TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Montana will look to close nonconference play with a 3-0 record Saturday when it plays on the road for the first time this season.
The third-ranked Grizzlies will face Indiana State (1-1) at 11 a.m. Mountain time Saturday in Terre Haute, Indiana. It’s their second consecutive Missouri Valley opponent following a 24-7 win over South Dakota last week and a 47-0 win over Northwestern State in the season opener.
“We’re excited to go on the road this week, try to get to 3-0. It’d be a great start to our season if we can come up with a win,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “This is a tough trip logistically. Terre Haute is not the easiest place to get to. We’ve had a little experience going that direction. Quite a few of our players have done that, so hopefully that’ll pay off.
“Indiana State, they’re a good team, they’re big up front on both sides of the ball, they’re hard to move. Good special teams units. I like what they’re doing in the kicking game. I think it’ll be a real challenge in terms of a road game against a big, physical opponent. They want to control the game on both sides of the line of scrimmage up front. I think that’s where the game is going to play out and be won or lost.”
Indiana State opened the season with a 17-14 overtime win against North Alabama and a 56-0 loss to FBS Purdue. The Griz will be the first ranked FCS opponent for the Sycamores.
“They’re as good as advertised, if not better,” ISU coach Curt Mallory said of Montana. “I’m very, very impressed, as I was over the summer. Watching them the last two weeks, they’re better. They’re a really good football team. If there’s a compliment a head coach could ever get, it’s your team plays hard, your team plays tough and your team plays physical. That’s what their team does.”
Here are five things to watch in the game.
Montana RBs Marcus Knight, Nick Ostmo and Xavier Harris have yet to hit their stride as the reps are divided up nearly evenly between the trio, two of whom are working their way back from injuries that kept them out all or most of last year. Being able to run the ball effectively will be key in the colder weather in later months and if opponents have strong passing defenses or gameplan to take QB Lucas Johnson’s legs out of the rushing equation. Indiana State limited North Alabama to 8 rush yards on 49 carries, but then Purdue put up 232 yards on 45 carries.
Convert in red zone
The Griz have moved the ball into the red zone 10 times through two games. Yet, they’ve come away with points only six times and have scored a touchdown only five times. The 60% mark is tied for 95th in the FCS. Finishing drives with points will be key against tougher competition in the second half of the regular season and during a potentially deep playoff run. In their 10 red zone trips, the Griz have three passing TDs, two rushing scores, one field goal, two missed field goals, one lost fumble and one turnover on downs. Indiana State’s red zone defense ranks 70th.
UM’s offense has looked lights out at times with aggressive, creative play calling. They then have bouts of passivity after they’ve taken an early lead, leading to an inconsistent output. The Griz may be able to put this game away early in the second half if they find offensive success throughout the first half and the defense looks like it did the first two weeks. That may be ideal on a day with a high of 86 degrees and 60% humidity. The Griz have allowed only seven points in 120 minutes this season. Indiana State has scored 17 points in two games plus an OT session.
Dominate in trenches
Indiana State racked up 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks against North Alabama but then just two TFLs against Purdue. Protecting Johnson will be key for the Griz O-line, which has given up two sacks in two games. If he gets time in the pocket, ISU is missing its standout safety and has a young secondary with only one upperclassman on the two-deep. On the other side, UM’s defense may feast against a line that’s allowed 14 TFLs and five sacks. The Griz have totaled 23 TFLs and nine sacks. It could be a long day for ISU’s QBs, with three of them expected to rotate.
Dakota Caton led the MVFC with 25.5 yards per kickoff return in 2019, but he missed 2021 with an injury. This year, he’s averaging 23.5 yards on two kick returns and 16.5 yards on two punt returns. UM has been solid in coverage, holding its opponents to 17.2 yards on kick returns and 2 yards on punt returns. On the flip side, ISU has allowed three returns on 17 punts for a total of 6 yards and one return on five kickoffs for 11 yards. UM has its own dangerous return man in Malik Flowers, who has five career kickoff return TDs but has had only return chance this year.