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CEDAR CITY -- The Southern Utah football team will travel from one end of the state to the other to play former SUU coach Gary Andersen and the Utah State Aggies in their homecoming game Saturday in Logan, marking the end of the T-Birds' three-game road trip.
Andersen coached the T-Birds to a 4-7 record in 2003, which was one more win than they had in 2001 and 2002 combined, before returning to the University of Utah as an assistant coach. His Aggies staff includes two former SUU assistant coaches as well as three former SUU players.
The T-Birds (1-2) are coming off back-to-back road losses in which they got off to slow starts before picking it up in the second half.
SUU football coach Ed Lamb said the T-Birds' early-game woes have been a result of the team coming out of the locker room too excited.
"I think that we've made the mistake of coming out of the locker room a little too jacked up and making some excited-type mistakes," he said. "We're going to really focus in on the details of the game, we're going to come out of the locker room with more of an intensity toward blocking, and tackling, and catching passes, and throwing passes, and getting off blocks than we are worried about winning the game."
Lamb was quoted in a press release saying, "winning is a natural end result" of doing things right.
Sophomore safety Dion Turner said executing will be key to erasing the early-game problems.
The Aggies are also coming off consecutive road losses, although they had a bye week in between, to Texas A&M and the University of Utah. They feature the NCAA Division I (FBS)'s fourth-leading rusher in sophomore running back Robert Turbin as well as a dual-threat quarterback in junior Diondre Borel.
Turbin has averaged 134.5 rushing yards per game, while Borel passed for 324 yards and a touchdown while adding two rushing touchdowns in the loss to Texas A&M.
"(Borel) and (Turbin) are two of the fastest guys we'll see all year," Lamb said.
Lamb said the Aggies are the best team the T-Birds will face this year.
"They've got the best players," he said. "They've got the fastest running back; they've got the fastest quarterback; they've got very capable receivers."
Turner said the T-Birds must "play our defense" in order to contain the Aggies' high-powered offensive attack.
'They've got a fast running back and a quarterback that's shifty, so we've just got to stop them on that," he said.
For the T-Bird offense, Lamb said they will be facing a similar defense to the NAU and SDSU defenses they've seen the last two games.
"They've got a very aggressive system of defense," he said in the press release. "...They like to bring pressure from a lot of different areas."
The T-Birds handled the NAU defense on Saturday, racking up 540 yards of offense while not committing a turnover. They spread the ball around more than they had the first two games as eight players caught passes. Sophomore running back Austin Minefee caught five passes for 83 and three touchdowns, while junior wide receiver Fesi Sitake caught a team-leading 10 passes for 80 yards.
Junior wide receiver Tysson Poots, the team's 2008 leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns, caught six passes for 109 yards and a score in his first action of 2009 after missing the first two games while recovering from a foot injury. He said he was excited to be back on the field and that he felt good in the first half, but tired a bit in the second half.
"I felt confident in catching the ball," he said. "I was a little shaky, a little rusty on running my routes. I didn't feel as fast or as explosive as I normally do. It just felt so good to be out there, so I was trying to be who I was and play fast, play to my abilities."
Poots said he is excited for the Utah State game having gotten some of the rust out.
"The second game is always a little bit easier," he said. You're in better shape. You're catching up to the game speed here and there."
Poots said the atmosphere of a homecoming game and home opener will add to the excitement and intensity.
"(The Aggies) are going to be fired up," he said. "Their fans are going to be ready. They look like a lot better team than they showed last year; they're just an overall better team. Their fans are going to be excited. It's going to be a fun atmosphere to play in; hostile."
Lamb said the fact that the game is the Aggies' homecoming game and home opener doesn't change the way the T-Birds will approach it.
"The mindset for us is always to execute at the highest level we possibly can," he said. "It does us no good to focus on whether it's homecoming or home opener or anything like that. It doesn't make one difference as far as the way we prepare. It may make a big difference in the game. It may make a big difference in Utah State's motivation, but it doesn't for us."
The game begins Saturday at 6 p.m. at Romney Stadium in Logan.