OGDEN — Weber State football’s rematch against Montana is again a matchup of all the same things the game was on Nov. 16: the high-flying Griz offense (38.8 points, 453 yards per game) against the conference-best Wildcats defense (20.9 points, 341.4 yards per game allowed).
Weber State will still need to slow down Montana’s connection between quarterback Dalton Sneed and receiver Samori Toure in Friday night’s playoff quarterfinal (8 p.m. MST, ESPN2). Toure was a non-factor in road losses to Sacramento State (three catches, 31 yards) and Montana State (four catches, 55 yards) but WSU saw first-hand that Toure is capable of grabbing momentum for the Griz with two big-play touchdowns and eight catches for 193 yards.
Then Toure hauled in 12 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns last week in a second-round win over Southeastern Louisiana, a playoff record yardage total. So, that will remain a priority for WSU’s defense and could come into focus as weather looms over Friday’s game, possibly threatening the effectiveness of air attacks on either side.
The forecast in Ogden calls for a rain/snow mix for much of Thursday and Friday, with an 80% chance of precipitation turning to snow when the sun sets at 5 p.m. Friday, accumulating 1 to 3 inches with a temperature of 32 degrees.
The battle of the trenches could, therefore, be paramount, as well as Weber State’s general need to run the football efficiently to be effective on offense. WSU’s running-back trio should be fresh. In the last three weeks, over two games, Josh Davis has only carried the ball 23 times, Kevin Smith 10 times and Kris Jackson just once. The first two, plus the third if available, should all be ready to carry the load in cold, snowy conditions.
Here are other storylines for the game, as described by WSU head coach Jay Hill, senior defensive end Jonah Williams and junior quarterback Jake Constantine:
FACING MONTANA AGAIN
“It’s perfect. That’s what you want late in the playoffs. You’ve got two hard-nosed teams that I believe play really good football. We’re in the top eight in the country and I know both of us have the goal to be better than that. I think we’re getting everything we want.” — Jay Hill
“Just taking the same approach. You can’t really do too much different, you just have to be more disciplined and fix the little details you messed up in the last game (at Montana) for all three of our groups — special teams, offense and defense, I think we all had a hiccup in what we were doing ... It wasn’t anything too drastic we were messing up, so I think just pay attention to the little details.” — Jake Constantine
“They get a lot of attention in the Big Sky and, I guess, we’re just here to prove more than just a win ... it’s to show dominance in the Big Sky ... Physicality. Our defense is the most physical defense in the Big Sky. We’ve got to show that, we didn’t necessarily show that when we went up there last time.” — Jonah Williams
A NEW STANDARD
“(Winning) would mean a lot … that would be the furthest we’ve been, set a new standard for the school. Right now it’s that quarterfinal mark. So getting past that and setting expectations for the younger guys, too ... everyone’s excited to get done with finals and just be focused on football. I think the talk is getting past the quarterfinals. We’ve been there for two years. Getting past the quarterfinals and getting a shot at the national championship.” — Jonah Williams
CALLING FOR A CROWD
“We need a great crowd out on a Friday night. We’re calling on all the faithful, get out, all the Utahns, get out and support us. It should make a huge difference. I thought the crowd did a great job of motivating them and getting them to play great up there a couple weeks ago. We’re excited to be playing right now ... this particular week, it’s only us in town. We want people out, we want them to come see what product we put on the field. I really believe we’ll play great this week.” — Jay Hill
“It’s always nice with the new facility, it’s a huge upgrade and I think it’s a cool playoff atmosphere. You’ve got ESPN2 on air for us, a national televised game, you’ve got to be pumped up just for that. And a night game is always exciting. Hopefully we get a lot of people out here to make it even more amped.” — Jake Constantine
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Sportsbook 5dimes shows Montana as a 2.5-point favorite in the contest. Combined with the over-under of 55.5, the odds suggest a Montana win of about 29-27.
Jeff Sagarin‘s famed rating and prediction model ranks all of Division I, both FBS and FCS. Weber State is ranked 93rd and Montana is 86th (out of 256 teams). With WSU playing at home, his model favors the Wildcats by 0.38 points, essentially a pick ‘em.
Bill Connelly, a renowned football analyst now working for ESPN, published his statistical predictions on Twitter that favor Montana by 0.5 points at 51% probability, another virtual pick ‘em.