MISSOULA — Montana football coach Bobby Hauck needed only one word when asked what "a barometer for you for success" would be when the Griz play FBS powerhouse Oregon this Saturday.
“Winning,” Hauck stated during his Monday press conference amidst the squeaking of sneakers from the nearby men’s basketball practice.
Montana (2-0) will head into its game against Oregon as the No. 20 team in the STATS FCS Top 25, moving up two spots Monday after its 61-17 win over North Alabama. It’s the Grizzlies’ highest ranking since Oct. 1, 2018, when they were No. 14.
“I liked how our guys responded to a team that was in here and wanted to play and play hard,” Hauck said. “I thought that it was just a good all-around effort for our team.”
He continued: “We just need to keep progressing and improving and getting better. That’s what good teams do throughout a season. And certainly to go in and play the Oregon Ducks, we’re going to need a great effort.”
Oregon is ranked No. 15 in the FBS and comes in with a 1-1 record. The Ducks are fresh off a 77-6 win over Nevada following a season-opening 27-21 loss to current FBS No. 8 Auburn at a neutral site.
This week’s game will undoubtedly be Montana’s toughest test of the season.
“I think it’s a great opportunity that we have,” junior cornerback Dareon Nash said of playing a Pac-12 school on the road.
Junior wide receiver Samori Toure added: “I’m very excited for this week. I think the whole team is. Like Nash said, it’s a great opportunity for us to play one of the best schools in the nation. So, yeah, I just think it’s a really good opportunity, and I think we’re all just ready to go and ready to show what we got.”
Toure, a Portland, Oregon native, was asked if he felt like he has something to prove against a Pac-12 school. Hauck interrupted with a resounding, “No.”
“No, I don’t think I have anything to prove to anyone,” Toure followed. “No one on the team does.”
The tables are reversed in one sense in that it’s usually opposing teams who have to worry about the noise of playing in front of 25,000 fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. This week, Montana will be playing at Autzen Stadium, which can hold up to 54,000.
“I think we have a pretty focused group, so I don’t have a bunch of advice in terms of focus,” Hauck said. “I’d be startled if focus was an issue for our guys.
“But you do have to have a noise plan when you go on the road and places where it’s loud. Oregon’s a loud place, and we’ll have to try to deal with the communication issues as best we can.”
Montana will be paid $650,000 by Oregon for the guarantee game, according to the game contract.
"Well, scheduling’s hard, especially with the way our league is," Hauck said when asked for his opinion of playing guarantee games. "With our league having so many members, there aren’t many FCS teams in the western US that aren’t in our league for the most part. So, scheduling’s difficult and you have to kind of make it work somehow. For us to be able to get regional games and not have to travel to the East Coast to play games is good."
The Ducks are led by senior quarterback Justin Herbert, a Heisman Trophy hopeful and top NFL prospect. He’s thrown a touchdown pass in 30 consecutive games, the longest streak in the country.
Herbert has quite the fortress in front of him. His offensive linemen come into this week’s game having combined for 163 career starts, the most in the nation. Hauck said their play on the line is “a direct reflection” of second-year head coach Mario Cristobal, a former O-line coach at Alabama.
“A lot of us on our staff have coached against Oregon many, many times, including me,” Hauck said. “The one thing that stands out to me about this Oregon team is how good their offensive line is.”
He continued: “I’ve seen a lot of Oregon teams over the years, and to me, this is the best offensive line I’ve seen in an Oregon uniform. Then, they always have talented guys (at) a lot of different positions. We’re familiar with a lot of their players, watched them in high school and onward.
“The other thing is you’ve got the quarterback who many thought would be the first player taken in the NFL draft last year had he chosen to enter and didn’t. So, I mean, they’re a handful.”
Defensively, Hauck started his evaluation by singling out senior linebacker Troy Dye. His 332 career tackles are the most among active Power 5 players.
“They’ve got great speed off the edge,” Hauck said. “They’ve got guys that can cover. They’ve done a nice job recruiting. They have a lot of team speed on defense, which makes up for mistakes when they make them. Certainly they’ve played really well to date. The Auburn film’s pretty eye-opening. They got after them. They’ve got good ability on defense.”