After two lengthy and hard-fought weeks away from home, the Montana State Bobcats and Montana Grizzlies are back in the Treasure State. And both teams have incredibly big home games looming on Saturday.
And while the Grizzlies (1-2, 3-3) are home to face a much-improved Southern Utah (1-2, 2-3) team, perhaps no game is bigger in the Football Championship Subdivision than Saturday’s tilt between the No. 2 Bobcats (3-0, 6-0) and the No. 6 Eastern Washington Eagles (3-0, 5-1). The two Big Sky powers meet Saturday in Bozeman is what’s being billed as the game of the year in the conference.
It’s a huge game at Bobcat Stadium for a myriad of reasons, including first-place and the inside track to the Big Sky’s automatic bid to the playoffs on the line. The winner of Saturday’s game will likely have the best shot at the big Sky title, especially MSU considering the Cats don’t play unbeaten Cal Poly this season and the Eagles still have to in November. The game will also likely be an offensive barn burner. EWU and MSU are the two top-scoring teams in the Big Sky, with the Eagles coming off a 55-point performance at home against North Dakota last Saturday, while the Bobcats scored 48 points in a close win at UC Davis.
The contest will also feature the two players likely battling for Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year honors in MSU junior quarterback DeNarius McGhee and EWU’s sensational freshman QB Vernon Adams. McGhee has been lights out this season, throwing for 1,589 yards and 12 TD’s, while Adams has thrown for 559 yards, rushed for 156 yards and thrown seven touchdowns since replacing Kyle Padron in the third week of the season. Then there’s the receivers and running backs. EWU has perhaps the best receiver in the country in 6-5 Brandon Kaufman, while the Cats’ Tanner Bleskin has been clutch this season. MSU may have the edge in the run game with Orenzon Davis and a healthy Cody Kirk back in the lineup.
So there’s no question, what’s being billed as the biggest game in Bobcat Stadium in quite some time, will come down to defense and who takes care of the ball. MSU has been turnover prone in its run to 6-0 and the Cats are well behind the Eagles in turnover margin. But MSU has the statstistaclly better defense and perhaps the biggest crowd in school history to lean on. But make no mistake, this one in Bozeman will be nothing short of a close game.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies finally managed to not be involved in a close game after demolishing Northern Colorado on the road last week. But Southern Utah and quarterback Brad Sorensen present the type of challenge Montana has not fared well against. Sorensen has thrown for 300-plus yards in four of the Thunderbirds’ six games this season, and in UM’s three losses, the Griz have surrendered two 300-yard passing games.
However, Montana can counter with one of the best rushing attacks in the FCS. UM is averaging 251 yards per game on the ground, which is sixth in the nation. And while Dan Moore is likely to sit out for a second straight week with an ankle injury, Peter Nyguen has ripped off two straight 100-yard-plus games, and Jordan Canada has really started to come on strong. Montana was also in the plus category in turnovers, getting five last week at UNC, and the Griz are second in the FCS in quarterback sans, with Zach Wagenmann leading the Big Sky with 7.5 sacks this season. If Montana can have success on the ground, can get pressure on Sorensen and perhaps get a few more takeaways, the Griz should have a slight ends over SUU.
Saturday’s game between Montana State and Eastern Washington will kick off at 1:30 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman and can be seen locally on Root Sports. The game between Um and SUU is set to kick off at 1:30 p.m. as well and can be viewed locally on KFBB Channel 5.