By ERIC TABER
Fresh off a key home victory against North Dakota, the Montana Grizzlies travel to Oregon this week to face a white-hot Portland State outfit that has been the surprise of the Big Sky Conference, sitting at 6-1 (3-1 BSC) on the season highlighted by two wins over FBS opponents.
The No. 17 Grizzlies (4-3, 3-1 BSC) sit in control of its own post-season destiny with another key Big Sky matchup against the No. 12 Vikings on the horizon and conference implications abound.
Bot teams enter the game with a 3-1 record in Big Sky play. PSU’s lone conference loss came at the hands of North Dakota in Portland; the same team the Grizzlies defeated 42-16 in Washington-Grizzly Stadium last week.
The Vikings, on the other hand, endured a two days down, and two days back bus trip from Oregon to San Louis Obispo, Calif. to defeat Cal Poly 38-35, who defeated Montana 19-20 in September.
THE GAME: UM travels to Portland for only the Grizzlies’ third road trip of the season. UM is 1-1 on the road this year, The Viking’s only loss came at home at Providence Park on Oct. 3, a 17-19 loss to North Dakota.
Portland State is riding a three-game winning streak since that loss to UND, that includes wins over North Texas (FBS) and Montana State, in addition to last week’s win over Cal Poly.
Both the Griz and Vikings are tied for second in the Big Sky standings with a .750 win percentage in league play. Knotted at the top of the conference are Southern Utah and Eastern Washington, who are both 4-0 in the league.
Portland State is in its first season of “Barney Ball” under new head coach Bruce Barnum. The Vikings return 16 starters (six offense, eight defense, two special teams) from the team that 3-9 in 2014.
LAST MEETING: The 2013 Grizzlies (then ranked No. 10) scored on five of their first six possessions, and the defense had a pair of impressive goal-line stands in a 55-27 victory over Portland State in UM’s Homecoming game.
Montana had 581 yards of total offense with 378 of them on the ground. Portland state suffered four turnovers as well. It was UM’s eighth win in a row over PSU, and the Vikings’ tenth-straight loss in Missoula.
SERIES HISTORY: Montana leads the all time series with Portland State 29-11, with the Grizzlies taking home wins in 15 of the last 17 games, dating back to 1989.
Montana, enjoying a large fan base in Portland, leads the all-time series of games played in the Rose City 12-8, and leads the series of games played in the Garden City 17-3. Since the Vikings joined the Big Sky Conference in 1996, Montana leads the series 15-2.
Montana’s last loss to PSU came in 2004, when the Vikings defeated the Griz 35-32 in Portland.
TV/STREAMING: The Montana/Portland State game will be shown on Cowles Montana Media stations statewide and in Washington.
Chris Byers will provide the play-by-play, with color commentary by former Griz head coach Mick Delaney and Grady Bennett providing analysis. Shaun Rainey will be on the sidelines. See a complete list of Cowles stations HERE.
As this is a conference game not picked up by the Big Sky’s broadcast partner ROOT Sports, the game will be available for live streaming free of charge at WatchBigSky.com.
Fans can also follow the LIVE play-by-play action via twitter @UMGRIZZLIES_FB.
RADIO: The game will be broadcast state wide on the Montana Grizzlies Radio Network, and the audio will be streamed live at GoGriz.com/AllAccess.
RANKINGS: The Grizzlies move up to No. 17 in both the FCS STATS media poll and the FCS Coaches’ poll after the win over North Dakota.
The Griz move up two places from No. 19 in the STATS FCS media poll with 1281 points, and UM remains one spot ahead of Montana State in the FCS Coaches’ Poll, moving up from No. 18 with 216 points.
SUPER SIMIS: Sophomore QB Makena Simis had himself a day in his first start ever as a Grizzly, tying the Montana school record with six touchdown passes in a game against North Dakota.
Simis, went 16-23 passing for 323 yards, and earned the ROOT Sports Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week Award.
JONES WATCH: Jamaal Jones led all receivers against UND with 139 yards, moving him into No. 7 on the all-time receiving list, and now sitting just six yards behind Raul Pacheco in sixth place. 74 of Jones’ yards came on a single pass form Simis, now ranked as tied for the 11th longest TD pass in Griz history.
Jones moves into the all-time touchdown reception list with five this season, putting him at 16 career touchdown catches, one more than receivers coach Mike Ferriter had in his career at UM. Jones’ 16 TD catches place him at No. 14 on the all-time ranking.
HENDO WATCH: Ellis Henderson now has 522 receiving yards on the season, putting him at 1,890 career yards for the Griz with a season yet to play. That total moves him up the all-time rankings for career receiving yards to No. 17
Henderson also moves up on the all-time touchdown reception list to tied for seventh most TD catches in UM history with 21 to his name. Hendo is tied with Jimmy Farris who played form ’97-’01. Marc Mariani holds the UM record for TD receptions with 29. Again… Henderson still has a year to play.
HOLMES WATCH: Montana Defensive End and Tyrone Holmes remains on the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year watch list, and keeps making a case for himself to win the award too.
Holmes now has 11 sacks on the season, and 27.5 career sacks at Montana, placing him at No. 5 on the all-time sack leader list for the Griz.
Holmes is now tied with Jason Crebo for the most career tackles-for-loss ever for the Griz at 39.
GRIZ D: Montana’s defense continues to strangle potent offenses around the Big Sky Conference. UM sits fourth in total defense in the league, and second in the conference in pass defense, allowing an average of just 176.5 yards in the air.
The Griz have a “bend don’t break” ability, sitting third in the Big Sky in scoring defense, allowing an average of 22.8 points per game.
Kendrick Van Ackeren remains second in the Big Sky in total tackles, averaging 8.7 take downs per game, and a total of 52 on the year so far.
Van Ackeren also leads the conference in fumbles recovered this season with two. A figure that could have been much higher had the ball bounced the other way against North Dakota, who had multiple fumbles, only to be recovered by the visitors.
PUNTS: Chris Lider has been excellent when called upon with is boot in the punting game for Montana. The Griz sit third in the conference in punting, with an average net of 39.3 per-kick, less than two yards shorter than the No. 1 team in the category, NAU.