MISSOULA — Montana (7-2, 4-1 Big Sky) will host Idaho for the first time since 2003 at 1 p.m. MT Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Vandals (4-5, 2-3), like the Griz, are coming off back-to-back wins, but they've gone 0-4 on the road.
The following are key Vandals players to keep an eye on during the game, which will be broadcast on Root Sports.
Quarterback: Mason Petrino, No. 8
The 6-foot, 208-pound senior from Pullman, Washington, has started eight of the Vandals’ nine games this season but has split time with backup Colton Richardson four times. Petrino is 10th in the conference in both total offense (192.8 yards per game) and passing offense (171.4). He’s completed 62.5% of his passes (135 of 216) but has thrown just nine touchdowns and been intercepted seven times. Petrino has some mobility, gaining 296 yards but netting 171 because of negative runs and 17 sacks. He’s run for two touchdowns and has a long run of 20 yards.
Running back: Aundre Carter, No. 22
The 5-foot-9, 241-pound redshirt freshman running back from Starke, Florida, is coming off the best game of his career. Carter ran for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries against Cal Poly in his first game since suffering a reported leg injury Oct. 5. He ranks seventh in the Big Sky with 79.6 rushing yards per game (557 total) to go with seven of Idaho’s 14 rushing scores. Carter is averaging 5.8 yards on 96 runs. He’s joined in the backfield by Nick Romano (339 yards, one TD), Roshaun Johnson (239 yards, two TDs) and Dylan Thigpen (190 yards, one TD).
Wide receiver: Jeff Cotton, No. 88
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound senior wide receiver from Tucson, Arizona, is one of the premier pass catchers in the Big Sky. Cotton ranks first in the conference in with 101.6 receiving yards per game (813 total) and eight receptions per game (64 total). He’s averaged 12.7 yards per catch with a long of 38 yards and has five of Idaho’s 11 touchdown catches. Joining Cotton is Cutrell Haywood, who has 455 receiving yards (50.6 per game), four touchdown grabs and 48 catches, all second on Idaho. Cotton and Haywood have 112 of Idaho’s 168 catches, or 66.7% of them.
Offensive line: Noah Johnson, No. 74
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The 6-foot-4, 311-pound senior right guard from Fayetteville, Arkansas, came into the year on four FCS preseason first-team All-American lists. Johnson has started 42 of 45 games going back to his true freshman season in 2016, including 39 consecutive games. The O-line of Johnson, Sean Tulette, Matt Faupusa, Edwin Grande and Logan Floyd has combined for 109 career starts. Floyd was a Phil Steele freshman All-American in 2018. The Vandals have run for 174.1 yards per game behind their O-line, sixth in the league, but have allowed 25 sacks, tied for third most.
Defensive line: Leonick Tamba, No. 34
The 6-foot-1, 236-pound buck end has been solid since taking over for uber-productive Charles Akanno, who had a team-high 13.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumbles recoveries and eight PBUs before going out with an injury. Tamba has set up camp in the backfield as the hybrid defensive lineman/linebacker, being tied for third on the team with 7.5 TFLs and tied for second with three sacks. He’s forced two fumbles and four QB hurries. Also on the line, nose tackle Jonah Kim has 3.5 TFLs and two sacks, and D-tackle Nate DeGraw has three TFLs.
Linebacker: Christian Elliss, No. 1
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound junior linebacker from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, has kept the Elliss name strong for the Vandals after his brother, Kaden Elliss, was drafted by New Orleans in April. Elliss has gotten pressure in the backfield and ranks second on the team in tackles for loss (10), sacks (3) and quarterback hurries (7). He’s also intercepted one pass, broken up two more and recovered a fumble. In the linebacker corps, middle linebacker Tre Walker leads the team and is second in the conference with 103 total tackles to go with 7.5 TFLs and one fumble recovery.
Cornerback: Lloyd Hightower, No. 5
The 5-foot-11, 189-pound senior cornerback from Temecula, California, has regularly found his way to the football in year No. 2 as a starter. Hightower has made plays on the ball in the air with two of the team’s five interceptions and five PBUs. He's attacked the ball carrier with 22 tackles, two forced fumbles and one recovery. Also in the secondary, safety Sedrick Thomas has one pick and one fumble recovery. Cornerback Jalen Hoover has eight PBUs, and safety Tyrese Dedmon has four. Cornerback David Eppinger has a forced fumble and a recovery.
Special teams: Cade Coffey, No. 15
The 6-foot-1, 199-pound junior punter from Rathdrum, Idaho, has handled kickoffs, field goals and punts after making four FCS preseason All-American lists. Coffey is known for his punting ability, averaging 42.4 yards on 47 punts and placing 16 inside the 20-yard line. He’s booted 11 punts longer than 50 yards, including a long of 69 yards. On kickoffs, Coffey has 18 touchbacks on 32 attempts. He’s struggled kicking field goals, making seven of 14 with a long of 38 yards and getting three blocked. In the kick return game, Nick Romano scored a 97-yard touchdown.