By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies take on the University of North Dakota on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula for the first time since UND joined the Big Sky Conference in 2013, and for only the third time at UM since 1963.
The No. 18/19 Griz (3-3, 2-1 BSC) are coming off a bye week sitting one game out of first place in the Big Sky Conference, as UND (4-3, 2-2 BSC) is coming off an upset loss at Weber State a week ago, putting them one game behind UM in the league standings.
Stockman Bank is the presenting sponsor of this week’s Grizzly home game.
The annual Griz for Kids Toy Drive will also be held during the UM/UND game.
Fans have the opportunity to help the Griz give back to the community by donating new, unwrapped toys so that area kids can have a brighter holiday season.
Toys or cash can be donated at any of the seven Griz for Kids drop boxes located around Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Griz will face a UND attack similar to the Weber State ground attack that chewed up 253 rushing yards against UM two weeks prior.
Coach Stitt says the keys to the game lie in protecting the ball when the Griz have it, and holding the Big Sky’s fourth best rushing attack in UND contained on defense.
“Don’t turn it over on offense. Let our defense play and let us get some opportunities through our defense,” said Stitt on his weekly radio show.
“The biggest thing is to keep them honest with the run and the pass, but not turning it over and then have catastrophic plays. We have to stop the run too. We can’t let them grind out these six and seven minute drives, that’s what hurt us last week.”
The Grizzlies are looking to rebound after a 24-21 overtime loss to Weber State two weeks ago that gave the Wildcats it’s first victory over UM in Missoula in 13 tries. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
North Dakota is looking to snap a two-game losing streak, dropping its last two outings against Idaho State (23-25) and Weber State (24-25). UND has either won or lost six of its seven games this season by seven points or less, the only exception being a 34-9 loss to North Dakota State in Fargo, the same team the Griz defeated to open the 2015 season.
UND’s season is highlighted by a 24-13 win over FBS foe Wyoming in Laramie to open the season.
Kicker Daniel Sullivan kicked a 35-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Griz to an 18-15 victory in Grand Forks, N.D.
UND scored 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points to tie the game at 15 with 5:49 to play. UND had a chance to kick a game winning field goal, but the 40-yard attempt was blocked by UM’s then-freshman center Robert Luke.
On the first play from scrimmage on UM’s ensuing drive, senior quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann connected with Jamaal Jones for a 46-yard pass completion to the UND 10-yard line. Two plays later Sullivan kicked the game-winner.
The Griz lead the all-time series with North Dakota 13-8-1. UM has won three of the last four games played since UND moved to Division 1, with the last loss being a 30-40 defeat in Grand Forks when UND was a member of the Great West Conference.
The last time UND traveled to Missoula was 2010, a 27-17 victory for the Griz.
Montana and North Dakota played a series of 11 games between 1960 and 1973 that featured only one game in Missoula (1963), with the rest played in Grand Forks or Billings, Mont.
TV/STREAMING: ROOT SPORTS network will broadcast the game as part of its Big Sky Conference coverage. Tom Glasgow will be doing play by play, along with analyst Jason Stiles and Jen Mueller on the sideline. To find Root Sports in your area, see the channel finder on gogriz.com
The game will also be seen on ROOT SPORTS Rocky Mountain, Southwest Alt 1, DIRECTV Audience Network & AT&T U-Verse.
No web stream will be available due to the Big Sky Conference media rights agreement with Root Sports.
Fans can also follow LIVE play-by-play action on Twitter via the Grizzlies official handle, @UMGRIZZLIES_FB.
GRIZ RADIO: The “Voice of the Griz” Mick Holien will make the play-by-play call in his 23rd season in the booth for the Griz. Greg Sundberg will serve as analyst and color commentator while Adam Painter will provide reports from the sideline.
The game can be heard statewide on the Montana Radio Network, and worldwide via web stream on gogriz.com.
RANKINGS: The Griz bumped up a spot on both the FCS Coaches’ poll and the FCS STATS media poll during the bye week to No. 18/19 respectively. UM leapfrogs Montana State after the Bobcats lost 59-42 at Portland State. MSU slides down the rankings to No. 19/21, allowing for the Griz to move up a spot.
PASSING TO JONES: Despite the loss of two quarterbacks to injury, the Grizzly passing offense ranks as the tenth-best in FCS football, averaging 309.7 yards per game.
Jamaal Jones leads all Montana receivers with 579 yards on the year. Jones now has 2,383 career yards and sits in eighth place on Montana’s all-time receiving list, just 19 yards behind Jeremy Watkins. Jones is 145 yards shy of surpassing Raul Pacheco on the all-time list, and moving into sixth place.
The UND game marks the halfway point of the season. If Jones continues his average of 96.5 yards per game, he will finish the season with 2,866 yards, and finish his time in Missoula with the second most career receiving yards in UM history.
SACK MASTERS: The Grizzlies enter the game against UND leading the nation in Sacks with Tyrone Holmes leading the charge on 11. UM’s 23 total sacks leads the Big Sky Conference as well, followed by North Dakota, who’s defense boasts 18 sacks on the season.
UND’s Austin Cieslak, Will Ratele, and Brandon Dranka are all on the Big Sky top-20 sack list with three total sacks each.
*Tyrone Holmes is currently sitting at 26 careers sacks for the Griz, putting him at No. 6 on the all-time career sack list at UM with half of his senior season left to play.
Holmes will need two more sacks to surpass Mike Murphy who played at UM from ’03-’06, and four more sacks to surpass Andy Petek who sits at No. 4 on the all-time list. Montana’s all-time leader in sacks is Zack Wagenmann who totaled 37.5 in his career.
Two other Grizzlies are on the Big Sky Conference sack leader board. No. 37 Caleb Kidder sits third in the conference, averaging .60 per game and three total from two solos and one assist. Tucker Schye is tied at No. 6 in the Big Sky with three assisted sacks, and an average of .5 per game.
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Tyrone Holmes has also totaled a Big Sky best 11.5 TFLs this season, and now has 37 on his career, placing him at No. 7 on the UM all-time TFL list, just two behind Jason Crebo, who played from ’94-’97.
TACKLE LEADERS: In just six games, Kendrick Van Ackeren has racked up a total of 74 tackles so far this season, making him the second-most prolific tackler in the Big Sky behind Sac State’s Darnell Sankey who has amassed 66 tackles, but played in seven games.
Van Ackeren’s 74 take downs is also good enough to put him at No. 7 in the nation for tackles this season.
The transfer from Hawaii now has 225 career take downs, putting him in the top-40 all-time tacklers at UM. If he keeps his average of 12.3 tackles per game up this season, he will be one of the top-15 tacklers of all time for the Griz.
Jeremiah Kose sits close behind Van Ackeren on the Big Sky tackle rankings in a tie for fourth place with 58 tackles on the season.
KICKING GAME: Senior kicker Daniel Sullivan leads the Big Sky Conference, averaging 1.5 field goals per game, and a 75-percent strike rate on 9-12 with the boot.
IT’S ALL IN THE NAME: North Dakota has undergone a lengthy process to change the school’s athletic nickname. The University of North Dakota officially retired the “Fighting Sioux” nickname in 2012.
Voting for a new athletic nickname takes place this week (Oct. 19-23). A new athletic nickname could be chosen from the following list of potential winners by game time on Saturday.
The five finalists (in alphabetical order): Fighting Hawks, Nodaks, North Stars, Rough Riders, Sundogs.