POCATELLO, Idaho — One week after the Montana football team won its first road game since 2016 at Portland State, the Grizzlies are on the road again at Idaho State.
The Grizzlies had a narrow escape the last time Montana played in the Holt Arena in 2015.
All Idaho State had to do was kick a 34-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 in overtime. Instead, the Bengals’ long snapper hiked the ball over the holder and a frenzy ensued. JR Nelson, a former Griz cornerback, got to the loose ball first and batted it into the arms of safety Eric Johnson, who darted into the end zone to preserve the win for Montana.
Could this weekend’s game come down to the wire again? All things are possible.
Montana and Idaho State come into the game with identical records at 3-2 with a 1-1 ledger in Big Sky Conference play.
There’s several other similarities too.
Idaho State’s offensive coordinator Matt Troxel had a very brief three-month stint as one of Montana’s wide receiver coaches in the offseason. On Thursday in the Coaches Show with Riley Corcoran, Montana coach Bob Stitt sarcastically said he was happy to provide Troxel with a “three-month internship.”
Rob Phenicie, Idaho State’s first-year head coach, spent time at Montana in the past as well, serving as the Griz offensive coordinator from 2003-09 under former head coach Bobby Hauck.
In his press conference with local media on Monday, Phenicie turned up the sarcasm too in comparing his current program to Montana’s.
“First of all, we’re playing the flagship team of the conference,” Phenicie said. “They have the best facilities. They have the offensive genius as a head coach. They come out of the tunnel with all these neat flags and we’re just lucky to be on the field with them. We’re just poor little Idaho State. We don’t have a big ole stadium. Our stadium’s old. We’re just lucky to play ‘em. We’ll go out and give our best and hopefully keep it close.
“I know we’re gonna look at their film and our guys will probably be in awe about how good and big they are and we’ll just have to hopefully get them ready to go. It’s gonna be tough, but it’ll be fun.”
Tensions running high? Sure seems so.
Here are four other things to watch for:
Big plays: Montana’s defense needs to limit Idaho State’s big plays. The Bengals have had success with big plays in their first five games, completing 75 plays so far that have been longer than 10 yards. Nine of those plays have been longer than 40 yards.
The three longest plays — 71, 70 and 57 yards — were all pass plays from quarterback Tanner Gueller, so look for the Montana defensive backs to be very involved on Saturday.
Sack city: Montana’s defense is one of the most dominant in the country in terms of bringing down the quarterback. The Griz are tied for 10th in the country with 15 total sacks and and third in the country with 114 sack yards.
Look for the defensive line and the linebackers to bring down Gueller several times on Saturday.
Gueller has been sacked 17 times for 87 yards through five games this season. Expect those numbers to go up.
Special teams: Stitt himself said that his special teams unit has been “pretty subpar,” minus the consistent efforts of kicker Brandon Purdy.
On Monday in Stitt’s press conference, he said he was not happy with kickoff coverage and kickoff returns and that he and his coaching staff were going to continue to look at personnel who can get the job done.
Expect some personnel changes to be made to the special teams unit.
Where’s Madison?: Idaho State’s leading rusher James Madison isn’t listed on this week’s depth chart. The Idaho State Journal hasn’t reported anything that indicates why Madison isn’t on the depth chart. Will he suit up on Saturday? Who knows?