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CEDAR CITY -- The slate doesn't get any easier for the Southern Utah University football team, even though it returns to Eccles Coliseum on Saturday to face the No. 22/19 Texas State Bobcats, who will be looking to avenge last year's 34-20 loss to SUU in San Marcos, Texas.
The game will be the 2009 SUU Legends Game and former SUU star Matt Cannon's No. 9 will be retired at half time. Cannon, who graduated as a Valedictorian, played at SUU from 1997 to 2000 as a quarterback, slot back and punter. He is the school's all-time leader in scoring, total yards, carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
Cannon is the NCAA FCS all-time leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback and is one of only five players in FCS history to gain 3,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career.
Both teams enter this year's game under similar circumstances from 2008. The T-Birds enter the game with a 1-3 record and the Bobcats come in with a 2-1 record, the same records each team had coming into last year's game.
The Bobcats weren't ranked last year at the time they played the T-Birds, but they rebounded after the loss to make the FCS playoffs as Southland Conference Champions and finished the season ranked No. 22/23. SUU football coach Ed Lamb said Texas State underestimated SUU last year, which contributed to the T-Birds' victory.
"Last year, they might have overlooked our team," he said. "I don't think they're going to overlook us. I think that will factor into the game."
Junior safety Akeem Anifowoshe said he expects Texas State to arrive in Cedar City ready to play.
Newstreamz San Marcos executive editor Bill Peterson said the Bobcats are "well aware they let a team that went 0-11 the year before come in and embarrass them."
"There's a pretty good chance Texas State will be ready to play," he said.
Lamb said the T-Birds will be excited about playing at home and will have an advantage because of altitude.
"We'll keep it at a high tempo, we'll make it a very physical game and see if we get the advantage of our home field," he said.
The T-Birds enter the game Saturday on the heels of a three-game losing streak in which they gave up at least 35 points in each game. Lamb said preparation and having guys in the right spots will be key to turning the defense's fortunes around.
"We've got to make sure and align soundly," he said. "Since the San Diego State game, teams have continued to steam roll us with confusing formations and we haven't done a good job of preparing our guys to align and cover all of the receivers. We've had to really simplify this week on defense, and hopefully we get our bodies next to their bodies and cover them."
Junior wide receiver Fesi Sitake said this is a must-win for the T-Birds.
"It's huge," he said. "This is so important. I want this win more than ever now. It's hard expecting so much and having these three straight losses."
Both teams come in with highly ranked passing offenses and lowly ranked passing defenses, creating the recipe for a shootout. The Bobcats' No. 9-ranked passing offense will go against SUU's No. 111-ranked pass defense while the T-Birds' No. 15 passing offense will face Texas State's No. 112 pass defense.
Lamb said the Bobcats' four-year starting quarterback Bradley George poses some challenges for the T-Birds.
"He's 6 feet 6 inches so he can throw over the top of the line," Lamb said. "He has great vision. He's got some really good receivers; they've got excellent timing. He and his receivers have as good of timing as anybody that we've played."
Anifowoshe said the T-Birds' defense will contain the Bobcats "as long as we play assignment football."
"These are the kinds of games we live for," he said.
Lamb said he doesn't want the game to turn into a shootout. He said he would rather run the ball and control the clock, much like the T-Birds did against Texas State last year, running for 199 yards and possessing the ball for nearly 34 minutes.
Sitake said the Bobcats' defensive scheme hasn't changed much from 2008.
"They're running a lot of the same formations and giving us the same looks that they did last year, so we're going to try to do the same thing as far as running and hopefully the passing game can open up a little more than it did last year," he said.
Both teams enter the game with question marks at running back. Sophomore Austin Minefee, SUU's leading rusher, suffered a rib injury early in the Utah State game and will be out for Saturday's game, meaning junior Major Gray will likely shoulder the bulk of the load after leading the team in rushing and scoring a touchdown against the Aggies.
Bobcat junior running back Karrington Bush, an honorable mention All-American who rushed for 100 yards against SUU last year, was injured in Texas State's first offensive series of the season and hasn't played since, but Peterson said the Bobcats hope he will be ready to play Saturday in order to get some carries and get back into shape before conference play.
The T-Birds completed 16 of 36 passes for 170 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the Bobcats in 2008, but so far this year, have had more success. Senior quarterback Cade Cooper has completed 61.1 percent of his passes, racking up an FCS-seventh-best 1,019 yards while throwing 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Sitake has been Cooper's favorite target, ranking third in the nation with 34 catches and tied for fourth with five touchdowns, but he said he can't take the credit for his success.
"I sincerely give it to anyone who has any potential to run, if they were to stand in my shoes and have the o-line that I do, the quarterback that I do and the coaches that I do, I think anyone could do what I do, and more," he said.
Sitake said the T-Birds will be ready to do whatever they have to do offensively.
"We faced almost every situation we could face -- close game or coming back or playing with the lead -- so whatever it is that comes up, I think we're going to be ready for it," he said.
Sitake said the offense has shown that when it executes well, defenses will have a long day.
"If we execute and do exactly what we've been coached, at our full potential, there are very few teams that can slow our offense down, especially with the outstanding quarterback and offensive line that we have and the great calling by the coaches," he said.
Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.. The game will be broadcast on Power 91 radio, which is streamed online at www.suu.edu.