The Montana Grizzlies play their first football game on the road Saturday, while Montana State’s defense faces the challenge of an Eastern Washington team that put up a record offensive performance in a last-second loss to the Griz last weekend.
Top-ranked Montana (5-0, 2-0 Big Sky) will be trying to win its 13th consecutive game over Sacramento State (1-4, 1-2). No. 11 Montana State (4-1, 2-0), which has allowed just two touchdowns in its past four games, is at Eastern Washington (3-2, 1-1), which put up 565 yards in total offense in a 24-23 loss at Montana. Both games kick off at 3:05 p.m. Mountain.
Griz coach Bobby Hauck says he looks forward to going on the road.
“It’s a great team-building thing,” he said. “We go down there with 58 players and our coaches and try to get a win.”
The ground game looks to be a battle between Hilliards.
Montana running back Lex Hilliard is averaging 85 yards per game and has scored seven touchdowns this season, while Sac State back Bryan Hilliard leads the Hornets with nearly 60 yards rushing.
It’s homecoming for Sacramento State, which is trying to build a new attitude under new coach Marshall Sperbeck.
“I’m going through the learning curve myself, going through this conference and learning the people and the tendencies,” Sperbeck said.
“Part of learning how to win and turning the program around is being able to win back-to-back games and win on the road,” Sperbeck said. “We’re not at that point yet where we’re able to pull it all together. Hopefully in the next couple years we can keep moving up to where Montana is as far as fan turnout at the competitive level.”
It’s unclear who the Hornets will start at quarterback. Three signal callers played in a 26-7 loss at Weber State.
Montana quarterback Cole Bergquist is averaging nearly 193 yards passing and has thrown seven touchdown passes. His top three receivers are Mike Ferriter, Ryan Bagley and Eric Allen.
At Cheney, Wash., the Bobcats and the Eagles go into the game respecting their opponents.
EWU is fifth in the country in passing offense with an average of 322 yards while Montana State is fourth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and allows 195 yards passing. The Bobcats have 10 interceptions this season, four returned for touchdowns.
“I know it’s going to be our first really big test,” said MSU cornerback Kory Austin. “When you see a team that does something very well, and it’s what you defend very well, your eyes kind of light up. I welcome the challenge. Any competitor does.”
EWU quarterback Matt Nichols is averaging 316 yards passing, while Aaron Boyce leads the Big Sky with 118 yards receiving per game. Nichols passed for 451 yards and Boyce had 232 yards receiving last weekend against the Griz. Dale Morris is averaging 65 yards rushing for the Eagles.
Nichols said Montana State has a fast defense, “and they do a lot of things better than Montana did. They blitz more. Montana has more of a run defense. Montana State can do both. There are a lot less holes in their defense. It’s going to be harder to put up points against them.”
MSU coach Rob Ash said Eastern Washington’s is the most sophisticated passing game they’ve seen.
“If you’re going to be a championship team, you’ve got to beat some good teams along the way,” he said. “It’s going to be a great matchup.”
Jack Rolovich is averaging 197 yards passing and has six TDs for the Bobcats. Josh Lewis is averaging nearly 52 yards receiving and has one TD catch. Demetrius Crawford is averaging 98 yards rushing and has two TDs. Bobby Daly has seven sacks this season.
“Anybody in the last four games that has given up only two touchdowns … I’d love to have those stats myself,” said EWU coach Paul Wulff.
In other Big Sky games this weekend, Weber State (1-2, 1-4) is at Northern Colorado (0-2, 0-6) and Idaho State (1-2, 2-3) is at Northern Arizona (2-1, 3-3).
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