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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Get to know Montana before Sac State’s top 10 showdown

Max Dupras of the Montana Kaimin gives the run down on all things Griz
James Fife
Montana’s senior running back Nick Ostmo runs through a tackle of senior linebacker Armon Bailey Saturday, Oct. 23, 2022. Sac State took down Montana 31-24 on ESPN2 last season.

The No. 7 Sacramento State Hornets have another top 10 matchup in the Big Sky this week where they will travel to Missoula to face the No. 4 Montana Grizzlies this Saturday.

The Hornets are looking to build on the momentum from their last game, a complete domination of Idaho State 51-16 at home. True freshman quarterback Carson Conklin was the star of the show in that one, but if Sac State chooses to roll with Conklin he’ll have a much bigger test this week.

RELATED: Sac State’s freshman shine as Hornets trounce Idaho State

Montana is currently tied for first in the Big Sky conference and is looking for another signature win. Last time these teams played each other, Sac State narrowly escaped with a controversial 31-24 win on ESPN2.

Now, this contest moves back to one of the harshest road environments in all of the FCS, Washington-Grizzly Stadium. It’s set to be a cold, rainy night in Montana with a high of 44 degrees around kickoff.

As if this game needed any more build- up, it will be a homecoming for Sac State head coach Andy Thompson as he played his college football for the Griz.

With the scene set, let’s meet Max Dupras, sports editor of the Montana Kaimin for everything you need to know about the Griz.

Q: What does this game mean for Montana, does this feel like a bigger game for the Griz after how last year’s game ended?

A: “You hit the nail right on the head. Montana hasn’t won this game against Sac State since 2018. I think the really big thing for Montana is that when they started this season they weren’t ranked high. Now they’ve kind of flipped the script and Sac State is another game where they can continue to prove people wrong.

Sac State is not only another ranked team they need to take out in order to flip people’s opinions about them, but they haven’t won that game since Montana head coach Bobby Hauck returned.

For the team, it is a mix of yes, you get a higher ranking, but this matchup is bathed in blood. The Griz have had three straight matchups against Sac State that were brutal losses.”

Q: When did the season turn around for the Montana team?

A: “The Idaho game is the big one. When the Griz were ranked, even for myself, there was still a bit of convincing that needed to be done. After their loss to Northern Arizona, there were questions about the defensive scheme and the secondary, but when they played Idaho that first half especially people were like ‘This is what this can be and should be for the rest of the year.’”

Q: What does the quarterback situation look like for the Grizzlies?

A: “Hauck has wanted to run a two-quarterback system all year. It started with sophomore Sam Vidlak and senior Clifton McDowell.

At the beginning of the year, McDowell would just be brought in to run the ball, but Vidlak had a really bad game against NAU and got kind of abandoned a little. McDowell has kind of taken over as the mainstay starter, then against Northern Colorado, they played Keali’i Ah Yat as the second option and he outthrew McDowell in fewer attempts.

For this game though, there will still be a two-quarterback system, but it will be mostly McDowell. Ah Yat should be the second option for the rest of the season, but probably won’t play a lot if it’s really close.”

Q: What does the offense hang their hat on?

A: “Hauck is a run-first guy, he wants to establish the run first and foremost. Their running back room is really deep with senior Nick Ostmo and freshman Eli Gillman are both guys who tote the rock very well. Gillman is in his first season as the true starter and is on the Jerry Rice Award watch list for that reason.

The passing game isn’t super refined, McDowell has a strong arm and can move out of the pocket, but tends to be pretty set on his target. They work a lot in the short to intermediate game and are due one deep shot and there’s a decent chance it’ll be a touchdown. But it’s not something they’ll do the entire game because McDowell over shoots a lot of those passes.

The Griz don’t play with a lot of tight ends on the field, so if they throw it’s going to their wideouts. If they can get junior wideout Junior Bergen on a streak, McDowell has the arm to get it to him, but it’s not the strongest aspect of their offense.”

Q: Montana’s defense has been strong all year, what do they bring to the table?

A: “Their linebackers, Montana has always been a linebacker school. Sophomore linebacker Riley Wilson has been really good this year, he had a three-sack game against Northern Colorado. He’s alongside senior linebacker. Levi Janacaro is really smart, but not too quick, almost like Luke Kuechly.

The Grizzlies have had some injury issues, their main tight end junior Evan Shafer has had to sub in to be their fourth defensive lineman. Their main defensive tackle Alex Gubner has been good all year, but as a unit, they will have big highs but can dip a lot.

The biggest question for them is their secondary, mainly their cornerback play, they get beat a lot. Their safeties are solid, but the poor cornerback play and an injured defensive line has been pretty apparent.”

For more on this matchup, check out the Montana Kaimin for Dupras’ portion of this collaboration where I preview Sac State’s prospects going into this game.

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Jack Freeman, Sports Editor
Jack Freeman joined The State Hornet in spring 2022 as a staff writer. He returns as the co-sports editor and resident Kellen Moore fan. He is currently a junior majoring in journalism.
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