Monmouth Pete Guerriero courtesy

Monmouth running back Pete Guerriero runs the ball against Albany during the Hawks' overtime win last week.

MISSOULA — Montana closes out its non-conference schedule when it hosts Monmouth at 1 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with the game broadcast on ABC/FOX Montana.

The 19th-ranked Griz (2-1) are coming off a 35-3 road loss to FBS No. 15 Oregon. The Hawks (2-1) beat Albany in overtime to stay undefeated against FCS competition.

406mtsports.com caught up with Monmouth beat writer Steve Edelson, who covers the Hawks for the The Asbury Park Press, to talk about this year’s Monmouth team and the outlook for Saturday's game.

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Q: What’s the vibe around this Monmouth team about being 2-0 against FCS teams but both of the wins being by just three points? What does the win over a Colonial Athletic Association team in Albany last week mean for the Hawks going forward?

A: The atmosphere around the Monmouth program is very positive right now. While both of the Hawks’ wins were by a field goal, they played much better last Saturday, eliminating a lot of the costly mistakes and penalties they committed against Lafayette.

The CAA sent six teams to the FCS playoffs a year ago, and Albany played well in losing to Central Michigan, an FBS foe, to open the season. So, it was a big win for a potential playoff resume if the Hawks can’t win the Big South, which would entail beating Kennesaw State, an FCS quarterfinalist a year ago, on the road.

Q: Who or what has impressed you the most about Monmouth’s play this year? What are the main areas in which they’re still trying to improve?

A: The most impressive and somewhat surprising aspect of Monmouth’s play this season has been their ability to run the ball behind a completely rebuilt offensive line. Junior running back Pete Guerriero is second in FCS rushing after three games, and the conference 100-meter champion as a freshman continues to show his toughness, carrying the ball 30 times last week.

The biggest disappointment has been the play of the secondary, which had been considered a strength when the season started. And now cornerback Tymere Berry, a first-team all-conference selection last year, is hobbled by a leg injury.

Q: How many people are Monmouth typically playing in front of at home? How do you expect them to handle playing in front of 25,000 at Montana, and has anyone on this roster competed in front of a crowd of a similar size?

A: Monmouth has about 4,500 undergraduate students, many of whom commute to campus, and the program only began giving scholarships a decade ago, so their home crowds are not to the level of many other FCS programs.

However, they do play FBS teams every year, playing in front of 16,000 at Western Michigan earlier this month. I’m not sure what the biggest crowd the team has ever played in front of, but they lost at Montana State, 42-24, in 2013 in front of 21,000 fans.

Q: What does Monmouth have to do to win this game? What areas or matchups will you be watching?

A: Monmouth has to be able to get pressure on the quarterback. They got two sacks against Albany last week but struggled to get pressure. They were at their best defensively when they blitzed.

If they can’t generate a pass rush, it’s going to be a long day for the secondary. Albany’s Juwan Green caught 15 passes for 245 yards and three TDs last Saturday.

Q: What’s your score prediction for this game? Why?

A: The Hawks have beaten nationally ranked teams before. They knocked off a very good Liberty team a few years ago and lost on a last-second field goal to Coastal Carolina when they were No. 1. But I don’t think this team is quite ready to handle a top-20 program like Montana.

Montana 35, Monmouth 17.

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Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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