Western Illinois comes to Grand Forks for the first time in program history for Saturday's 2 p.m. kickoff at the Alerus Center, sitting at 1-6 on the season with a defense giving up nearly 40 points per game.

The Leathernecks' offense, however, has shown the potential to strike fear into just about anyone in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

In WIU's win over Youngstown State earlier this season, it fell behind 35-7 late in the first half before rattling off 31 unanswered points in a road victory.

Against Eastern Washington, WIU gave up 55 points in the first half but only lost 62-56 to one of the Big Sky Conference's best programs.

Then against league-leading Southern Illinois, WIU trailed the Salukis 21-3 before forcing overtime and losing on a failed 2-point conversion attempt.

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"They're really explosive," UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. "This is a team that deserves a lot of attention and respect. They have a lot of good players and play hard."

UND has started MVFC 0-3 with three-straight one-score losses to teams ranked in the Top 15 in the FCS. The Fighting Hawks now play three of their next four games at the Alerus.

"We've got to keep fighting here because you can get back in this race," Schweigert said. "You have to do it one opponent at a time. Being at home a majority of the time here should help us."

In last Saturday's 41-17 loss to South Dakota State, WIU wide receiver Dennis Houston had 14 catches. He leads the FCS with 9.0 receptions per game.

The Leathernecks are a pass-heavy team. Their struggles are in the run game, where WIU is last in the Missouri Valley in rushing at about 73 yards per game and last in run defense, giving up more than 200 yards per game on the ground.

WIU coach Jared Elliott knows UND, which beat the Leathernecks in Macomb in the spring, is better than the Hawks' 0-3 league mark.

"This is a really good football team," Elliott said. "I still believe they're a Top 10 caliber team. They've played a great schedule, like a lot of teams have in the Missouri Valley. They've lost every game by a very minimal margin.

"I love how they play the game. I have a lot of respect for them. They're a great defensive outfit and they run the football. It's going to be another really physical game against a team hungry to win."

WIU has the league's best passing offense statistically, throwing for more than 300 yards per game. WIU quarterback Connor Sampson has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns this fall.

In UND's 38-21 last spring in Macomb, WIU threw for 336 yards and ran for just 26.