MISSOULA — Montana won’t face a tougher football foe than Oregon the rest of the season, but the Griz do close out non-conference play this week against a talented Monmouth squad.
Both Montana and Monmouth, the latter out of the Big South Conference, are 2-1 overall and 2-0 against FCS teams ahead of their kickoff at 1 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ABC/FOX Montana.
“They’ll be a great challenge,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “They’ve got a good, veteran team with four senior starters and a junior starting on their offensive line, the preseason player of the year at quarterback and a first-team all-conference running back player.
“We feel like this is a huge game for us. We need our crowd to be here and be ready to go and try to be disruptive because this is a really, really quality opponent who’s been in the playoffs two years ago. … So, we’ve got our hands full with these guys.”
The Griz are coming off a 35-3 loss to Oregon in which their offense struggled but their defense put together a better performance than most expected. They moved up one spot to No. 19 in the STATS FCS Top 25 on Monday morning.
Monmouth was in the "others receiving votes" category and would've been ranked 40th if the poll extended that far.
This week’s matchup will be the Grizzlies’ second against a team from the Big South; they beat North Alabama 61-17 in their home opener. It’s their first-ever meeting against Monmouth — a New Jersey-based team — and the lack of familiarity makes preparation more difficult.
“It is a challenge because we don’t have a whole bunch of crossover,” Hauck said. “We do know of some of the teams they’ve played the last couple years and we’ve seen them on film, so we have a little bit of gauge there.
“But these intersectional games are big when you’ve got a playoff system. So, for us, this is a huge game in that regard.”
This will be Montana’s fourth and final non-conference game. A calendar quirk allowed FCS teams to schedule an extra non-league game this year instead of the usual three.
Monmouth went 8-3 last season. The Hawks were 8-2 against FCS teams but failed to qualify for the playoffs one year after a first-round exit against Northern Iowa.
“We don’t ever treat a game like a tune-up,” said Hauck, whose team will open Big Sky play at UC Davis next week. “They all count. They all matter. Kind of goes back to that playoff statement I made a second ago. These things have implications.”
For senior receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, who became the program’s all-time receptions leader last week, the loss to Oregon can be a learning experience to benefit them going forward.
“I’d say what we learned about us is we’re going to come out and we’re going to play hard against, give our best against no matter who it is,” Louie-McGee said. “If it’s Oregon, if it’s Monmouth, we’re going to come out and play Montana football. That’s what I got out of it.”
Monmouth is coming off a 38-35 overtime win against Albany, of the Colonial Athletic Association. The Hawks also posted a 24-21 win over Lafayette and lost to FBS Western Michigan, 48-13.
Monmouth is led by fifth-year quarterback Kenji Bahar, who’s in his fourth year as a starter. He was the conference’s preseason offensive player of the year and was on the 25-player preseason watch list for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the FCS.
Running back Pete Guerriero was a preseason first-team all-conference selection and leads the team with 393 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Fellow running back Juwon Farri was a STATS FCS preseason third-team All-American but doesn’t have a carry yet this season. On Monday, Farri was ruled ineligible for the rest of the season when his appeal was denied by the university, according to a report from STATS FCS senior editor Craig Haley.
Defensive backs Tymere Berry and Justin Terry were preseason all-conference first-team and honorable-mention selections, respectively. Berry was a STATS FCS preseason third-team All-American. Junior defensive back Anthony Budd has three of the team’s four interceptions, tied for the most individually in the FCS.
Monmouth has had three Big South players of the week this season: Guerriero on offense, linebacker Da’Quan Grimes on defense and kicker Matt Mosquera on special teams.
Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan is in his 27th season guiding the program and is the only head coach in team history. He had a career record of 152-118 coming into this season.
“I’m impressed with their quarterback, Kenji Bahar, he’s a really, really good player,” Hauck said. “He’s smooth. He’s got a big arm. He’s impressive. They’ve got some good players on defense. Defensive end’s a good pass rusher. One of their DBs, Berry, is a first-team all-conference player. We’ve got our hands full with these guys.”