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Northern Arizona Missouri State Football

Members of the Northern Arizona football team celebrate with wide receiver Brandon Porter (18) after scoring a touchdown during the Lumberjacks' season opener in the Walkup Skydome.

Pulling off the win over an FBS program will be a bit tougher this season.

To open the 2018 season, Northern Arizona beat UTEP, one of the worst FBS teams of the past year or so with a 2-23 record since the 2017 season.

This year, however, Northern Arizona heads south to Tucson to take on the University of Arizona on Saturday.

The Lumberjacks last faced the Wildcats in a lopsided meeting in 2017. Arizona took a 62-34 win in front of its home crowd, dominating the Northern Arizona with rushing touchdowns of 37, 46, 55 and 66 yards in the win. Northern Arizona actually outgained the Wildcats in the first half 273 to 241 on offense, but couldn’t keep up in the second half as turnovers and mistakes plagued the Lumberjacks in the upset bid.

Case Cookus was good in his showing against the Pac-12 school, going 21 of 38 for 306 yards and two interceptions through the air. In a rare occurrence for the now fifth-year senior, Cookus was held without a touchdown pass in the 2017 outing.

Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate didn’t see really any meaningful time in the last meeting between the programs, and it is unclear how much he will play this weekend.

This year for the Lumberjacks, it's about worrying about what they do and what they can control.

“We just got to go down there and worry about ourselves,” Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball said Tuesday. “We need to play our game. We got to take care of the ball. We got to get the ball back for our offense. Go down there and play with great effort and execute the game plan.”

LOOKING BACK

Ball said the biggest things his team needs to work on from the Missouri State game, which ended as a 37-23 home win for Northern Arizona, is the amount of penalties and the slow start on offense.

Northern Arizona in its opener was flagged 10 times for 125 total yards, including two targeting calls and a few unsportsmanlike penalties. Avoiding penalties, Ball said, is about being into the game and focused on what is happening.

“It’s just being present,” Ball said. “Being alert to it. First game, that always seems to be the trend these days you have some penalties. But we got to be conscious of it and pay more attention to it.”

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Offensively, Northern Arizona started slow with just 26 yards on the first three drives. The offense picked up production in the second, but Ball wants to see the team play faster from the gates.

“We need to start faster on the offensive side of the ball,” Ball said. “I know the defense started fast, the offense finished but the defense didn’t. We need to put both of those together.”

COACHING CONNECTIONS

Ball has some history with Wildcats head coach Kevin Sumlin.

The two each were on Mike Price’s coaching staff at Washington State in the early 1990s, and even roomed together, Ball told Justin Spears of ESPN Tucson earlier this week.

The two were each on the defensive side of the coaching staff until Sumlin made the switch to offense, where he has coached for his career since.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Lumberjacks kicker Luis Aguilar was named the Big Sky Conference Special Teams Player of the Week following his 3-for-3 kicking performance against Missouri State.

Aguilar connected from 48, 21 and 46 yards in the win and is the first Northern Arizona kicker to earn the award since Griffin Roehler in 2016.

MONEY GAME

This year, Northern Arizona is getting $450,000 from Arizona for the game, according to USA Today. Last season, the Lumberjacks were given $325,000 for its game against UTEP.

Kick off is set for 7:45 p.m.

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Lance Hartzler can be reached at 556-2251 or at lhartzler@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @lance_hartz.

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