Cedar City • Southern Utah's first-ever Big Sky Conference home game Saturday also happens to be one of the most significant in school history.
SUU plays undefeated and second-ranked Montana State at Eccles Coliseum. With a win, the Thunderbirds would gain instant credibility in their new league and almost certainly become a season-long factor in the Big Sky race.
By beating the Bobcats, Southern Utah would suddenly look like well Montana State.
Fine with coach Ed Lamb.
"Every impression we have is they are the class of the conference and a first-class team," he said. "They are everything we aspire to be as a program."
Montana State, 4-0 for the first time since 1978, is the highest-ranked team to ever visit Cedar City.
"They have tremendous ability," Lamb said. "There are no weaknesses on their team. They play well at the line of scrimmage â¦ [and] their offense is well-oiled in terms of tempo and pace."
To upset Montana State, Southern Utah must find a way to control quarterback DeNarius McGhee, who ranks 11th nationally in total offense.
"He can do it all," Lamb said. "He has a really accurate, live arm and he's able to create with his feet."
Coach Rob Ash knows McGhee has been the key to his team's fast start.
"He's a complete player â¦ a magnificent passer," Ash said. "He's instinctive, accurate [and] makes all the throws. But what really makes him dynamic is his athletic ability his escapability. He's magnificent at creating plays."
McGhee and the Bobcats will provide a huge test for Southern Utah's young defense. The Thunderbirds rank 99th in the country in scoring defense (37.25) and 113th in total defense (505).
Southern Utah's best chance, it seems, lies with its offense.
Led by senior quarterback Brad Sorensen, the Thunderbirds average 32 points a game despite playing two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents Utah State and Cal.
According to Ash, SUU isn't a typical high-scoring opponent. The Thunderbirds can control the ball and keep it away from McGhee.
"They are an old-school team," he said. "They use a tight end with two backs a lot. You don't see that much any more. â¦ They are a power team that scores a lot of points."
Montana State at Southern Utah
P At Eccles Coliseum. Kickoff • 1:30 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports. Radio • 91.1 FM
Records • Montana State, 4-0, 1-0; Southern Utah 2-2, 1-0
Series • Montana State leads 2-0
Last meeting • Montana State 7, SUU 3 (2007)
About the Thunderbirds • This is their first-ever Big Sky Conference home game. â¦ Since 2009, they are 12-3 at Eccles Colisuem. â¦ The defense allowed 587 yards in last week's 49-42 win at Portland State.
About the Bobcats • They have beaten Chadron State (33-6), Drake (32-24), Stephen F. Austin (43-35) and Northern Colorado (41-16).