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Big Sky Notebook: Time to get those Game(Day) Faces on

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | November 15, 2022 11:55 PM

So here we are again, staring at a Cat-Griz game that has big stakes outside the old cliche of state bragging rights.

It is oddly similar to last year’s set-up. Montana State is again ranked No. 3 in the Football Championship Subdivision and heading into the game with a 7-0 record in Big Sky Conference games.

Montana is again the underdog, ranked No. 13 in the Stats Perform Poll (the Griz were No. 7 a year ago), and lacking a win against a squad with a winning record.

A couple differences: Saturday’s Big Sky showdown is in Bozeman, and ESPN GameDay will be broadcast from 7-10 a.m. just east of Bobcat Stadium.

“It’s great for our university, our state and the rivalry,” MSU coach Brent Vigen said of the GameDay crew being on hand. “But for us and our guys, it’s about Saturday, going out at noon and performing our best as a team.

“I don’t think we have to do anything out of the ordinary, but we have to play really well. That’s why I felt we needed to take a step on Saturday and I think they did that for us.”

Both teams played Cal Poly recently. Montana rolled up 695 yards in a 57-0 win on Nov. 5; MSU said, “watch this,” and rolled up a school-record 744 yards in a 74-28 win Saturday.

It’s hard to pick against the Cats, but it’s also hard to see the Griz as clear underdogs, especially after their 29-10 win in Missoula a year ago.

“I assume we’ll be the underdog in this game,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said Monday. “But we’ve beaten this opponent 73 times in this rivalry’s history. Outside of Nebraska’s 91 over Kansas, I don’t know if there’s a Division I team with more wins over one opponent.

So we kind of have a feeling like we ought to win this one, too.”

For the record, Hauck is underwhelmed by the added ESPN presence in Bozeman.

“It’s eyes on our program,” he said. “Which is good, when the people are watching the Griz.”

A follow-up question was waived away. “That’s for you guys,” he said.

Injuries

Hauck rarely answers questions about injuries, but it's notable that senior linebacker Patrick O’Connell was at Monday’s press conference — as were fellow captains Mitch Roberts and Robby Hauck.

O’Connell (ankle) has rested the last two games after leaving the Weber State loss on Oct. 29.

Also missing recently: Junior Bergen, the multi-talented sophomore Griz receiver, didn’t dress for Saturday’s 63-7 thumping of Eastern Washington.

Quarterback Lucas Johnson had a leg rolled up on near the end of the first half against EWU. He was seen on crutches the second half, though immobilization boots and crutches are often precautionary. Johnson is listed as the starter on UM’s two-deep this week.

Asked about his QB, Hauck said, “We’re really hoping everybody will be ready to play this weekend.”

Vigen was more upfront Monday: Running back Lane Sumner is still on the mend, he said, while No. 2 quarterback Sean Chambers is ready. Isaiah Ifanse, who hasn’t played all season after knee surgery, warmed up at Cal Poly and didn’t play.

Which leads us to another similarity. A year after Bergen was pressed into service at running back by the Griz, the Bobcats have done the same with Marqui Johnson.

All Johnson did was tear up Cal Poly for 242 yards and four touchdowns Saturday. It was the culmination, Vigen said, of two months of preparation — made necessary by injuries.

Johnson transferred in early July from Sacramento State, and the Cats figured to try him at receiver before all their running back injuries.

“Then it was, ‘Who’s your next-best candidate to hand it off to?” Vigen said. “That’s where it started.”

Happy to return

One Saturday surprise was Drew Deck’s role in the punt return game for the Grizzlies.

The redshirt freshman out of Glacier High had five returns, with a long of 23 yards.

“That’s a pressure position,” Hauck said Saturday. “We could have him (motioning to Robby Hauck), which we’ve done before. We’d prefer not to. He’s been a little banged up.

We got (Deck) one last week and we felt comfortable with him catching it. Good by him.”

QUICK KICKS: Montana’s league wins came over teams with a combined 5-23 record in the Big Sky; MSU’s league opponents, including upper-division programs UC Davis and Weber State, add up to an 18-37 record. … MSU averages 314.4 rushing yards a game, best in the Big Sky, while UM allows a league-low 97.3 rushing yards. Those ranks recond second and eighth in the FCS. … Chambers’ apparent return for MSU comes a week after Sac State’s Asher O’Hara overtook him for the league rushing touchdown lead, 17-16, with a 39-yard run Thursday at Portland State.

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