PREVIEW: Sac State football readies for Top 10 Brawl against Montana

A historic 7-0 start is within reach


Dominique Williams

Senior quarterback Jake Dunniway checks to sophomore running back Cameron Skattebo during the offense’s walkthrough at practice in Sacramento on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. This duo should get a lot of play against a blitz heavy Montana Grizzly squad this Saturday.

Jack Freeman, Football Beat Writer

Sacramento State football makes their national television debut Saturday against the #7 Montana Grizzlies at Hornet Stadium.

The game will be televised on ESPN2, the first time Sac State has appeared on national television. In 2019 the Hornets hosted two top 5 opponents but have not hosted a top-10-ranked team since.  

After their 52-28 win over Eastern Washington, Sac State achieved a #2 ranking in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25, their highest ranking in program history. The Hornets have dominated almost every game they’ve played, however they are expecting a test in a vengeful Montana squad.

Last year Sac State, an underdog, went into Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, Montana and beat the Grizzlies. Now the roles have been reversed and it’s Montana that needs an upset win.

RELATED: Sac State football upsets #5 University of Montana 28-21

Montana was the #3 team in the country last week, but an upset loss to the Idaho Vandals knocked them down to #7. The Grizzlies, usually a dominant team at home, let the Vandals throw all over them in their 30-23 loss.

“[Sac State] is just focusing on our day-to-day routine,” Sac State head coach Troy Taylor said. “We are kicking off a little bit later, so our guys will have a little more downtime, but for us it really doesn’t change our preparation.”

This is a critical game for both programs, each needing a win to stay competitive in the Big Sky Conference. Montana already has one conference loss, a second could end their chance at a conference title. Sac State, the defending conference champions, would love to stay undefeated in conference to give them wiggle room later in the season. 

Now that the stakes are set for this Top 10 showdown, here’s what you should expect to see Saturday night.



Montana is a team that always competes in the FCS, and losing to Idaho has left the team ‘stunned,’ according to Jack Marshall III of the Montana Kaimin. The Grizzlies are hungry for a win, not only to save their season but to find confidence in themselves.

The Montana offense, led by San Diego State transfer redshirt senior quarterback Lucas Johnson, struggled last week. The Grizzlies were held to 220 yards of offense and turned the ball over twice. 

“[Johnson is] a dual threat guy and that’s always an issue,” Taylor said. “In terms of he can hurt you in the pocket, good with the RPOs, it’ll definitely be a challenge.” 

Johnson, primarily a scrambler and dual-threat player, has been limited and forced to play inside the pocket. This has led to Montana struggling on offense and being significantly less dynamic. 

“We’ve got something we are working on to keep [Johnson] in the pocket,” junior linebacker Brock Mather said. “Trying to keep him like a one-handed fighter … not letting him escape.”

The weakest spot in the Hornet defense remains their deep passing coverage, an area that the Grizzlies have yet to unlock. Montana needs Johnson to connect with sophomore wideout Junior Bergen to get the offense going.

Montana struggled to get any semblance of running game last game. Only 34 yards on the ground will not be enough against Sac State. The Hornets defense tries to make offenses one dimensional, entering in with only one dimension against the Hornets is a recipe for disaster.

Redshirt senior receiver Malik Flowers has been a deadly return man for the Grizzlies. Look for the Hornets to avoid kicking to him. Lots of squib kicks and punts out of bounds should be expected. 

This Grizzlies defense will be the toughest test this Hornet offense has seen this season. They held the Vandals to just 52 yards rushing. Sac State has yet to have their rushing attack tested; stopping  the run game stops the Hornet offense.

However, it is noted that the Vandals do not have as dynamic of a rushing attack compared to Sac State. A lot will depend on if sophomore running back Cameron Skattebo can overcome the Montana linebacking core, which is one of the best in the country.

Senior quarterback Jake Dunniway should get the bulk of passing attempts and a lot of playing time. Dunniway will have to target junior tight end Marshel Martin a lot to stave off a blitz-heavy Grizzly attack.

“[Montana] brings it,” Taylor said. “All four quarters they play very hard. There are going to be plays where we won’t gain any yards because they are so aggressive.”

The Grizzlies will also be tasked with stopping senior quarterback Asher “Automatic” O’Hara in the red zone. As the nickname suggests, O’Hara has been almost automatic in the red zone with 11 rushing touchdowns from inside the 20-yard line. 

“The [Offensive] line getting that push,” O’Hara said, describing the red zone success. “The running backs put their body on the line every play I’m in there. If you look at my touchdowns you’ll be seeing a lot of opponent bodies on the ground, they make it easy to give me lanes to jump.”



Sac State: Win in the trenches. For all the offensive and defensive firepower on both sides of this game, it will be won in the trenches. Sac State’s offensive line needs to hold up against the Grizzlies’ blitzes and let Skattebo go to work. Additionally, Sac State needs to get pressure to prevent Montana from attacking deep.

Montana: Go on and get home! Montana loves to bring pressure with their three-linebacker system. They need to get home on these blitzes or Sac State will shred their defense. The Vandals took advantage last week and Sac State has the talent to do the same. Get home and they shut down the Hornets attack.



Jack Freeman, Football beat writer (6-0): The Grizzlies have struggled under the bright lights in primetime. Sac State football is making their national television debut, and I don’t think the Grizzlies play spoiler. Montana will run their defense and blitz; Martin will tear the defense apart. 

Sac State: 31, Montana 24


Jordan Latimore, Sports Editor (3-3): The Hornets are coming into their biggest matchup of the season, and they will rise to the occasion. On a national TV game, with a top 10 FCS matchup on their plate, Sac State stomps the Grizzlies in a tight game.

Sac State 34, Montana 31


Dylan McNeill, Sports Editor (5-1): Even though College Gameday isn’t coming to “The House That Herky Built,” Sacramento will still steal the show on Saturday. The Hornets have out-rushed their opponents nearly 3-1 this season, along with nearly two turnovers a game from the Hornet defense. The Hornets beat Montana last year and they’ve only gotten better.

Sac State: 37, Montana 29


Keyshawn Davis, Managing Editor (4-0): This is the biggest game of the season for the Hornets and I expect it to go back and forth. The Hornets are averaging 48 points a game so it will be high scoring. I expect the Hornets run game to continue to be a force and that reason alone will be the key to victory. I will also say that I believe the Hornets will go undefeated for the remainder of the season.

Sac State: 52, Montana 48