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CEDAR CITY -- The Southern Utah football team will travel to San Diego, Calif., on Saturday for the second time this season, this time in search of a season-ending victory over SUU Head Coach Ed Lamb's former employer, the University of San Diego Toreros.
Lamb was the recruiting coordinator, special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach at San Diego from 2005 to 2007 before taking over at SUU. He helped lead the Toreros to three straight Pioneer League titles and two NCAA Division I-AA Mid-Major National Championships while coaching one of the top special-teams units in the nation.
"Eighty percent of the guys on their roster, I've either worked with or recruited," Lamb said. "(I know) most of the guys in the starting lineups on the special teams, on offense and defense very, very well."
Lamb said his knowledge of the Toreros' players gives him a slight advantage with matchups.
"When I discuss the personnel with our team and our coaches, I think there might be a slight advantage, but at the same time, their coaches game plan, it's not as if I know what they're going to do, I just know what type of player they are," he said.
The T-Birds, however, enter the game reeling from consecutive losses to South Dakota and Eastern Washington putting the brakes on a once promising season, but Lamb believes the team will be ready to play Saturday.
"I think our guys are down about the last two weeks," he said. "What's staring at us in the face is do we allow the last two weeks to make it so that we're not prepared or that we're not motivated for this week, and I think the answer is that our guys are going to be very motivated. They came out and worked very hard in practice and I have high hopes for the way that they'll perform on Saturday."
Senior offensive lineman Levi Mack said the coaches' demeanors are boosts in helping the team turn its fortunes around.
"They're a lot more upbeat, I think, and just ready to go out and give everything we've got, have a different attitude as far as attacking the defense, attacking the offense," Mack said. "I think that mentality is definitely going to help us."
Mack said for the seniors this will be the game they remember, so it's important that they end their careers on a high note.
"I think (offensive line coach Jason) Andersen actually said it best," Mack said. "He said 'in college you forget every game that you've played except your last one,' so we definitely want to end this last game on a good note."
The SUU defense has been gashed the past two weeks, dropping them to the bottom 30 in the FCS rankings in most major statistical categories. The T-Birds are ranked No. 93 out of 118 teams, excluding provisional teams and reclassifying teams, in passing yards allowed, No. 114 in rushing yards allowed, No. 115 in total yards allowed, and No. 103 in scoring defense. The T-Birds have been able to offset some of the yardage they've given up by creating turnovers, as they are ranked No. 47 in turnover margin and have returned three turnovers for touchdowns this season.
Senior defensive lineman Chad Westwood said the defense is working on technique and finishing plays.
"(We're working on) trying to finish the plays, for us d-linemen, finishing the tackles and sacks and coverages for the secondary and linebackers, and just shoring up our techniques and all that," he said.
The SUU defense this week goes up against an offense ranked in the middle of the road in just about every category. The Toreros and T-Birds have an identical 4-6 record following a 13-7 win over Morehead State.
The Toreros have had problems keeping their quarterbacks healthy this season and even had sophomore running back Justin Fontenberry throw three passes, including the game winning touchdown on Saturday. Freshman Bo Stompro was their starting quarterback Saturday and completed 19 of 25 passes for 191 yards and two interceptions.
"(Stompro) can surprise you with his arm," Westwood said. "They're a very balanced offense, they run well and they pass well, and so they'll try to run the ball and when you think its run, they'll lob it over deep. He's got a really strong arm so we've got to be disciplined in our techniques."
Lamb said their quarterback problems and their schedule have contributed to their 4-6 start, which includes a 1-3 mark at home.
"They play a very good schedule," Lamb said. "They've had tremendous misfortune at their quarterback position; they lost their first two quarterbacks on the depth chart so their offense just hasn't been able to get on track so far this season, but their defense has kept them in games. They'll be very competitive."
Their biggest strength on defense statistically has been against the pass. The Toreros boast the No. 22 pass defense in the nation and opposing quarterbacks have completed less than 50 percent of their passes on the season.
Lamb said San Diego's defense has good players who take pride in their performance. He said the Toreros play man-to-man defense and are good at getting pressure on the quarterback as evidenced by their seven sacks against Morehead State. Seven of the Toreros' 10 games have been decided by a touchdown or less.
"They've got a fantastic defense so they don't get blown out," he said. "They will play very hard. It will be a very big challenge for us."
Westwood said he thinks the team is excited for the game Saturday and the chance to bounce back from its recent struggles.
"I think it's been hard," he said about his team's recent struggles. "It's something that we have to bounce back from and prove ourselves, obviously, but honestly I think going into this week, we're just excited about this new opportunity we have to end on a high note." Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday in San Diego, Calif. The game will be broadcast live on Power 91 Radio.