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Key Games: Cats stay home, Griz visit explosive Idaho State

 

October 6, 2017

AP Photo

Jeremy Calhoun, left, and the Montana Grizzlies have a key Big Sky Conference road game Saturday at Idaho State. Meanwhile, the Montana State Bobcats are at home for the second week in a row, host Portland State Saturday at 11 a.m. in Bobcat Stadium.

It’s home again for the Montana State Bobcats, and the road again for the Montana Grizzlies. And considering where both teams stand, both games are of the utmost importance.

The Bobcats, who lost a tight battle to nationally ranked Weber State last Saturday in Bozeman, will remain in Bobcat Stadium, but, give their 1-3 start to the season, they can ill afford to fall to the winless Portland State Vikings (0-1, 0-4). And while MSU has battled four straight nationally ranked opponents, and has lost to two of them at home by just three and seven points, respectively, the time is now for the Cats to make a push if they’re going to have any chance of a winning season, or, FCS playoff contention.

“Our guys should have gained some confidence from playing against a very competitive schedule,” MSU head coach Jeff Choate said at his weekly press conference. “Portland State is a big part of that. When I was watching them play BYU, back in that zero week before we had played a game, I was like, oh my goodness, these guys are really good.”

Indeed, PSU may have yet to find the win column, but, the Vikings, who racked up over 500 yards in a loss to Montana last week, have a stout running attack, led by two different quarterbacks and a pair of speedy and powerful backs. So MSU’s defense, which is tops in the Big Sky Conference in scoring, will have its hands full with another power running attack, just as it did in last week’s loss to Weber State.

However, the Cats also offer a ground game that will give PSU’s defense fits, just as the Grizzlies did last week. MSU is third in the Big Sky in rushing offense, led by quarterback Chris Murray, who averages 104 yards per outing, as well as Edward Vander, who has really come on strong. And now, MSU gets back senior starter Nick LaSane, who missed the first four games due to a suspension. So, if the Bobcats are going to start pushing forward, the run game will be a big part of it. And the Cats hope that success starts Saturday against a PSU defense that is allowing over 170 yards per contest.

While MSU is at home for a second straight week, the Grizzlies (1-1, 3-2) will have to win on the road for a second time in as many weeks if they too want to have any hope of an FCS playoff berth. But unlike the MSU/PSU game, Saturday’s trip to Pocatello, Idaho will be all about passes — at least for the Montana defense.

The Grizzlies, which are dead last in the Big Sky in passing defense, will be up against a potent passing attack in the form of the Idaho State Bengals. The Bengals (1-1, 3-2) are coming off a shootout win at Cal Poly last Saturday, and they also have a FBS victory over Nevada to their credit. And a big part of that is the passing game, led by senior quarterback Tanner Gueller and star wide receiver Michael Dean. The Bengals are also extremely familiar with Montana’s defense, as offensive coordinator Matt Troxel spent the spring coaching the Griz’ wide receivers before returning to ISU to work for new head coach Rob Phenicie. Phenicie, who was UM’s offensive coordinator for nine years under Bobby Hauck, replaced longtime head coach Mike Kramer last winter.

So there’s no doubt that ISU will have a working knowledge of the Montana offense and defense, but the Griz are also familiar with the Bengals too. ISU returns most of its starters from last season, a season in which the Griz survived a wild, high-scoring game against ISU back in November in Missoula.

Of course, Montana’s offense is much different this season, with red-shirt freshman Gresch Jensen at the controls at quarterback, and a bevy of wide receivers who are gamebreakers. The Griz are also getting their running game going as they rushed for 200 yards, and Jeremy Calhoun racked up 127 yards in last week’s win over Portland State.

Still, Montana’s defense is the question mark, and against a potent ISU offense, and the Griz will have to really be stout if they want to get to next week’s homecoming game with North Dakota with two straight wins.

“They’re a really good football team,” Griz head coach Bob Stitt said of the Bengals. “They are playing with confidence, they have some excitement going, they’ll have a good crowd for this game. I expect it to be a really tough game. But our guys are playing really hard, we don’t have to coach effort with this team at all. They bring that every day. We just have to go out and execute, offense, defense, special teams. For us, it’s about getting better and executing every week.”

Montana will take on Idaho State Saturday at 2 p.m. in Pocatello, Idaho. The game is being broadcast on the Big Sky’s new television partner, Eleven Sports, which is available on DirecTV and DishNetwork, Montana State’s game with Portland State will kick off at 11 a.m. inside Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman. That game will be televised on all local SWX Affiliates.

 

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