Cedar City • The way Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb sees it, Northern Arizona is already in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Thunderbirds are trying to get there.
Southern Utah is 8-3 and ranked 20th in the country. NAU is 8-2 and ranked 10th. The teams play Saturday afternoon at Eccles Coliseum in one of the biggest games in Thunderbird history.
A victory will probably propel Southern Utah into the playoffs. A loss will end its season
"We understand we're the underdog," Lamb said. "... NAU is playing for a playoff seed. We're still on the outside looking in."
When the Thunderbirds returned to practice after last Saturday's 22-14 win at Montana State, Lamb saw that his players know what's at stake against the Lumberjacks.
"They were focused and intense," he said. "But they also seemed nervous. ... I think the magnitude of the game was getting to our guys a little bit."
During the week, however, Lamb's message to the Thunderbirds was simple: relax and savor the moment.
"We let them know to enjoy every minute," Lamb said. "Not many teams play meaningful games in November, so we want them to enjoy it let loose, have fun. ... Win or lose, the biggest crime would be to not enjoy playing in this game."
Southern Utah and NAU enter the game as the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses in the Big Sky Conference.
Said Lamb: "Northern Arizona is the most solid team in the conference as far as how the play offense, defense and special teams. They are so well-rounded."
The Lumberjacks' advantage in the game is their offense. They have shown more ability to consistently move the football and score than the Thunderbirds.
Senior Zack Bauman is second in the Big Sky rushing. He averages 128 yards per game.
"We certainly need to play well on defense," Lamb said. "That's been part a big part of the recipe for the success, so we have to have that again." been able to have."
Northern Arizona at Southern Utah
O At Eccles Coliseum (Cedar City)
Kickoff • 1 p.m. MST
TV • None
Radio • 101.3 FM
Records • Southern Utah 8-3, 5-2; Northern Arizona 8-2, 6-1
Series • Northern Arizona leads 11-6
Last meeting • Southern Utah, 35-29 (2012)