It's another huge top-10 matchup in the Big Sky as No. 3 Weber State football (8-2, 6-0 Big Sky) travels to face No. 5 Montana (8-2, 5-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday.
1. Montana is kind of going through now what Weber State did to start the season with its quarterback situation and injuries. How has Cam Humphrey fared at QB with Dalton Sneed hurt, what are his strengths and what's the latest on Sneed after playing a bit last week but possibly leaving hurt again?
Gogola: Cam Humphrey is more of a pocket passer than Dalton Sneed, who’s a dual-threat weapon. Humphrey can still scramble well when needed. He arguably throws a better deep ball with a tighter spiral, although Sneed is more than capable with being accurate on deep shots. Humphrey was picked off for the first two times in his career this past Saturday against Idaho, throwing them on two of his first three drives. He had gone 112 passes without one.
Sneed is a more dynamic player and has the experience, starting 18 games at Montana compared to three for Humphrey. He returned from his Oct. 19 injury in the second quarter this past Saturday but left after taking a hard hit in the fourth quarter. Coach Bobby Hauck said they’d see how Sneed feels this week. We probably won’t know if he’ll play until game time, but I’d bet Sneed plays. I don’t think there’s any way he sits out this game unless he’s seriously injured because he’s such a competitor. He brings the energy to Montana’s offense.
2. Aside from the incomparable Dante Olson, how has Montana found its success in stopping the run and are there any comparables for Weber State's defense that the Griz have faced so far?
Gogola: Montana’s young defensive front, especially the D-line, has really come to life in the past three games, totaling 20 TFLs and 13 sacks. They’re finally getting pressure into the backfield and had Portland State quarterback Davis Alexander running for his life most of the second half two weeks ago.
Jesse Sims, the lone senior on the line, is a bit of a wrecking ball at nose tackle. Redshirt freshman DE Alex Gubner leads the team with three INTs, getting his hands up at the line or dropping back into underneath coverage.
Montana LB Jace Lewis has followed in the steps of Dante Olson, roaming the field to make tackles, highlighted by a career-three sacks at Portland State. Linebacker Patrick O’Connell leads the team in sacks and has brought a high-energy motor in his first season after transferring from Division II. Safety Robby Hauck, coach Hauck’s son, is a hard-hitting safety who regularly seems to make his way to the ball.
I’d say the defense most like Weber State that the Griz have seen is probably Sac State because of the D-line. The Hornets also have a strong rush defense and ability to get into the backfield. They regularly set up camp in the Grizzlies’ backfield. Weber State and Sac State seem similar in terms of D-line depth, although the Wildcats may be more physically formidable compared to the speed the Hornets showed.
3. Montana's only FCS slip-up came at Sacramento State, a game it surprisingly lost by four touchdowns. What went wrong in that game and what are some things the Griz have or are fixing that might have been exposed that night?
Gogola: An untimely turnover, dropped passes and an INT, and a season-high six sacks allowed helped doom Montana. Also, Sac State had chunk passing plays with some acrobatic catches to expose Montana’s pass defense, its weak point. The Griz were well out of the game by the time Sneed injured his right ankle in the third quarter of the game. The 49 points and 561 yards they gave up were both season highs, and that includes a game at FBS Oregon.
Portland State got similar pressure with five sacks, but Montana’s wide receivers were able to win one-on-one battles for long pass plays. In the Grizzlies’ other two games since Sac State, they allowed just one sack against Eastern Washington and Idaho. The pass defense also hasn’t given up over 300 yards since allowing Sac State to throw for 400; the Griz are 6-0 when holding teams under 300 pass yards. More pertinent for Weber, they’re 7-0 when holding teams under 150 rush yards and 1-2 when giving up more than 150.
Montana has largely been a second-half team. The Griz are outscoring teams 101-27 in the fourth quarter and 234-80 in the second half. The first quarter has still been their worst, getting outscored 52-34.
4. Who are the top playmakers on the Montana offense? Samori Toure and Samuel Akem look like quite the potent receiving duo.
Gogola: Samori Toure changed his number in the offseason after a disappointing sophomore year, and he’s re-emerged with a fury. He’s gone over 125 receiving yards four times in 10 games this year and had the first game of his career with multiple TDs, grabbing three at Portland State.
Sammy Akem is another deep threat for the Griz, although he got banged up, left in the first quarter and didn’t return this past week. We probably won’t know if he’ll play until game time. Senior wideout Jerry Louie-McGee has improved his route running and is the school’s career receptions leader. He’s also an electric return man, tying the school record with three career punt-return TDs.
Running back Marcus Knight has 16 rushing scores in his first season as a JUCO transfer, showing an ability to find the hole and burst through it, although Idaho’s defensive front stonewalled Montana’s run game at times. Knight’s 17 total TDs this season are tied for the fourth most in a single season in school history.
True freshman running back Nick Ostmo has been a capable backup, bringing physicality to the position. Hauck isn’t afraid to bench players who fumble, going to Ostmo for the rest of the first half this past week after Knight fumbled on the second possession.
5. It's been nine seasons since Montana won the Big Sky, which seems crazy. With that in reach with two weeks left, I'd imagine the anticipation and atmosphere for this game will be quite high. Is it safe to assume a sell-out and a rabid crowd at Washington-Grizzly?
Gogola: I hope it’s a sell-out this Saturday, although it’s currently hunting season and that could affect the size. The crowd felt a little underwhelming this past week against Idaho, a regional rival that hadn’t played in Missoula since 2003 in their trophy game. Being in this position with a shot at the Big Sky title is what Montana has been working toward since Bobby Hauck returned in December 2017. Even he said after the win over Idaho that he thinks his team is a year ahead of schedule.
At No. 3, Weber State will be the highest-ranked team the Griz have hosted since beating No. 1 North Dakota State to open the 2015 season. No Weber State player has probably played in Washington-Grizzly Stadium because the Wildcats last visited in 2015. They better be prepared for the noise if the Griz fans show out, especially from the north end zone, which is known to cause opposing teams to false start at that end of the field.