Can Grizzlies swat Hornets as Big Sky Conference play begins?

The Montana Grizzlies return home this week seeking the program’s 200th win inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

But more importantly, the Griz (2-1) enter Saturday’s game looking to open Big Sky Conference play on the right foot as the dangerous Sacramento State Hornets (2-1) buzz up to Missoula looking to sting.

There was a time where Griz fans may have looked at the schedule and chalked-up an easy win over Sac State, but these Hornets – led by the 2017 Big Sky Co-Coach of the Year Jody Sears – will be looking to pick up their first-ever win in Missoula, and have the track record to do so.

“They’re a very veteran, well-coached football team,” said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck.

“They’re physically mature, so they hold up. Their scheme is great, they’re solid in everything they do in their offense, defense, and special teams, and they have good athletes. So, they’re kind of a complete team.”

THE GAME: The Grizzlies dropped to No. 19/20 in this week’s national polls following a tough loss at Western Illinois, while for the first time this season the Hornets are knocking on the door of the Top-25, receiving votes in both the media and coaches’ poll.

Ranking points will be up for grabs on Sept. 22 as Sac visits UM for a 1:10 p.m. kickoff in the Dave Dickenson College Football Hall of Fame game, presented by Stockman Bank.

Sac State has never won a game in Missoula, sitting on an 0-11 record against the Griz in Montana, while the Griz have only dropped one game in the history of the program to SAC (2011), holding a 19-1 series lead.

But the coaches around the Big Sky think this might be the Hornets year, picking Sac (fifth) to finish two places ahead of the Griz (seventh) in the league’s preseason poll. Media around the conference had a different view of the end-of-season results, however, with the Griz coming in fourth and the Hornets landing in seventh.

With four of the next seven games against Big Sky foes coming on the road for the Griz following this weekend, it will be crucial for UM to come out with a winning result as it marches toward its goal of a conference championship.

Standing in the way is an experienced Hornets outfit that has a senior or junior slated to start in all but six positions on offense and defense this week.

The offense is led by senior QB Kevin Thompson, who is ranked second in the league in passing efficiency, connecting on 48 of his 76 throws this year.

Sac has been able to limit opponents this season as well, bringing the league’s No. 1 scoring defense to town, allowing just 20 points per game.

“This is the fourth week in a row we’re playing a fifth-year senior starting quarterback, which I don’t think I’ve encountered before,” said Hauck. “They just keep coming, one after another, guys that are talented and understand they will be hard to fool and do things right, so that will be a challenge.”

LEGEND OF THE FALL: The University of Montana and The National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame announced today that they will jointly honor 2018 Hall of Fame electee Dave Dickenson with an On-Campus Salute, presented by Fidelity Investments. The Salute will take place between the first and second quarter of Saturday’s game against Sac State.

The Grizzlies will honor Dave by wearing their throwback copper and gold uniforms, and limited-edition copper and gold apparel is available with his retired number 15 on it to mark the occasion. Dickenson will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the gear that bears his name to a Grizzly football scholarship.

THIS IS A BIG DEAL: Just how significant is Dickenson’s induction into the Hall of Fame? Consider: Only 997 players and 217 coaches have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (Including the 2018 class) from the nearly 5.33 million people who have played or coached the game over the past 149 years.

In other words, less than two one-hundredths of a percent (.02%) of those who have set foot on the gridiron have earned the distinction.

“In our world, that’s an enormous honor. It’s the ultimate thing one can achieve in terms of recognition. Certainly, the on the field stuff is where it really counts, but to be recognized in that place is a big deal,” said Hauck “It’s huge for Dave and his family, but it’s enormous for Grizzly Football to be recognized that way.”

OTHER HAPPENINGS: The Montana Spirit Squad will be hosting an alumni game against Sacramento State, including a halftime performance that will feature 20-25 former spirit squad members.

WATCH: Montana/Sac State kicks off ROOT Sports’ slate of Big Sky football games of the week, with veteran broadcasters Jason Stiles and Tom Glasgow on the call, and Jen Mueller reporting from the sideline at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

ROOT Sports is available on DirecTV channel 687, and Dish Network channel 426.

In 2018, All ROOT Sports broadcasts will also be carried on DirecTV’s Audience Network, available to all DirecTV subscribers. The Audience Network is also part of DirecTV’s streaming service, DirecTV Now (available in limited areas, and compatible equipment necessary).

No standard web stream (GoGriz.com, PlutoTV, or WatchBigSky.com) of the game is available for games broadcast on ROOT Sports.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and Greg Sundberg will bring you the UM/SAC action live from Washington-Grizzly Stadium on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network.

Fans from Polson to Plentywood can tune in to hear the live call on one of 15 radio stations statewide. You can also hear a digital stream of the game live worldwide via GoGriz.com/listen or the TuneIn app on your computer or smartphone.

COACHES’ SHOWS: Each Wednesday the Bobby Hauck Radio Show airs statewide on Grizzly Sports Radio Network LIVE from The Press Box Bar and Grill in Missoula – The Official Fan Headquarters of Grizzly Athletics – at 6:30 p.m.

The Grizzly Sports Report with Bobby Hauck airs on SWX and ABC/Fox Montana each Wednesday night at 9:30. Get to know a different student-athlete each week, and break down the previous week’s game with Hauck and host Shaun Rainey.

GRIZ TRACKS

RANKINGS: The Grizzlies dropped from No. 15 to No. 19 in the STATS FCS media poll with 938 points this week, and fell from 16-20 in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll. With the start of conference play around the nation on tap this week, plenty more movement is expected in the rankings.

STAT SNAPSHOT: The Griz and Hornets have posted similar stat totals so far this season, with both teams sitting at 2-1, having each put up big numbers in at least one game this season.

Montana defeated Drake (48-16) and Northern Iowa (26-23) in its two wins and fell to the MVFC’s Western Illinois on the road. Sac beat D-II St. Francis (IL) (55-7) on week one, and knocked off Northern Colorado in Greeley last week, but hung tough with San Diego State (Hauck’s former team) on week two, falling 28-14.

Sac State’s Thompson-led offense has racked up 827 passing yards as compared to UM’s 786, with the Hornets totaling 1,298 yards of total offense as compared to UM’s 1,118 to give Sack the 33rd-ranked total offense in the FCS, while UM comes in a No. 67.

But Montana’s defense has been the difference so far this season, with the Griz possessing the No. 34 total defense in the nation, as compared to Sac’s No. 53-ranked defense.

LAST MEETING: In 2016, the Grizzlies dominated the Hornets 68-7 to post its second-straight win of 60 points or more. Quarterback Brady Gustafson threw for 246 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters of football while running back John Nguyenbroke the school record for longest touchdown run with an 81-yard scamper.

DANTE DOING DANTE THINGS: Dante Olson earned Montana’s defensive player of the week nomination for the third time this season last week, an accolade that’s tough to argue with. Olson led the Griz defensively with 11 tackles, a half-sack, 1.5 TFLs, a quarterback hurry, and an interception that he returned 25 yards.

Olson won the STATS FCS national Defensive Player of the Week award last week, and is a two -time recipient of the ROOT Sports Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week following a dominant start to the 2018 season, where he leads the league in tackles with 40 and is second in sacks (3.5) and TFLs (6). He also is tied for the most INTs in the league with a pair on the year, one of five players to do it.

Conveniently, the only person in the Big Sky with more sacks than Olson is Sacramento State defensive tackle Elijah Chambers with 4.5.

FLOWERS POWER: Freshman receiver Malik Flowers earned Montana’s nomination for the Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week on Sunday for the second-straight week after running back his first career touchdown on against Western Illinois from 95 yards out. He’s now one of only 12 payers in the nation to score on a kick return, and he’s ranked No. 4 nationally and No. 1 in the Big Sky in kick return yards, averaging 31.6 per game.

QUICK HITS
Starting safety Robby Hauck set a new career in tackles at Western Illinois, notching 11 total tackles and eight solo takedowns.

After fears he would miss the first part of the season, Josh Buss has recovered to start the first three games this season. On Saturday, he’s slated to make his 26th career start as a Grizzly.

Also making a successful return from injury is freshman Gabe Sulser, the 2017 Montana Gatorade High School Player of the Year who took the field as a backup to Jerry Louie-McGee at Western Illinois. A dynamic and speedy receiver, Sulser is slated to back up Louie-McGee again this week.

Speaking of Jerry…

JERRY! JERRY!: With a hot start to the 2018 season, Louie-McGee is on pace to climb to the top of the all-time pass reception list at UM, currently sitting at No. 11 on the list with 153 career catches. He’ll need just 39 more catches over the next two seasons to break Raul Pacheco’s career record of 192.

SCOUTING THE HORNETS: The Griz will need to contain the Hornet’s dynamic QB Kevin Thompson but will have a degree of familiarity with the Washington native after he was originally recruited to play at UNLV by Hauck and Timm Rosenbach, where he spent a redshirt season before transferring to Sac.

“He’s a good athlete, and he’s got good speed, he likes to run it. He throws it well. I don’t think he gets credit for being a good a thrower as he is because he is a good athlete,” said Hauck.

“It’s fun to watch a guy you know on film and see how he’s evolved as a player. I’m proud of him for becoming the player he is.”

Sacramento State punter Owen Hoolihan was named both the STATS FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week and the Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in the team’s 28-25 win at Northern Colorado.

The senior Australian pinned the Bears inside the 20 on six of his eight punts, with four ending inside the 10, and booted a 50-yarder that was muffed by the UNC receiver and recovered by the Hornets to secure the win.

UP NEXT: Montana returns to the road to face the always tricky Cal Poly Mustangs in San Louis Obispo, Calif. on Sept. 29.