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Jerry Louie-McGee (16) rolls past Northern Iowa defenders during his 81-yard punt return in Montana's last game against UNI in 2016. McGee scored on the play. Montana defeated Northern Iowa 20-14 at the UNI-Dome.

MISSOULA —  It's been seven years and eight months since Bobby Hauck last took the field at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The countdown to his return to the game day gridiron is now less than a week away. 

"I'm really looking forward to it," Hauck said during Monday's press conference. "The thing I remember most is it's a lot of fun in that stadium. We're going to have fun. Hopefully everybody watching will too."

He added: "We're excited about the season starting. Certainly it'll be a lot of buzz. There's already been a lot of buzz around the state and around town. As coaches, we'd rather we had three more weeks of preparation and these guys are ready to play somebody else."

That "somebody else" isn't a chump team either. No. 24 Montana hosts No. 13 Northern Iowa in the only STATS FCS Top 25 matchup this weekend at 7 p.m.

But, of course, the players are attempting to tune out the added pressure.

"I try not to think about that stuff. I'm preparing for an opponent the same every week. I'm not going to put any extra emphasis on it because it's a national game to everybody else," senior wide receiver Keenan Curran said. "It's game one for us. We gotta go out and do what we gotta do."

Senior defensive end Reggie Tilleman agreed.

"Emotionally, we're ready to go. We're ready to get after somebody other than our own offense," Tilleman said. "UNI's going to be a good team, but I think that doesn't really change how we approach the game. We're going to approach every game like it's going to be the best game we play all year." 

Initial overview of UNI

Northern Iowa's head coach, Mark Farley, has been at the helm of the Panther program since 2001. 

Hauck recognized how important that stability can be for a program.

"Mark's been there a long time, I think 18 years is the number," Hauck said. "They know what they're doing. You don't coach any place for that long without being a great football coach. Continuity is a big deal, they're going to do their thing offensively and defensively. They're coached tough. They're a tough football team. They're physical. All the things you'd expect from a team from that part of the country."

Montana last played Northern Iowa in 2016, upsetting the then-No. 3 ranked Panthers in the UNI Dome.

Curran was a part of that victory, starting in the game. 

"I remember Jerry's (Louie-McGee) punt return. That was pretty fun to watch," Curran said of what he remembers from 2016.

Despite that, Curran doesn't put too much stock into the 2016 matchup anymore.

"It was a while ago in my football career," he added. "I don't put much thought into that game outside of the punt return. I'm trying to prepare for this one on Saturday."

Uncertainties

Hauck didn't have an update regarding the status of senior linebacker Josh Buss on Monday. 

Hauck wasn't optimistic about the offensive line either. 

"I think it's an area of major concern," Hauck said. "That's what I think."

He added: "It's hard to pretend up there. You either block people or you don't. We need to block people. If you don't block people, you don't get plays going and you don't generate yards and points and you lose games."

Not quite a sell-out

Contrary to rumors, Montana's season opener against No. 13 Northern Iowa hasn't been sold out. 

Many available seats are scattered about in 18 different sections — including the north end zone, south end zone, east stadium, west stadium and in the upper-deck sections on the east side of the stadium, according to GrizTix.com's seat selector function as of 5 p.m. Monday.

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Amie Just covers Griz football and Missoula-area preps. Follow her on Twitter @Amie_Just or email her at Amie.Just@406mtsports.com.

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