By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies ride a wave of momentum from an important Homecoming win against NAU down to the Golden State on Saturday to take on a winless, yet dangerous UC Davis team just outside of Sacramento, Calif.
Kickoff is set for 2:10 p.m. Mountain Time from Aggie Stadium.
THE GAME: Montana moved up a spot in both the FCS Coaches’ poll and the STATS FCS media poll to No. 12/13 respectively after a fast start for the Griz led to a 23-14 defeat of Northern Arizona. UM now sits in the middle of the early Big Sky Conference standings at 1-0 (BSC) and 2-2 overall.
UC Davis enters the game at 0-4, having started the season off with strong, but ultimately losing performances against strong teams. The Aggies fell to Nevada Reno to start the season 17-31, South Dakota 17-27, Hawai’i 27-47, and North Dakota by a touchdown, 24-31.
This marks the first game for the Griz in 2015 where the opponent has not been in the STATS FCS national rankings conversation.
SERIES/LAST MEETING: Montana leads the short series history 6-0, including a 42-28 win over the Aggies last season in Missoula. Four of UM’s six wins against Davis have come since the Aggies promoted its football program to NCAA Division I after more than 30 years competing at the DII level.
Originally joining the now defunct Great West Conference, UC Davis officially became a member of the Big Sky Conference in 2013. The First conference game between the two schools was that year at Davis, a 42-7 win for the Griz.
TV/STREAMING: ROOT Sports Network and DirecTV’s Audience Network will broadcast the game as part of ROOT’s Big Sky Conference coverage. Tom Glasgow will bring you the play by play, with analyst Jason Styles and Jen Mueller on the sideline. To find ROOT sports in your area, see local listings.
ROOT SPORTS regional sports networks are operated by DIRECTV Sports Networks LLC in the Southwest, Northwest, Pittsburgh and Rocky Mountain regions. The four networks combined reach approximately 13.1 million households across 22 states.
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Fans can also follow LIVE play-by-play action on Twitter via the Grizzlies official handle, @UMGRIZZLIES_FB.
GRIZ RADIO: Veteran play-by-play man Mick Holien takes the mic at Davis for his 23rd season as “Voice of the Griz”. Greg Sundberg joins Holien in the booth this after four seasons as sideline reporter. Adam Painter will be your sideline reporter. Live broadcast can be heard statewide on the Grizzly Sports Radio Network, and worldwide on gogriz.com. Visit gogriz.com for a complete station listing.
JONES WATCH: Senior captain Jamaal Jones added 113 more yards to his season receiving total to put him at 486 on the year, and 2,290 career yards. Jones’ new total moves him past Bill Cockhill (2,257) into 10th place on the all-time receivers list, and only 12 yards shy of passing both Etu Molden (2,300) and Joe Douglass (2,301).
Jones currently sits third in the Big Sky Conference in receiving yards per game at 121, and second in all purpose yards averaging 129 per game.
HENDO WATCH: Montana’s other most prolific receiver this season, Ellis Henderson, continues to climb the all-time rankings as well. To date, Henderson has 318 yards in 2015, putting him at 1,686 for his career, and into 22nd place on the all-time list with another full season to play in 2016.
HOLMES GOES BIG: Tyrone Holmes came within a sack of breaking Tim Bush’s 2002 school record for most in a game with a four-sack performance against NAU. Holmes tied his own career high for sacks in a game, matching a 2012 four-sack performance he put in against Idaho State.
For his effort, Holmes took home the STATS FCS national Defensive Player of the Week, as well as the Big Sky Conference ROOT Sports Defensive Player of the Week.
Holmes is currently the nation’s leader in total sacks, averaging two per game. He is also ranked second in the country in tackles for loss, averaging 2.4 per game.
OTHER RANKINGS: Kicker Daniel Sullivan leads the FCS in field goals per game, averaging 2.25 per contest. “Sully” is ranked fourth in the Big Sky Conference in total scoring, with 35 points to his name, kicking 81.8 percent in field goals.
Kendrick Van Ackeren has had the fourth best single game tackling performance in the nation this season, putting in 20 tackles against Cal Poly on Sept. 5 in Missoula.
The Griz Breakdown
Sitting third in the Big Sky Conference in total offense, averaging 445 yards per game, the Griz haven’t had much in the way of issues moving the ball down the field. One of the reasons Dan Sullivan is currently the best field goal kicker in the nation however is that the Griz are ranked sixth in the conference in red zone offense, with only six TDs in 19 visits inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.
The Griz are ranked just above Cal Poly at the bottom of the conference in total rushing offense with 432 yards on 132 attempts. Coach Stitt pointed to the need to continue to establish the run as a key to victory against the Aggies.
Chad Chalich barely missed a beat filling the starting QB role for an injured Brady Gustafson, leading a Montana passing offense that ranks second in the Big Sky Conference averaging 337 yards per game in the air.
The Griz secondary will have to account for Davis wide receiver Chris Martin, a junior who is averaging 82.2 yards per game on the season including a 123-yard performance against FBS foe Hawai’i. Martin’s 23.5 average per catch is ninth-best in the FCS and second in the Big Sky.
Aggie QB Ben Scott, also a junior, is sitting fifth in the Big Sky in total offense, averaging 218 yards in the air per contest and putting seven TDs on the board. Scott sits behind only Brady Gustafson for most passes completed in a game, with 32 against FBS Nevada Reno.
Defensive Coordinator Ty Gregorak’s unit has been nothing short of outstanding this season, with six of its starters putting in 20 tackles or more, led by Kendrick Van Ackeren’s 46 total take downs.
UC Davis Manusamoa Luuga has been putting plenty of yards under his feet, with rushing the ball 40 more times than any other Aggie, highlighted by a career-high 89 yards against FBS Hawaii.