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On the road again: Montana faces upstart Idaho State in Pocatello

“They’re a good team. The big thing is the mental side of it. They’ve got some confidence, and they’ve had some good wins, a nice comeback against Cal Poly,” said Grizzly head coach Bob Stitt says of Idaho State. (GoGriz.com)

The Montana Grizzlies proved they could win on the road last week with a decisive 45-33 victory over a Portland State team that hung with BYU and was on the verge of beating Oregon State earlier this season.

This week, the Grizzlies (3-2, 1-1 BSC) are looking to make a habit out of winning away from as they take on the Big Sky upstart Idaho State Bengals (3-2, 1-1 BSC) on Saturday, Oct. 7, at 2:30 p.m. in Pocatello’s Holt Arena.

THE GAME: At 3-2, the Bengals enter the game looking like a different team than the one that finished 1-7 last year and was thumped 62-44 by the Griz in Missoula now that first-year head coach (and former Montana assistant) Rob Phenicie is leading the charge. They’re looking a lot like the Griz.

Both Montana and Idaho State have registered lopsided wins over an outmatched opponent this season, and taken a lopsided loss from an FBS opponent as well, with the Griz falling to the No. 7 ranked Washington, and the Bengals falling to a solid Utah State outfit 51-13.

But like Montana, ISU is coming off a big win last week, rallying from two scores down in the third quarter to beat Cal Poly at home 38-34 for their first league win.

“They’re a good team. The big thing is the mental side of it. They’ve got some confidence, and they’ve had some good wins, a nice comeback against Cal Poly,” said Grizzly head coach Bob Stitt.

“Overall, they’re a good football team that’s playing at home, they’ve got some excitement going.  I expect them to have a good crowd. I expect us to have a good crowd there; we travel so well. I think it’s going to be loud indoors, and I think it’s going to be a great environment and a great matchup.”

The similarities between the two don’t stop at the schedule, either.

ISU quarterback Tanner Gueller has led the Bengals to the No. 23 total offense in the nation with an average of 445 yards per game. Where to the Griz match up? Montana sits at No. 20 in the nation in total offense, averaging 450.8 yards per game.

The Griz are one of the only teams in the nation to remain perfect in the red zone, scoring on each of their 22 trips inside the opponent 20. Similarly, the Bengals are at 95 percent in the red zone, converting 18-of-19 trips.

With Montana averaging 38 points per game and ISU averaging 32, Saturday’s game is shaping up to be a shootout.

WHERE TO WATCH: The Montana/Idaho State game can be seen via the Eleven Sports Network as part of the Big Sky Conference’s partnership with the network.

The game can also be streamed for FREE via WatchBigSky.com, and via the Pluto TV app on nearly any over-the-top device such as Apple TV, Roku, Xbox, Google Chromecast, or on a smart TV.

The Big Sky owns and manages the media rights for all teams in the conference (including Montana), and has partnered with Eleven Sports to produce weekly football broadcasts for games not picked up by ROOT Sports, as well as future basketball and Olympic sports broadcasts as well.

Eleven Sports Network is available nationwide on DirecTV channel 623. The network is also available via AT&T U-verse cable on channel ?1665, Verizon FiOS cable channel ?597 in HD, and Google Fiber cable channel 251.

Through these platforms, the Eleven Sports Network is available in over 55 million homes nationwide and 21 million homes via DirecTV. Roughly 3.1 million DirecTV customers already subscribe to the package that includes Eleven Sports.

To see if Eleven Sports is available through the cable or satellite provider in your area, visit GoGriz.com/wheretowatch for links to their handy channel finder.

LISTEN & FOLLOW: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran will have the call of Saturday’s game in Pocatello on the Montana Grizzly Sports Network, and the flagship station of the Grizzlies, KGVO 98.3 FM and 1290 AM in Missoula. Long-time color commentator Greg Sundberg will provide the analysis in the booth. Fans can tune-in statewide to hear the radio call, or visit gogriz.com to find an audio-only web stream of the game worldwide.

Fans can follow the official Twitter feed of the Grizzlies for live updates and analysis from Pocatello @MontanaGrizFB.

Idaho State will also provide a live stats feed at isubengals.com.

TAILGATE IN POCATELLO: The Grizzly Scholarship Association is hosting a tailgate party for Griz fans in Pocatello for Saturday’s game. Admission is free, with proceeds from beverage sales going to support scholarships for student-athletes.

The GSA tailgate will be located in either the northwest corner of the Holt Arena Parking Lot on Bonneville St. between S. 18th Ave. and S. 17th Ave., or on the grassy area directly across the street from the parking lot. The party starts two hours before kickoff at 12:30 p.m., and runs until just before kickoff. Keep an eye out for the Griz flag flying high.

SERIES HISTORY: The Montana/Idaho State rivalry dates back nearly a century to the first meeting in 1921, a 25-0 win for the Grizzlies in Missoula.

Since then, the Griz have built a 44-13 lead in the overall series, and hold a 13-10 advantage in Pocatello. Since the opening of Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 1986, however, Montana has dominated the overall series 27-2, with the only two losses coming at ISU (1994 & 2003).

LAST MEETING: To fully appreciate the tenor of this year’s UM/ISU matchup, it pays to go back and examine the last two meetings.

2015: A wild finish. In head coach Bob Stitt‘s first year, Montana traveled to Pocatello looking to redeem themselves from a soggy loss at Portland State the week prior and appeared to have the game in hand with a 21-13 halftime lead.

The Bengals clawed their way back, however, taking a 27-24 lead with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. UM kicker Dan Sullivan tied the game with five minutes to play, forcing overtime tied at 27-27.

In the extra period, the Bengals were on the verge of causing an upset as they lined up for a chip-shot field goal that would have won the game. But the snap sailed over the holder’s head, and JR Nelson was there to scoop it up and run it back before finally throwing a lateral to Eric Johnson for a Grizzly touchdown and a dramatic 33-27 win in OT.

2016: A shootout. The Bengals were on the wrong end of a record-breaking day by backup quarterback Chad Chalich, who broke the school record for touchdown passes in a game with seven, and added another to give the senior eight TDs responsible for on the day.

But with 361 passing yards and four touchdowns, the Bengals showed their firepower as well, as both teams racked up over 500 yards of total offense in the 62-44 Grizzly win.

Both games were nail biters for different reasons, and Saturday’s game in Pocatello is shaping up to be no different.

FIRST & 10 WITH THE GRIZ

PHILLIPS ON THE SIDELINE: Montana quarterback Reese Phillips will be back in action to lead the Griz this weekend, but will be leading from a position best suited for a guy in crutches, a coaching position.

The team announced Monday that Phillips has officially made the transition to the role of undergraduate student coach, and is now able to travel with the team for the rest of its away contests.

Since a season-ending injury against Savannah State, Phillips has been seen putting around practice, leg elevated in a golf cart, doing whatever he can to help the team, whether that be technical pointers or words of encouragement.

The senior from Chattanooga, Tenn., will be with the team in Pocatello this Saturday.

GRIZ IN THE POLLS: Even with a handful of upsets at the top of the FCS polls last week, the bottom of the poll remains a crapshoot this season, with teams in one week, out the next.

After defeating Portland State, Montana is on the rise in the polls. The Griz currently sit at No. 30 in the STATS FCS media poll with 63 points. The Bengals also received six points in this week’s media poll, giving the Griz a prime opportunity to break back into the top-25 with a win in Pocatello.

Athlon Sports also listed the Griz at No. 25 on its weekly FCS power poll, noting Justin Strong‘s hat-trick of weekly awards as a reason to keep an eye on Montana.

STRONG HAD A DAY: Montana senior safety Justin Strong picked up a trifecta of weekly FCS awards on Monday after collecting three interceptions a touchdown and 116 return yards against Portland State – all with the use of only one hand.

Strong was named the NCAA FCS National Defensive Player of the Week, the STATS FCS National Defensive Player of the Week, and the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the week as well.

The awards were the first weekly accolades for the Griz this season. Strong injured his thumb in fall camp and has played the last four games with a “club” on his left hand to protect the cast.

TAKE A BOW JEREMY CALHOUN: Junior running back Jeremy Calhoun also posted a career day down at Portland State, rushing for over 100 yards for the first time as a Grizzly with 124 yards on 22 carries.

Calhoun also scored a pair of touchdowns against the Vikings to put him at 23 in his career moving him into sixth place on Montana’s all-time rushing touchdowns list, passing his position coach Justin Green‘s 22 career TDs.

MORE CALHOUN NEWS: Jeremy Calhoun‘s brother Justin didn’t fare so well in Oregon. Justin’s streak of 15-straight games with at least one pass reception came to an end against PSU. The redshirt sophomore has 53 catches for 820 yards in his career to date and had caught a pass in every game of his career before last Saturday.

BROTHER Vs. BROTHER: Montana’s Jerry Louie-McGee will be awful familiar with one of ISU’s defensive backs. Jerry’s brother Tucker Louie-McGee is a junior DB for the Bengals, and the team’s twelfth-leading tackler.

RECEIVER SHUFFLE: Receivers coach Mike Ferriter gave starts to freshmen Samuel Akem and Samori Toure at Portland State, the first starts of their respective careers. Ferriter has reinstated the previous week’s starting lineup, however, moving Keenan Curran back to the starting X spot, and Justin Calhoun back to starting Y receiver this week. With Montana’s frequent rotation at the position, however, all four receivers should see plenty of time.

QUICK HITS: Last week’s game at PSU was offensive tackle David Reese‘s 40th-career start, fitting as it came in his home state of Oregon.

Linebacker Connor Strahm has returned to the starting lineup for the Griz, bringing with him 39 career appearances and 11 career starts.

James Banks continues to impress as Montana’s top tackler on the year. Banks posted a game-high 11 tackles at PSU and set a new career high with 2.5 tackles-for-loss.

For the second-straight game, senior cornerback Ryan McKinley tied his career high of three pass breakups for a total of nine on the season. With the addition of one interception on his resume this year, he has defended more passes than any other player in the nation.

FOUR DOWNS WITH THE BENGALS

YOUTH: Through five games, Bengal freshman and sophomores have combined for 400 rushing yards and 1,002 receiving yards, comprising 1,345 yards of the teams 2,225 total.

BIG PLAYS: The Bengal offense has totaled 44 plays of 10-19 yards, 15 plays of 20-29 yards, seven plays of 30-39 yards, four plays of 40-49 yards and five plays of 50-plus yards this season.

RUN GAME: ISU running back James Madison’s 255 rushing yards at Northern Colorado is currently the seventh-most rushing yards in an FCS game this year.

TACKLE MACHINES: ISU linebacker Joe Martin posted 20 tackles at Utah State, the second most of any player in the FCS this year. Mario Jenkins, also a linebacker, followed that up with 18 tackles against Cal Poly, the fifth-most in an FCS game this year.

AROUND THE SKY: UNC @ UND: With homecoming in Missoula just around the corner, Griz fans will want to keep an eye on Grand Forks when Northern Colorado travels to face UM’s next opponent, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

The UNC Bears are coming off a tough loss to Northern Arizona last week but were able to knock off Idaho State the week previous on a last-second field goal. Meanwhile, UND, the team picked to repeat as Big Sky Champions, have been decimated by injury with a 1-4 record.

PSU @ MSU: Portland State has proven they can run with anyone and will be desperate to get in the win column as they travel to Bozeman to face Montana State. The Cats will also be looking to get back in the win column after a 25-17 loss at home to Weber State.

With a pair of run-n-gun QBs at the helm, expect anohter good old fashion Big Sky shootout between two potent offenses.

EWU @ UC Davis: Griz fans have seen first-hand the potency of the Eagle offense. It will be interesting to see how Big Sky upstart UC Davis responds at home to the EWU machine on their home turf under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins, who was previously the head coach at Colorado and Boise State.