MISSOULA — Montana will try to close out strong in its final game before its bye week when it hosts Idaho State for homecoming in its first Big Sky Conference home game of the season.
The Griz are ranked eighth in the FCS and have a 4-1 overall record and 1-0 mark in league play. The Bengals come in with a record of 2-2 overall and 1-0 in conference action.
"We’re happy to be 1-0 in the Big Sky right now," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. "Certainly fired up for homecoming week here in Missoula with Idaho State coming to town. They present a big challenge."
Here are five things to watch during the game, which will be shown on Root Sports, streamed on AT&T Now and AT&T TV, and broadcast over the airwaves on the Montana Grizzly Radio Network/KGVO Missoula.
Can Montana start strong?
Montana is coming off a statement win at then-No. 4 UC Davis and has to make sure there’s no hangover that could lead to a letdown. The mental aspect also plays into the game with the Griz not looking ahead to the bye week and thinking they’re good enough to sleepwalk to a victory.
Should the Griz start slow, they have been a second-half team, outscoring teams 74-27 in the third quarter and 116-47 in the second half. They can’t afford to fall too far behind since Idaho State has scored 61 of 95 points in the first half and is giving up just 20.3 points, 23rd in the FCS.
Can Montana limit the deep ball?
Idaho State has been able to strike the deep ball with quarterback Matt Struck in the game. In 10 quarters, he’s thrown nine passes of 30 or more yards, including five in last week’s 51-24 win over Portland State, with a slew of receivers in Mitch Gueller, Michael Dean and Tanner Conner.
Montana will again be tested, coming into this week’s game giving up 317.6 passing yards per game, 116th in the FCS and last in the conference. The Griz can find success by playing the ball better in the air, by pressuring Struck to limit his time in the pocket and by rerouting receivers.
Can Montana win in the red zone?
Idaho State has been stout in the red zone, limiting teams to a conversion rate of just 61.5%, 10th in the FCS and tops in the Big Sky. Montana has been able to cash in just 76.9% of the time, a mark that’s tied for 78th in the country and ninth in the league, converting on 20 of 26 trips.
Montana has been strong in the red zone, too, holding teams to an 80% conversion mark (16 of 20), tied for 45th in the FCS and fourth in the Big Sky. Idaho State has made it into the red zone only seven times but hasn’t wasted any of them, scoring 100% of the time, tied for No. 1 in nation.
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Can Montana fluster QB Matt Struck?
Montana was able to get pressure on UC Davis quarterback Jake Maier without having to blitz too much. The Grizzlies’ young players showed an ability to get into the backfield with their high motors and explosiveness, and the disruptive force kept UC Davis from finding a rhythm.
Struck has completed just 57.1% of his passes, but 10 of his 40 completions (25%) have been touchdowns. He’s been picked off just once in 70 pass attempts. The Bengals have moved players around on the offensive line and given up nine sacks in four games (2.25 per game).
Can Montana continue its offensive balance?
Montana showed an offensive balance at a high level in last week’s win over UC Davis, passing for 268 yards and rushing for 260 yards behind an offensive line that played arguably its best game. The Grizzlies’ efficient offense ranks ninth in the nation, averaging 477.8 yards per game.
Idaho State will present Montana with a challenge, holding teams to 365 total yards per game, 38th in the FCS and fourth in the Big Sky. The Griz are averaging 316.6 passing yards (to 216.8 allowed by the Bengals) and 161.2 yards on the ground (to 148.3 surrendered by Idaho State).
Five numbers to know
4: Idaho State’s coaching staff contains four former Grizzly coaches and/or players: head coach Rob Phenicie, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Ferriter, safeties coach and special teams coordinator JB Hall, and strength and conditioning coach Dan Ryan.
4: Montana receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, already the school’s receptions leader, needs four more yards to move to No. 14 for receiving yards. If he does that, he’ll pass Ferriter, the former Griz receiver and coach who helped recruit him, with Ferriter coaching in the stadium.
12: Montana has won 12 consecutive games against Idaho State, last losing in 2003.
18: Montana has won 18 consecutive home games against Idaho State, last losing in 1983, when the Griz still played at Dornblaser Field.
100: This is Montana’s 100th homecoming game. The Griz are 65-33-1 in homecoming games, including 29-4 in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.