03 Dec 2021 | 06:52 | Football
With momentum from of two-straight wins, the Montana Grizzlies return to the road, looking to start a streak as UM travels to Northern Colorado Saturday for a battle of the Bears, with kickoff in Greeley set for noon.
Montana (6-2, 3-2 BSC) will head to UNC (3-6, 2-4 BSC) for just the eighth time in program history this week – the start of a two-game road swing in the month of November – seeking to cement a top-10 national ranking as the regular season draws to a close.
But now is not the time to look past what’s in front of you.
Montana last traveled to Greeley in 2016 and returned to Missoula with a 25-28 loss; just the second time in series history the Bears beat the Griz, and the first time since 1976. A year later UNC traveled to Missoula and the Griz got their redemption with a 44-14 win.
That was then and this is now, however, with both teams entering Saturday’s game with different coaching staffs and each program looking to prove they belong at the top of the Big Sky table.
Under first-year head coach and Denver Broncos Super Bowl champion receiver Ed McCaffrey, the Bears are a new-look squad with transfer reinforcements at key positions and a rising stock.
At 3-6, UNC already has its most wins since 2017, beating Houston Baptist 45-13 on week two and picking up wins over Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. With one of the toughest Big Sky schedules, UNC took three straight league losses after beating NAU, falling at Montana State, against Eastern Washington in Greeley, and on the road to UC Davis – all nationally-ranked teams.
Following the win at SUU, the Bears enter this week’s game against Montana coming off a narrow 24-27 loss to ranked Sacramento State in Greeley.
Montana travels to the Front Range seeking its third-straight win – a streak UM hasn’t achieved since the start of the season when the Griz upset No. 20 Washington, and the defense shut out Western Illinois and Cal Poly in a three-game stretch.
The Griz will also looking for improved performances across the board after finding a way to win last week’s contest against SUU in improbable fashion, a game where nothing seemed to be going right for UM.
Montana has played some of its best football on the road this season, however, starting with the upset of No. 20 Washington and continuing through Oct. 23 in a decisive 34-14 win at Idaho.
But as the saying goes: “the games they remember are played in November,” and the Griz must keep up that road prowess twice this month before returning home, and it starts in Greeley.
THE MATCHUP: It’s a family affair this week in Colorado as Montana head coach Bobby Hauck and his son, starting safety Robby Hauck, square off against UNC father/son duo coach Ed McCaffrey and starting QB Dylan McCaffrey.
But the matchup is more than that. Set to play on senior day in its final home game of the year, UNC is coming off a solid performance against Sac State where McCaffrey and the Bears’ passing game outgained the Hornets 232 yards to 171.
With an all-star corps of linebackers and D-ends, Montana’s rush defense remains the best in the Big Sky and the fifth-best in all the FCS, allowing an average of just 75.4 yards per game on the ground.
Through the air, Montana’s defensive backs and their bend-don’t-break approach are led by cornerback Justin Ford who leads the nation in interceptions (more on that later), and Hauck, who is third in the league in tackles at 77 this season (more on that later too).
UM’s defense will have to contend with McCaffrey, a 6-5 senior transfer from Michigan (who also had offers from Duke, Colorado, Rutgers, LSU, Washington, UCLA, Colorado State and Penn State out of high school) who is top-10 in the league in all-purpose yards this season.
Offensively, the banged-up Griz will have their hands full with Bears’ sophomore D-end David Hoage, who leads the conference and is fifth in the FCS with 19 tackles for loss this season.
WATCH: The ESPN+ streaming service will be the only place to catch all the action this week as Montana takes on Northern Colorado. UNC play-by-play man Jason Alvine will have the call, with analyst Bobby Mauro on color commentary.
There will be no terrestrial or satellite TV broadcast of the game, meaning ABC/Fox Montana will not be showing the it, nor will ROOT Sports.
The Big Sky Conference owns and manages the broadcast rights to all of its conference games. The host institution chooses which of the Big Sky’s media partners will broadcast its home games, unless ROOT Sports decides to air the game as its conference game of the week. Northern Colorado does not have a local broadcast partner to produce the broadcast, and ABC/Fox Montana has chosen not to travel to produce the game.
LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and long-time analyst Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from Nottingham Field on KGVO Missoula, the flagship station of the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and its fifteen affiliates around the state.
New in 2021, Griz fans have a better than ever way to stream all of Montana’s radio broadcasts on their mobile device LIVE and FREE of charge with the Varsity Network App, powered by Learfield and Sidearm Sports. Live audio web streams can also be found at GoGriz.com/Listen.
Fans can download the app for iPhone or Android use for instant access to free gameday audio streams plus the Coach Hauck Radio Show, and receive push notifications to remind them of games starting or upcoming audio broadcasts as well.
COACHES SHOW: The Bobby Hauck radio show returns this week, broadcast live across the state from the banks of the Clark Fork River at the show’s new home of FINN in the DoubleTree Hotel in Missoula, each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Admission to watch the live broadcast at FINN is free, with a special coaches’ show menu available.
// GRIZ TRACKS //
HAUCK MILESTONES: Montana’s win over Southern Utah was the 60th Big Sky Conference win of head coach Bobby Hauck’s career at Montana and his 120th all-time win as a head coach overall.
Only four other coaches in the history of the Big Sky Conference have surpassed the 60-win mark in league play.
Mike Kramer totaled 63 Big Sky wins in his career that spanned stints at three different schools (EWU, MSU, and ISU) and College Football Hall of Famer Chris Ault racked up 68 wins while Nevada was a member of the Big Sky.
Former Portland State and Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh totaled 74 wins in his career, and long-time Northern Arizona coach (and former Grizzly assistant) Jerome Souers is the winningest coach in Big Sky history with 85 conference wins.
GRIZ IN THE POLLS: Montana returned to the top-10 in the AFCA Coaches Poll this week, moving up a spot from NO. 11. The Griz remained at No. 11 in the Stats Perform FCS media top-25.
The nation’s top FCS teams have seen volatile results in recent weeks with only two undefeated teams remaining, and four 6-2 teams (and one 5-3 team) sprinkled amongst the top-15.
The Big Sky Conference enters the week with six teams in the top-25, including MSU and Eastern Washington in the top five, UC Davis at No. 8, Sacramento State at No. 16, and Weber State at No. 24.
BOOMSCHINI: Freshman punter Brian Buschini is on track to have the best individual season by a Grizzly punter in school history, averaging 46 yards per attempt on 36 attempts so far this season.
Buschini will look to finish the season with a better average than Mike Rice, who holds the current school record with an average of 44.69 yards per attempt in his 1985 season.
His 46 yards per attempt is currently ranked fourth in the FCS as an individual, but the punting unit that he leads is ranked first in the nation in net punting at an average of 44.59, meaning UM is allowing less than two yards per punt return.
Only four other punting units in all of Division-I football are averaging better in net punting: Texas (44.88), San Diego State (45.25), Penn State (46.540, and Rutgers (46.60).
MONEY MACIAS: Senior kicker Kevin Macias earned Montana’s nomination for Big Sky special teams player of the week this week after going 2-for-2 in field goal attempts while remaining perfect on the year in PATs as well.
Macias has been rock solid this season for the Griz, making 10 of his 14 overall attempts, but making 10 of 11 attempts 48-yards or shorter, slotting a career-long field goal of 48 yards at Idaho.
BUILT FORD TOUGH: Cornerback Justin Ford made more Montana history last week with a pick-six against SUU. The interception was the junior’s sixth of the season, having now collected one in six-straight games – a feat no Grizzly has ever done before.
With six picks on the season, Ford now has the most interceptions of any player in D-I football (FCS or FBS) and is tied for second for the second most INTs in a single season in Grizzly history.
Grizzly Sports Hall of Famer Karl Stein holds the UM and Big Sky record for INTs in a season with 11. Behind him, Ford is tied with Matt Hermanson, Kevin Edwards, and Vernon Smith at six for the second-most ever in a season for UM.
Stein collected INTs by the truckload, with three games with multiple INTs in his historic 1969 season, but he never posted six-straight games with at least one pick.
Linebacker Marcus Welnel is also tied for the third-most interceptions in the league with three, the first of which sealed the victory at Washington.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: With injuries piling up, Montana has looked to the depth chart to fill key positions in recent weeks, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Freshman QB Kris Brown has filled in for Cam Humphrey admirably with nearly 1,000 passing yards to date on the season.
True freshman receiver-turned-running back Junior Bergen has been handed the bulk of Montana’s run game reps in recent weeks, and has taken the opportunity and ran with it.
Bergen is already the No. 8-leading rusher in the Big Sky Conference despite only seven appearances and two starts, averaging just under 50 yards per game. The Billings Senior graduate started fall camp as a receiver, but has moved to RB after the loss of Marcus Knight, Nick Ostmo, Isiah Childs, and Xavier Harris to injury.
Montana’s leading receiver against SUU and the only receiver to catch a touchdown pass against the T-Birds were also both freshmen, with Keelan White leading the team with eight grabs for 54 yards, and tight end Cole Grossman catching four passes for 66 yards and a score.
RECORD WATCH: Linebacker Patrick O’Connell added to his Big Sky-best sack total last week and continues to climb the UM record books. The junior from Kalispell is now tied with Jace Palmer and Dustin Dlouhy on UM’s all-time sack leader list at 17 in his career.
He’s now one sack shy of passing former Grizzly LB Josh Buss on that list and two shy of moving into the top-10 all-time with a season left to play.
• Speaking of Buss, Jace Lewis passed him on the all-time leading tackler list at UM with 275 stops in his career, this despite still listing “THE Josh Buss’ backup” on his Twitter profile.
Lewis also moved up in UM’s all-time leaders in TFLs now with 30, needing just two more to enter the top-10 in school history. With 25.5, O’Connell is also moving up the list, and recently passed legendary names like Brock Coyle, Ryan Fetherston, and Ciche Pitcher.
• Robby Hauck passed his uncle Tim Hauck on UM’s all-time leading tackler list as well last week and moved to No. 8 in career stops. With 313 total tackles (and a year left to play) Hauck is now tied with Griz legend Colt Anderson in career tackles.
• Samuel Akem passed Jeremy Watkins on the career receiving yards list to move to No. 9 all-time for the Griz and needs just 66 more receiving yards to pass his former teammate Samori Toure.
QUICK HITS: Marcus Welnel came up big for the Grizzly special teams against Southern Utah with a blocked field goal late in the fourth quarter to seal the UM win. The last time the Griz blocked a field goal was back in 2017 when Josh Sandry got a hand on a Savannah State attempt.
• Despite giving up four turnovers against SUU, Montana leads the full-season turnover battle +3 going into the UNC game. So far this season the Grizzlies and their opponents are tied in points off turnovers, however, at 39.
Oddly enough, Montana is undefeated at 3-0 when losing the turnover battle this season and is 3-1 when winning it.
• The Grizzlies win over Southern Utah was the first game this season for UM decided by three points or less, with Montana now a perfect 6-0 when holding opponents to 20 points or less
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