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Tom Miller / Forum Communications Co. , Published September 19 2012

UND football team could be in for another shootout

GRAND FORKS – Sacramento State coach Marshall Sperbeck and University of North Dakota coach Chris Mussman used the same word when asked to describe the opposition this weekend.

“Explosive,” each coach said.

When Sacramento State and UND meet Saturday night in California, the first Big Sky Conference game of the season will feature a pair of offenses ranked among the top 20 in passing in NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

The Hornets rank 20th with 267.3 passing yards per game, while UND is third at 337.

“They’re very good offensively,” Mussman said. “Their quarterback is athletic, and they have some speed on the edges.”

Not only are the passing offenses potent, but each team also possesses a suspect pass defense.

Sacramento State ranks 12th among 13 Big Sky teams in pass defense, allowing 294 yards per game. UND is seventh in the league, giving up 220 yards per game.

Those numbers, however, are a little skewed, as the Hornets have played two games against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents (Colorado and New Mexico State). UND, meanwhile, opened the season against lower-level opponent South Dakota School of Mines.

UND quarterback Marcus Hendrickson and a deep group of wide receivers, led by Greg Hardin and his league-best seven touchdowns, have the attention of the Hornets.

“(Hendrickson) is doing a good job keeping plays alive with his feet and getting the ball downfield,” Sperbeck said. “They have a great wide receiver corps. They’re a nice blend. They have a big guy, another run-and-catch guy and a little guy who can make you miss underneath. They all play well together. It’s a challenge.”

On UND’s radar is Hornets quarterback Garrett Safron, a sophomore who is averaging 265.7 yards per game with six touchdowns.

Safron’s top target, Morris Norrise, has caught 18 balls for 249 yards. He caught a 40-yard touchdown pass to spark Sacramento State’s 28-17 win over Northern Colorado last Saturday in a nonconference matchup.

Safron, who started three games last season as a freshman, opened the year with back-to-back 300-yard games, including a career-high 312 in a 30-28 win over Colorado.

“I see these teams as mirror images of each other,” Mussman said. “I expect a very good football game.”

Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald