 season
12 Brett Cameron (P, Winnipeg, Manitoba)
• More than 7,000 career punting yards
• Career punting average of 40.4 ypp is fourth best in UND history
18 Braden Hanson (QB, Charlotte, N.C.)
• Completing 69.1 percent of his passes (105-152)
• Set UND and Big Sky record with 660-yard passing game vs. Montana, which is most by a left-hander at any level in NCAA history
80 Jon Heimler (WR, Colfax, Wis.)
• Has played in a career-high seven games in 2012
• First career catch was game-winning TD at UC Davis (2011)
13 Marcus Hendrickson (QB, Perham, Minn.)
• Accounted for 1,556 yards of total offense
• Tied UND single-game record with six TD passes vs. Portland State
• Named National Performer of the Week by CFPA for his efforts
68 Caleb Gillson (OL, Buyck, Minn.)
• Started 14 straight games and all nine in 2012
78 Emmett Lynch (OL, Lester Prairie, Minn.)
• Started 26 career games along the O-line
• Member of CoSIDA Capitol One District VII All-Academic Team
23 Ethan Magstadt (FB, Maple Grove, Minn.)
• Played in 30 career games
• Seven career receptions and eight career special teams tackles
54 Ian McGurran (OL, Fargo, N.D.)
• Started 42 consecutive games at center
• Named permanent team captain for 2012 season
33 Erik Mersereau (DB, Port Washington, Wis.)
• Returned a punt for a touchdown at Idaho in 2011
• Career-high 31 tackles in 2012
8 Tanner Naastad (PK, Grand Forks, N.D.)
• Kicked three PATs win over SD Mines
45 Jay Nelson (DE, Wheaton, Minn.)
• 15.5 tackles for loss over last two seasons leads team
• Nine career sacks, including two against Montana this season
15 Seth Nichols (TE, McVille, N.D.)
• 18 career receptions, two TDs
• Converted quarterback has spent last two seasons at tight end
28 Mitch Sutton (RB, Plover, Wis.)
• Shares Big Sky lead with nine rushing TDs in 2012
• Rushed for 1,669 yards and 17 TDs and has 58 catches for 593 yards
47 Seth Wisthoff (TE, Glenburn, N.D.)
• 16 career receptions for 172 yards
• Caught first career TD pass vs. SD Mines in 2012 season opener
MAGIC CARPET RIDE
• UND is 65-14 in 11 seasons at the Alerus Center, including a 10-0 mark in the DII playoffs.
• Head coach Chris Mussman is 19-7 all-time at UND’s home facility and improved to 3-0 in season openers at the Alerus thanks to the 66-0 victory over SD Mines on Aug. 30.
• In those 19 home wins under Mussman’s guidance, UND is averaging 32.2 ppg and the team is 17-2 at home when scoring 20 or more.
BY LAND OR AIR
UND is currently tied for the Big Sky lead with 40 touchdowns this season. Senior Mitch Sutton shares the Big Sky lead with nine rushing touchdowns and his classmates Marcus Hendrickson (15) and Braden Hanson (11) have teamed together for 26 scoring strikes, which lead the Big Sky and have tied the school’s single-season record for passing scores, joining the 2007 team. Those two have also put this team within 50 yards of breaking the all-time record for passing yardage in a season.
HARDIN HAS RECORDS IN SIGHT
With three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown at Montana State, junior Greg Hardin moved into second place by himself in a pair of career categories at UND. Now, only Weston Dressler stands in front of him for career receiving touchdowns and career receiving yards. Dressler had 34 receiving touchdowns and 2,919 yards during his prolific career at UND, while Hardin already has 25 receiving scores and 2,287 yards with two games left in his junior campaign.
Hardin could also set a pair of UND single-season marks with two games remaining in the 2012 season. He needs 221 receiving yards to eclipse that mark, which was set by Ron Gustafson in 1973 with 1,210 yards and he needs two receiving touchdowns to break that record held by Dressler at 14 (2006). Hardin also only needs 12 yards to become just the sixth player in UND history to reach the 1,000-yard plateau in a season.
BRENNEMAN BOUNCES BACK WITH SACK
Senior Ross Brenneman returned to action against Montana State after missing two games and recorded his third sack of the season. He now stands third on UND’s all-time career charts with 17.5 sacks, which is four behind West Atkinson, who had 21.5 during his career from 1996-99. Brenneman needs one sack to tie David Borowickz (1993-96) for second on the list. Brenneman’s career total is also tied for 10th nationally among active career leaders in the FCS.
JACKSON ADDED TO JERRY RICE AND CFPA WATCH LISTS
Redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson has been added to a pair of watch lists that honor the National Freshman of the Year in the Football Championship Subdivision. Two weeks ago, Jackson was among a trio of freshmen named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List, then this past week he was among the initial watch list released for the College Football Performance Awards Natioanl Freshman of the Year. Jackson has 43 for 587 yards and six receiving touchdowns in 2012 - all three of those totals rank second among freshmen in the FCS.
NATIONAL COLLEGE FOOTBALL DAY
Nearly 100 spectators gathered around a field in New Brunswick, N.J., on Nov. 6, 1869 to witness a game unlike anything seen before. The competition between Rutgers and Princeton was “replete with surprise, strategy, prodigies of determination and physical prowess,” to use the words of one player. On that day 143 years ago, the Scarlet Knights defeated Princeton, 6-4, but more importantly, the players left a lasting legacy that would evolve into the great spectacle of intercollegiate football. To honor the birth of an American institution, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic created a holiday held annually on the first Saturday of November.
RED ZONE SUCCESS
The North Dakota football team has ventured into its opponents red zone 35 times already this season and has come away with a touchdown on 24 of those occasions. The offense is scoring 91.4 percent of the time (also has eight field goals), which is the second best mark in the Big Sky and ninth best in the FCS. The unit has come up empty only three times.
HISTORICAL AERIAL ASSAULT
It took a 660-yard passing game and 61 pass attempts vs. Montana, but through nine games, the UND offense has finally attempted more passes (312) than rushes (299) on the season. This may not seem like a big deal, but considering the run-first mentality of this football program through out its entire history, it certainly is an interesting fact. Case in point, the UND offense has never attempted more passes than rushes in a season.
JACKSON AMONG BEST ROOKIES IN FCS
Redshirt freshman Jameer Jackson has emerged as one of the top rookie wideouts in the FCS this season. He has a pair of 100-yard receiving games and two multiple-touchdown games to his credit so far in 2012. Here is where he ranks among his fellow freshmen nationally:
51 Sean Hill, Appalachian State
43 Jameer Jackson, North Dakota
39 Spearmon Robinson, Western Carolina
683 Sean Hill, Appalachian State
587 Jameer Jackson, North Dakota
559 D.J. Ward, Stephen F. Austin
7 Sean Hill, Appalachian State
6 Jameer Jackson, North Dakota
THAT’S OUR SPECIALTY
North Dakota’s special teams unit blocked three kicks against Portland State on Sept. 8 to pick up where it left off from last season after leading the FCS with 10 blocked kicks. Since moving up to the Division I level in 2008, the UND special teams have a total of 33 blocks. The unit added two more blocks in the loss at Montana State.
Offensive lineman Shea Walker leads the team with three blocks in 2012 and now has five for his career, which is tops among his teammates. Walker blocked a 52-yard field goal at Sac State, deflected an extra point at Eastern Washington and got his forearm on a 37-yard attempt by Montana State.
THE NEXT OPPONENT: SOUTHERN UTAH
Much like fellow Big Sky newcomer North Dakota, Southern Utah has mixed some pleasantries with some reality checks in year one of the new league. The Thunderbirds, however, roll into Grand Forks riding the momentum of one of those pleasantries as their 30-27 victory over No. 1 Eastern Washington shook up the Big Sky standings last Saturday.
Senior quarterback Brad Sorensen showed why he was the Big Sky preseason Offensive MVP after completing 33-of-43 passess for 392 yards in the victory. Sorensen, who shared Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors with Sacramento State’s Garret Safron, engineered a game-winning field goal drive in the closing minutes to even the team’s Big Sky record at 3-3.
Sorensen is fifth among active FCS quarterbacks with 8,857 passing yards in his career and seventh among those signal callers with 57 scoring tosses. In 2012, Sorensen has thrown for 2,551 yards and 19 touchdowns.
His favorite target has been senior wide receiver Fatu Moala, who ranks second in the Big Sky with 55 receptions (6.1/g) and has a team-leading seven touchdown receptions. It is no secret that the Thunderbirds rely on the passing game. They rank fourth in the Big Sky averaging 283.4 passing yards per game, but fall to 12th in the ground game, gaining only 80.4 yards per game.
DID YOU KNOW?
These two teams have taken a common road through their first Big Sky season, having already played five common opponents. Both teams are 3-2 in those contests. SUU and UND have both defeated Montana and Portland State, while falling to Montana State.
The Thunderbirds knocked off Eastern Washington at home, while UND fell to the Eagles on ‘The Inferno’ in early October. Sacramento State dealt SUU a 27-22 setback in Cedar City, while the Green and White beat the Hornets 35-17 in their Big Sky debut.
The top two red zone offenses in the Big Sky will be on display Saturday at the Alerus Center. The Thunderbirds are converting on 93.5 percent of their trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, while UND is successful 91.4 percent of the time. Both of those figures rank third and ninth, respectively among FCS teams.
HISTORY OF THE SERIES
North Dakota head coach Chris Mussman removed a couple of monkeys from his back after his team’s 26-20 victory over Southern Utah last season in Cedar City. The upset of the 17th-ranked Thunderbirds was the program’s first road win over a ranked opponent, snapped a seven-game road losing streak and was his first win over SUU in four tries.
UND defeated Southern Utah 37-10 in its final season at the Division II level in 2007, but had dropped three straight to the Thunderbirds since moving up levels the following season.
The teams have played each other five straight seasons, which is the longest current streak of playing an opponent in consecutive years for UND. That stretch will come to a close in 2013 unless the teams meet up in the FCS playoffs.
Junior wide receiver Greg Hardin has 12 catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns in two career games against Southern Utah. Running back Jake Miller rushed a career-high 32 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s victory. Senior defensive ends Ross Brenneman and Jay Nelson have combined for 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks in three previous meetings with SUU.