MISSOULA — The main question for Montana heading into the FCS playoff bracket reveal on Sunday morning was if it would still be a national seed following a blowout loss to Montana State on Saturday.
The Griz not only made it into the top eight but got in comfortably at No. 6, sitting behind North Dakota State, James Madison, Weber State, Sacramento State and Montana State.
Montana’s prize for earning a national seed is a much-needed bye week in the first round of the playoffs to rebound physically and mentally before hosting a second-round game Dec. 7.
“I think the work our guys put in, our assistant coaches, to get us this week off is productive, especially considering how banged up we are,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “We didn’t look like we had a lot of gas left in the tank yesterday. So, a week off will be productive.”
Quarterback Dalton Sneed could possibly benefit the most from the bye week. He still appeared hobbled by the right ankle injury he suffered on Oct. 19, running just once against Montana State, excluding sacks.
Starting running back Marcus Knight limped off the field after being tackled by the ankle in the second half Saturday. Starting safety Gavin Robertson left in the first half, favoring his right arm, and was replaced by redshirt freshman Nash Fouch, who had his first extended playing time.
Against MSU, Montana was again without stud wide receiver Sammy Akem, who was seen on the sideline in a walking boot for the first time. The Griz were also missing disruptive defensive end Milton Mamula, who went down with an apparent non-contact injury against Weber State.
Montana had physically dominated the Wildcats in that game, but it was a role reversal against Montana State in a 48-14 road loss.
“I’m not sure coming out of the Weber State game how ready we were to play any more football,” Hauck said. “We’ll get healed up. We’ll get fired up and be ready to go.”
When Montana takes the field, it’ll play Southeastern Louisiana or Villanova in the second round on Dec. 7 in Missoula. If the Griz win, their path to the national title game would likely go through third-seeded Weber State and second-seeded James Madison, both on the road.
Montana is on the opposite side of the bracket from No. 1 North Dakota State, which has won seven of the past eight national titles. Never one to back down Hauck said, “I’d rather we were in it” because “I want to play ‘em.” When it was pointed out they could still play each other, in the title game, Hauck smiled and said, “Sure. A lot of work to do between now and then.”
Montana has shown a propensity to respond from losses and will try to do it again. The Griz bounced back from both of their first two losses with wins of 20 and 17 points.
“Well, we’ve had two bad performances this year and we had 10 really pretty good performances in terms of how we played,” Hauck said. “So, I think the 10 probably epitomizes who we are rather than the two.
“So, hopefully, we’ll play well. Part of that goes to health, you know, what you got left, what you had to put into the last month of the season and all that.”
Montana didn’t do well after its bye week during the regular season. The Griz won three in a row before coming off their bye with a 49-22 loss at Sacramento State. Last season, Montana suffered a 49-21 loss to UC Davis after its bye during the regular season.
Hauck was asked what he learned from the bye week this season and how it could help the team approach the bye this time around. He said, “I haven’t really thought of it.”
The playoffs do bring a “win-or-go-home” mentality that Hauck said isn’t all too different from trying to win the Big Sky.
“You just get ready for the game, you go play it and hopefully you get another one,” he said.