Griz football: Montana returns home for Top 10 showdown with UC Davis

Fans are asked to show their support for local kids and families in need by bringing a new, unwrapped toy or donation to Saturday’s game. Volunteers will man Griz for Kids collection tables at all entrances to the stadium, as well as the walking bridge and the main entrance to the Adams Center. (GoGriz.com)

Nothing like a little R&R to recharge the batteries.

While the Montana football team got a small amount of R&R, it was all business around Washington-Grizzly Stadium during the bye week, and the Grizzlies’ batteries will need to be at full-charge as UM looks to bounce back against the No. 6 UC Davis Aggies.

With an week to prepare and reflect after a pair of tough losses, Montana gets a shot to make an FCS top-ten statement against the Aggies, who come to Missoula led by former Boise State and Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins.

In his second year at UC Davis, Hawkins has the Aggies resembling an FBS powerhouse, too, as the only undefeated team in Big Sky play with the No. 5 scoring offense in the nation.

After falling from the top-25 for the first time this season following a 27-point loss at North Dakota before the bye week, the Grizzlies recognize that they must be at their best if they are to slow down an Aggie outfit that is averaging over 480-yards and 42 points per game.

“It’s a big week for us. We’ve got a top-ten ranked opponent coming in who has played really well in recent weeks,” said Montana head coach Bobby Hauck. “They’re going up and down the field on people, they’re playing well on defense. Certainly, we’ll have our hands full.”

THE GAME: Montana (4-3, 2-2 BSC) hosts No. 6/13 UC Davis (6-1, 4-0 BSC) on Saturday, Oct. 27, for the penultimate home game on the Grizzlies schedule, looking to build momentum ahead of a two-game road stretch.

And what a momentum shift it could be. The Griz enter the game in need of a confidence booster following a last-second loss to Portland State on a 52-yard field goal and a heavy loss to the Fighting Hawks in Grand Forks.

But Hauck believes the week off has put a little “bounce in our step,” and quarterback Dalton Sneed’s competitive edge has sharpened over the week off as the Griz face the business end of the season.

“I think the mentality stays the same. We’re out here to win football games, and that’s how we approach every day. That’s how we want to be as a team every day to win every week and every practice. So, no different mentality, we just want to go out and perform our best,” said Sneed.

IMPLICATIONS: While anything is possible over the final three weeks of regular season play in FCS football, Montana’s playoff hopes rest largely on the outcome of Saturday’s game against the highly touted Aggies.

With three losses, the Griz can ill-afford a fourth in the regular season if the playoffs are to remain in view. However, with a host of quality opponents remaining on the schedule, including this week’s ranked showdown and two rivalry games against Idaho and Montana State, Montana could control its post-season fate with four-straight wins.

HAPPENINGS

GRIZ FOR KIDS TOY DRIVE: With the holiday season right around the corner, Grizzly Athletics will once again partner with area businesses and local agencies to make the season a little brighter for children in need with the Griz for Kids Toy Drive.

Fans are asked to show their support for local kids and families in need by bringing a new, unwrapped toy or donation to the game. Volunteers will man Griz for Kids collection tables at all entrances to the stadium, as well as the walking bridge and the main entrance to the Adams Center.

Leading the charge in the toy drive for the Griz football team this year are senior tackle Kyle Davis and sophomore O-lineman Esai Longoria.

MILITARY APPRECIATION DAY: Grizzly Athletics will say thank you to the countless men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to serve our country against UC Davis, paying homage to Military members and their families with pregame Military Appreciation ceremonies.

WELCOME GRIZ FAMILIES: It’s family weekend at UM, with students and their families gathering to celebrate all the tradition that surrounds Griz football and the University of Montana.

WATCH: This week’s game can be seen over the air and on cable systems statewide on your local ABC Montana station (except in Billings where the game will be seen on SWX, channel 8.2 and Spectrum channel 503).

Fans worldwide can tune in for FREE at Pluto.tv and the PlutoTV app (channel 237) on your computer, smartphone, tablet, smart TV or over-the-top device (Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, etc.)

Ron Davis will provide the play-by-play, alongside former Grizzly head coach Mick Delaney on color commentary and former Grizzly QB Grady Bennett serving as analyst. Shaun Rainey will report from the sideline.

The remainder of Montana’s 2018 schedule will be broadcast nationwide on ROOT Sports, with distribution now available on cable, DirecTV, and DISH, as well as streaming on DirecTV NOW.

LISTEN: “Voice of the Griz” Riley Corcoran and Greg Sundberg will bring you the action live from Washington-Grizzly Stadium on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network.

Fans from Polson to Plentywood can tune in to hear the live call on one of 15 radio stations statewide. You can also hear a digital stream of the game live worldwide via GoGriz.com/listen or via the TuneIn app on your computer or smartphone.

RANKINGS: The Grizzlies fell from the national media and coaches top-25 for the first time this season during the bye week, marking the first time Bobby Hauck has been on the outside looking in as a head coach at UM.

Montana has bounced around the top-25 this season since coming in at No. 24 in preseason polls, working its way up to No. 14 in the media poll.

With UC Davis at No. 6 in the media poll and No. 13 in the coaches’ poll, a win over the Aggies could mean a return to the poll for the Griz.

SERIES HISTORY: Montana has been dominant over the Aggies in the seven previous meetings between the two school, with UM never losing a game the matchup dating back to 1926, entering the weekend at 7-0 all-time.

Of those seven games, four have been played in Missoula, and, thanks to an unbalanced Big Sky schedule, only once (2014) have the two teams met at UM as conference foes, a 42-28 win for the Griz.

LAST MEETING: Montana last faced UC Davis in 2015 down in California, coming away with a 27-13 win that moved them to 3-2 overall on the season.

Montana’s defense forced four turnovers, and quarterback Chad Chalich threw three touchdown passes in the win while running back Jeremy Calhoun scored his first career touchdown as a true freshman.

GRIZ TRACKS

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Wile Montana’s two-game losing streak leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, what is sometimes lost is that the Grizzlies remain a very young team.

Of the 44 players listed on this week’s offensive and defensive two-deep, more than half (27) are suiting up as either a freshman or sophomore, compared to just seven seniors.

DANTE’S INFERNO / BUCHANAN AWARD WATCH LIST: In the least surprising news to anyone who has followed the Griz this season, junior linebacker Dante Olson was added to the STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award Watch List over the bye week.

As the national leader in tackles, Olson has racked up 106 takedowns so far, an average of 15.1 per game, more than any player in Division-I football (FBS or FCS).

He needs just 25 more tackles over the next four games to break the school record for single-season stops. He’s also led the Griz in tackling in every game of the season, and amassed a whopping 24 tackles against Cal Poly, the second-most in UM history.

ROBBY FOR THE RICE: Tim Hauck remains UM’s second all-time leading tackler (tied with Colt Anderson) with 129 takedowns in a season and 305 on his career.

Freshman safety Robby Hauck (Tim’s nephew and coach Hauck’s son) is quickly catching up to his uncle, however.

As one of the top tacklers in the Big Sky and one of only three freshmen to rank among the top tacklers in the nation, Hauck was named to the STATS FCS Jerry Rice Award Watch List on Oct. 11 – the award presented to the nation’s top freshman performer.

Hauck is the third Grizzly in as many years to become a candidate for the award. After breaking a school record for catches in a game, Jerry Louie-McGee was named to the Rice Award watch list and finished seventh in the final vote. Former quarterback Gresch Jensen finished third in the 2017 voting.

Hauck is now the second-leading tackler on the team behind Dante Olson – who just happens to be the No. 1 tackler in the entire nation, at any level.

Following his career-high game at Cal Poly where he became the only freshman in FCS football to get in on 17 or more tackles this season, Hauck was given an honorable mention for the STATS FCS Freshman Player of the Week. Now he’s in the mix for Freshman of the Year honors.

COACH HAUCK MILESTONES: While Coach Hauck will tell you the only milestone he wants to set this week is another notch in the W column, he remains on the cusp of making UM history, needing just one more victory to tie the great Don Read as UM’s all-time win record at 85.

A win this week would also put him at 100 on his career, and would be his 50th all-time win in Big Sky play.

Some milestones have not been as savory, however, but are nice round numbers. The loss at UND was just the 20th Big Sky loss of Hauck’s career and the 70th on his head coaching record.

RECORD WATCH: With three catches at North Dakota to put him at 165, Jerry Louie-McGee passed the legendary Mac Mariani in career receptions, placing him at No. 8 on the all-time list.

Senior linebacker and Buchanan Award candidate Josh Buss also moved up the all-time tackler list at UM, now with 250 to his name. That total put him passed national champion linebacker Mike Bouchee, Dan Downs, and Kurt Schilling and tied him with fellow Buchanan Award candidate Trey Young at No. 23 on the school record list.

With just eight more tackles Buss could pass current UM coach Shann Shillinger’s record of 257 tackles.

TRENDING UP: Despite the loss at UND, Montana produced two 100-yard receivers for the first time since 2016 when James Hohman and Justin Calhoun each caught passes for 133 yards at Northern Arizona, also a loss for UM.

Samori Toure was seven yards shy of setting a new career high with 105 receiving yards against the Hawks, while Samuel Akem set a new personal best with 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Akem, a sophomore, has emerged as one of the premier pass catchers in the conference with six receiving touchdowns this season, ranking him No. 2 in the Big Sky and No. 17 in the nation in that category. The native of Broken Arrow, Okla., now has a pair of two-touchdown games this season.

FLOWERS POWER: Despite North Dakota not kicking a single ball toward return specialist Malik Flowers, the freshman is still ranked as the No. 1 kick returner in the Big Sky, and is now ranked No. 5 in the nation with 485 return yards this season.

QUICK HITS: Once a prolific receiver for the Griz, Justin Calhoun nabbed his first career interception since moving over to the defense at North Dakota.

Freshman Marcus Welnel got in on a special teams highlight against the Hawks, blocking a UND punt. The last Grizzly to block a punt? The ever-present Dante Olson against Northern Colorado in 2017.

Cornerback Dareon Nash posted a career-high six tackles against UND.

SCOUTING THE AGGIES

After three-straight games against a run-first offense, the UC Davis Aggies bring their pass-happy approach to Missoula this week and won’t be shy about airing the ball out.

All-everything quarterback Jake Maier (a two-time candidate for the Walter Payton Award) leads an Aggie offense that has thrown 10 touchdown passes and scored 96 points in the last two games.

In fact, the only game the Aggies haven’t scored more than 40 points? Their 30-10 loss at the hands of the Pac-12’s Stanford Cardinal. That stretch of offensive explosions also includes a 44-38 opening-weekend win over the Mountain West’s San Jose State Spartans.

Senior receiver Keelan Doss, a 2017 Payton Award finalist, and multiple-time All-American will also be an important mark for Montana’s defense, as the nation’s No. 4 leader in receptions, averaging 8.7 per game.

“He (Maier) has started a whole bunch of games, and they’re skilled at wide receiver. They’ve got good running backs, and they play well up front, they go fast, so, there are certain things they do that will be hard to get a handle on. Hopefully, we’ll get matched up and slow them down a little bit,” said Hauck.

Defensively the Aggies are led by Moe Mason, who is tied with Dante Olson for the second-most sacks in the Big Sky at five and has posted the league’s second-most TFLs at 10.

Naturally, a good passing team has a defense that is used to defending the deep ball, and the Aggies’ Vincent White is no exception. White, a senior DB, is the Big Sky leader in passes defended by a large margin this season with 13 breakups, while the Aggies have hauled in the third-most interceptions in the Big Sky with 10.

UP NEXT: The Griz hit the road for two-straight games starting with a trip to Cedar City, Utah to take on the defending Big Sky Champion Southern Utah Thunderbirds on Nov. 3, followed by a renewed rivalry at Idaho on Nov. 10 in Moscow.