The Montana State Bobcats are hoping their second trip to Texas in three weeks tuns out differently than their first one did. The Montana Grizzlies are just hoping for more of the same in their return to Missoula.
Saturday, the No. 3 Bobcats (2-1) travel to FCS rival S.F. Austin for a Texas showdown, just two weeks after falling in the final seconds at FBS power SMU. Meanwhile, the No. 9 Griz (2-0) return to Washington-Grizzly Stadium to take on NCAA Division II Independent Oklahoma Panhandle State Saturday afternoon.
The Bobcats, who beat DII Colorado-Mesa, will once again be without senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee, who suffered a separated shoulder at SMU. In the win over Mesa, red-shirt sophomore Jake Bleskin, a former CMR standout, threw for 300 yards in his first career start. MSU’s offense did sputter at times last week, but the Cat defense shined. Linebacker Alex Singleton returned an INT for a score, while fellow linebackers Cole Moore and Michael Foster are among the Big Sky leaders in tackles. Defensive end Brad Daly is also off to a monster start this season, and his ability to get to the quarterback should be a critical in Saturday night’s game at SFA.
The Lumberjacks meanwhile, are a disappointing 1-2 on the season, with their first win coming against DII McMurry last Saturday. Still, SFA does have a potent offense, with the same quarterback, Brady Attaway, who nearly engineered an upset of the Cats in Bozeman last fall. In that game, MSU stormed back to beat the Jacks 43-35, and despite a still dangerous SFA passing attack, MSU is a heavy favorite going into Saturday night. The Jacks defense has struggled to stop the run and pass this season, and the SFA offense has been turnover prone.
Winning isn’t likely the concern for the Grizzlies Saturday against Panhandle State, especially after UM crushed rival North Dakota 55-17 last Saturday night in Bozeman, and considering Panhandle State lost its opener to FCS newbie Lamar 77-0 three weeks ago.
Still, Griz head coach Mick Delaney said in his Tuesday press conference that the Griz will not look ahead to their Sept. 28 Big Sky opener at NAU, and will be solely focused on the Aggies (0-3) this week.
And that kind of focus could make the game ugly for Panhandle. Griz quarterback Jordan Johnson tore apart the UND secondary last week, throwing for a career-high 313 yards on just 15-of-19 completions. Johnson is leading the FCS in passer rating by a country mile, while the Griz’ running game, led by Jordan Canada, who has two 100-yard games already this season, as well as Marshall transfer Travon Van, continue to be the driving force behind a dominant offensive line.
Yes, the question isn’t if Montana will beat Panhandle State Saturday, but by how much, and how many players will get in the game. Still, Montana will put its best effort forward in just its second home game of the season, and try to take even more momentum into next Saturday night’s showdown with Northern Arizona.
Saturday’s game between the Griz and Panhandle State kicks off at 1:30 p.m. in Missoula. The Bobcats face S.F. Austin Saturday night at 5 p.m. in Nacogdoches, Tex. Both games can be seen locally on Max Media.