MISSOULA — Montana coach Bob Stitt has been a football coach at varying levels and with differing programs for 28 years.
Of all the opponents he's faced during his career, he's never had to prepare for an opponent as formidable as the No. 8 Washington Huskies.
Currently a top-10 FBS team, Washington boasted a 12-2 record last season, with four wins over ranked FBS schools. The Huskies won the Pac-12 and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff, losing to No. 1 Alabama 24-7 in a semifinal.
"They're a little bit better than Adams State and some of the teams I've coached against in the past," Stitt joked at his weekly press conference on Monday. "That's what's fun about it. ... They're the No. 8 team. They're very good.
"You can't miss an opportunity for your football team to get better schematically and mentally. To go against the best, that can't do anything but help us. To be able to line up, go toe-to-toe with those guys and see what you can do because they're very, very good."
All offseason, the Griz have preached that they're going to approach every game the same, regardless of who the opponent is for the week.
That's still the mentality Montana has heading into one of its highest-profile games with an FBS school in program history. (Iowa was ranked No. 16 in 2006 when Montana went to town.)
"It's another football game," Stitt said. "You have to look where they line up. And you have to attack that. You can't look at the individual stuff. It's no different than (when) you play a team that you're favored heavily. You gotta prepare the exact same way. You go out and play. If you get caught up in the other stuff, then you're not gonna be focused and you won't execute your job the right way because your head is in another place and you'll never know if you can compete against a (high) level like Washington.
"This is gonna be a great challenge for our football team mentally to be able to go in, focus on their job and when adversity does strike, that they just keep coming, keep your head down. The scoreboard's gonna take care of itself. Just keep working and doing your job and we'll look at it at the end."
His players have bought into that way of thinking.
"Like my dad always says, 'They put on cleats just like we do,'" senior cornerback Ryan McKinley said. "... Coach Semore and (all our coaches) are gonna coach us up well in the secondary. I have the utmost confidence in them and I know that the rest of my teammates do as well. We'll see how it goes."
Regardless of how the Griz fare in Seattle on their first road trip Saturday, Montana's bringing home a pretty large check. Montana gets $625,000 from Washington for playing the game. And performance incentives for Griz coaches are in effect as well.
According to Stitt's contract, he gets an extra $10,000 for just playing an FBS team during the non-conference season. Assistant coaches get an extra $1,000. If by some miracle the Griz pull off a Howard vs. UNLV-esque upset, those incentives are doubled.
After watching film and letting Saturday's 45-23 victory over Valparaiso marinate a little, Stitt was pleased with how his team played against the Crusaders.
"I thought it was a great opener," Stitt said. "We had an opportunity to score a couple more touchdowns in the first half and be a little bit more comfortable but they didn't. We turned the ball over a couple of times and that was one of those things. Felt like we played pretty well. We graded out very well offensively, happy with the special teams, got some confidence with our kicker and punter and the coverage stuff was pretty good also."
Sophomore wide receiver Jerry Louie-McGee had a solid day, picking up 159 yards receiving on nine passes from senior quarterback Reese Phillips with two touchdowns.
Louie-McGee said on Monday that what fans saw on Saturday from Phillips is exactly what he and his team expected of the new starter under center.
"He came out and executed well," Louie-McGee said. "Played with confidence and had a great game. He didn't start for five years and it seemed like he'd been starting throughout his whole college career. There was no doubt. I don't think anybody thought he was gonna be anything less."
"He had a great day," Stitt said. "He can really throw the ball and everybody saw that. We've been saying this since he got here that he can throw the ball as well as anybody. ... He probably had three or four throws that he'd like to have back but the rest of them were pretty darn good.
"He graded out really, really high for a quarterback. He was getting the ball where we wanted him to throw it and he had a really nice day. One of the best we've had since we've been here with a quarterback."
Stitt addressed the injuries of three Griz players on Monday — running back Rey Green (lower leg), safety Josh Sandry and safety Justin Strong (hand).
"Rey's getting better every day and the prognosis for him is way better than what we thought when the injury occurred," Stitt said. "We feel like Sandry and Justin Strong can be ready to go this week. Hope so."