MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies will close out non-conference play against the Monmouth Hawks in the fourth and final game for each team before league play begins next week.
Both teams are 2-1 overall and 2-0 against FCS competition. The Griz are ranked No. 19 in the STATS FCS Top 25 and are coming off a 35-3 loss to FBS No. 15 Oregon. Monmouth has won both of its last two games by three points, and needed overtime to do so last week against Albany.
Here are five things to watch during the game, which will be broadcast on ABC/Fox Montana and will be over the airwaves on the Montana Grizzly Radio Network/KGVO Missoula.
Can Montana’s receivers dominate?
Montana should have an easier time against Monmouth’s struggling secondary than Oregon. Led by quarterback Dalton Sneed and wide receivers Sammy Akem, Samori Toure and Jerry Louie-McGee, the Griz are averaging 319 passing yards per game, ranked 13th in the FCS.
Monmouth is allowing teams to complete 63.4% of their passes for 340.7 yards per game, 112th out of 116 teams in the country, and 11 touchdowns. The Hawks have given up 14 pass plays of 20 or more yards in three games, and seven of them have resulted in touchdowns, including four last week.
Can Montana find its ground game?
If Montana starts to have success through the air, it could help lighten the box and open opportunities on the ground. While the Griz may have found their starter in Marcus Knight, they need to develop depth and consistency one week after being held to 8 rushing yards.
Monmouth has given up 191 rushing yards in three games, an average of 63.7 per game, which is fourth in the FCS, partly because teams have had success in the air. The Hawks have stopped the run when needed, allowing just 2.5 yards per rush on 76 carries.
Can Montana slow down the run?
Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero is averaging 131 rushing yards per game, the second-highest mark in the FCS. He’s carried the load as the Hawks have been without their preseason third-team All-American Juwon Farri, and he’s done it behind an offensive line that returns just one player who made more than six starts in 2018.
Montana’s defensive line is coming off a game in which it held up against the most experienced offensive line in the FBS. The Griz are allowing 136.3 rushing yards per game, 34th in the nation, and will need to stay disciplined in their gaps and assignments while taking good angles to slow down the run.
Can Montana confuse Monmouth’s QB?
When Montana made its home debut two weeks ago, the Griz came up with three interceptions against a quarterback who had thrown just two in his previous 315 attempts. The Griz will face an even more veteran and polished quarterback this weekend in fifth-year senior Kenji Bahar.
Bahar is the Big South preseason offensive MVP, a Walter Payton Trophy candidate and ranks third in program history in every major career passing category. He’s thrown for 226.3 yards per game this season, 32nd in the country, and has been picked off just two times in 108 attempts.
Can Montana find success on special teams?
Monmouth has struggled on special teams coverage, and Montana could have a chance to flip the game there. The Hawks are 91st in the nation in punt return defense, allowing 13.3 yards per return. Montana’s 26 yards per return, all by Jerry Louie-McGee, rank second in the FCS.
Monmouth is worse on kick coverage, ranking 103rd in the country out of 116 in kickoff return defense by giving up 28.11 yards on average. The Griz, led by Malik Flowers, are averaging 23.7 yards per return, ranking 29th in the FCS, but have gone 11 games without scoring this way.
Five numbers to know
1: This is the first-ever meeting between Montana and Monmouth, a New Jersey-based team that plays in the Big South Conference. Monmouth has played only one other Big Sky team, losing to Montana State in 2013.
2: Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero ranks second among active FCS players with 14 career 100-yard rushing performances in 23 games. He's also second in the country with 131 rushing yards per game.
14: Montana is celebrating the No. 37 legacy tradition on Saturday, and 14 players, including current Griz Jesse Sims, have worn the hallowed jersey going back to Kraig Paulson in 1983.
2,416: That's the number of miles Monmouth will travel to play Montana. It's the farthest west the Hawks have ever traveled to play a football game.
21,431: That’s the largest crowd to ever see Monmouth play a football game, coming in 2007 at Delaware, which was led by future Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Flacco. If Montana approaches or reaches the capacity of 25,217 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, a record would be set.