By ERIC TABER
The No. 22 Montana Grizzlies are back on the proverbial horse this weekend, on the road to Pocatello, Idaho to face the Bengals of Idaho State in a must win Big Sky matchup for the Griz.
Montana (4-4, 3-2 BSC) will take on Coach Mike Kramer’s Idaho State Bengals (2-6, 1-4 BSC) with everything to play for as the Grizzles enter the home stretch of the regular season.
The Griz will look to rebound (and dry off) from a 35-16 road loss last week to a now, top-10 Portland State outfit that has sent two FBS schools packing already this season.
THE GAME: The Grizzlies will bus to Pocatello for the 56th match up between the two programs. Montana is currently sitting in a tie with NAU for fourth place in the Big Sky conference and at No. 22 in the national rankings. Portland State, EWU and Southern Utah remain in front of the Griz in the Big Sky standings.
The Bengals, who started the season ranked No. 22/24 in the national rankings, and were picked along side the Griz to finish third in the Big Sky preseason poll with 446 points each, will host the game looking to snap a two game losing streak. ISU comes into the game tied for the final spot on the Big Sky table with a 1-4 conference record.
With a victory in Pocatello, the Griz will remain in the hunt for a record 23rd appearance in the FCS playoffs. In all likelihood the Grizzlies must win out, and do enough down the home stretch to impress the selection committee if they are to earn a trip to the playoffs.
ISU has not been to the FCS playoffs since 1982. That year, the Bengals beat Montana 28-14 in Pocatello.
LAST MEETING: The Griz racked up 605 total yards of offense against the Bengals at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in 2012, leading to a dominant 70-24 win over ISU.
Montana scored on its first eight possessions as the Griz rushed 61 times for 379 yards and 6 touchdowns, and racked up 605 total yards and narrowly missed a school record by picking up 33 first downs.
Tyrone Holmes, then a true freshman, introduced himself to Griz nation in that game, posting four sacks for the first time in his career (a feat he repeated this season against NAU) and collecting nine tackles.
Idaho State senior running back Xavier Finney (a 2015 preseason Big Sky all-conference selection) was also a freshman in that game, and led the Bengals in rushing with eight carries for 47 yards.
Shay Smithwich-Hann threw for 205 yards, and John Nguyen’s older brother Peter led UM in rushing with 107 yards.
SERIES HISTORY: Montana leads the all-time series with Idaho State 42-13, and leads 38-13 since ISU joined the Big Sky Conference in 1963.
The Grizzlies are 27-2 over the Bengals since 1984, with the last UM loss occurring in 2003, 43-40 in double-overtime. Ten of Montana’s 13 all-time losses to the Bengals have come in Pocatello.
TV: The Montana/Idaho 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 providing analysis. Shaun Rainey will be on the sidelines.
See a complete list of Cowles Montana Media stations here.
STREAMING: 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.
GRIZ IN THE RANKINGS: Following the loss at PSU, the Grizzlies slide down to No. 22 on both the STATS FCS media poll and the FCS Coaches’ poll this week, down from No. 17 the week previous.
The Grizzlies received 609 votes in the media poll and 83 points in the Coaches’ poll. UM is tied in the Coaches’ poll at No. 22 with the Citadel, and is one place ahead of Montana State.
Montana has been in the FCS STATS (formerly Sports Network) and FCS Coaches’ top-25 for 39 straight weeks, dating back to Aug. 26, 2013. The last time the Griz dropped out of the rankings was October 1, 2012.
CRITTENDEN WATCH: Griz senior defensive end Derek Crittenden has had a good week in the classroom, and that’s putting it lightly.
In the span of about 10 days, Crittenden has been named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team, been selected as a finalist for the “Academic Heisman” – the William V. Campbell Trophy, and named a finalist for the biggest award in all of academia, the Rhodes Scholarship.
These awards are in addition to the demands of being a Grizzly starter and team captain. Crittenden is the seventh leading tackler on the team this season with 37 total takedowns, three tackles-for-loss, a sack, and a safety.
HOLMES WATCH: Senior Defensive End Tyrone Holmes remains on the STATS FCS Defensive Player of the Year award (Formally the Buck Buchanan Award) watch list, and for good reason. Holmes leads the Big Sky conference and all of FCS football in sacks with 11, and tackles-for-loss with 15 on the year. His TFL total places him ninth in the nation.
His 11 sacks rank him fifth on the all-time leader list at Montana with 27.5 to his name, putting him behind Andy Petek (’97-’00) who had 29 career sacks.
Holmes is the leader of the Grizzly Defense, which ranks seventh in the nation in total sacks, averaging three per game.
JONES WATCH: Senior wide receiver and team captain Jamaal Jones had a quiet game at Portland in the wet conditions, accounting for 30 yards on two receptions. Those thirty yards however moved him up the all time receiving list at UM, past Raul Pachecho (’95-’98) and into sixth place.
Jones now has 2,551 career receiving yards, and sits just 10 yards shy of Shalon Baker’s (’91-’94) all time record, just 16 yards shy of passing Jon Talmage (’02-’05) on the list, and 24 yards shy of passing Scott Gurnsey to move into third place on the all time receiving yards list.
GSA TAILGATE: The Grizzly Scholarship Association will once again be hosting a tailgate party for Griz fans traveling to Pocatello for the game. The event takes place inside BengalFest, located just north of Holt Arena, is open to the public, and will have food and drinks for sale. The tailgate starts two hours before kickoff at 12:30 p.m.
ATTENDANCE LEADERS: Montana once again leads the Big Sky Conference in total attendance, including games played by other schools at FBS venues.
Over eight games, 169,024 people have shown up to watch the Griz in action, averaging 21,128 per contest. The next closest comparison is Cal Poly who have had a total of 136,803 people see them play, which includes games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona where 46,000 showed up to see the Mustangs take on the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Washington-Grizzly Stadium has seen 129,187 fans move the turnstiles over five home games so far this season, averaging 25,873 each game. The official capacity of Washington-Grizzly Stadium is 25,217. A new stadium record of 26,472 was set against North Dakota State on August 29.