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CEDAR CITY — The Southern Utah football team is looking to rebound from its first conference loss of the season last week, when it hosts Sacramento State Saturday afternoon at Eccles Coliseum.
"We know every game is going to be tough for us from here on out," SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen said. "Competition is tough in the Big Sky and it helps being at home. We played a good game last week with the crowd behind us and we've got to make sure we prepare hard this week for these guys — they're a good team."
The Thunderbirds (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky) fell to No. 2 FCS Montana State 24-17 after a final drive in the closing seconds was thwarted with an interception in the back of the end zone on a final hail mary attempt to tie the game.
However, SUU has no time to dwell on the loss as it remains at home to host Sacramento State (3-2, 1-1 Big Sky) Saturday afternoon, in a game that will feature a familiar friend on the T-Birds' opposing sideline.
After four seasons as SUU's quarterbacks and receivers coach and as recruiting coordinator, Paul Peterson left the T-Birds to take over as Sacramento State's offensive coordinator earlier this year.
"That'll add a certain flavor to the game," SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb said. "At the same time, Paul is certainly still a really good friend of all our coaches and many of our players will be speaking to him as well — it's going to be more of a before and after the game sort of thing."
On the field, SUU will look to continue to get better defensively. With six freshmen in the starting lineup, the T-Birds allowed opponents to score 30 points or more in its first three games against FBS or FCS schools.
However, SUU was able to control Montana State's high-octane offense for the majority of last week's 24-17 loss to the Bobcats.
Linebacker Namari Flentroy, who is fourth on the team with 35 tackles and second with two forced fumbles this season, said the defense is improving as the season goes on.
"We've started young," Flentroy said. "We've had a lot of true freshmen starting this year, a lot of redshirt freshmen starting this year, so we started out not as experienced as we can be, but as the weeks progress, we're getting better … we're tackling better, practicing hard each day and getting better every week."
The T-Bird defense will look to attack CSUS's running back Ezekiel Graham, who has already picked up 506 yards on the ground this season, averaging 5.7 yards per touch. Graham only has two rushing touchdowns, but is averaging 101 yards rushing per game.
SUU will also look to slow down the Hornet passing game, led by quarterback Garrett Safron, who has 1,167 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 61.7 completion percentage this season.
SUU's defense, however, suffered a blow over the weekend the loss of starting cornerback Tyree Mills, who has been suspended indefinitely, following an arrest for failing to pay fines in connection with two separate incidents in 2010 and 2011.
Mills was arrested just hours after SUU's loss after a warrant was issued for not paying fines associated with a minor assault charge in 2010 and a theft of a parking boot placed on his vehicle in 2011, according to an SUU press release. Mills previously pled guilty to both charges in 2011, but failed to pay fines related to the incidents.
Lamb said Mills was barred from all association with SUU football, but did not go detail for how long the suspension would be or the requirements Mills must make to rejoin the team. Mills currently leads SUU's secondary with 25 tackles and three pass deflections. He also picked up an interception in the T-Birds' loss Saturday.
Offensively, SUU is still working on getting its offense to run on full power. Though Sorensen threw for 250 yards and two scores last week, Sorensen and his receiving corps failed to capitalize with miscommunications, dropped passes and overthrows sprinkled throughout the game.
Sorensen said he and his receivers work extra after each practice to help build the communication between each other.
"We stay after practice and try to work on the little things we see that could have helped us out in the previous game and hopefully in the future will help us," he said. "We're just trying to get on the same page and build on our chemistry."
Kick against the Hornets is slated for 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Eccles Coliseum.