MISSOULA — There's a lot riding on Montana's game against No. 18 Northern Arizona.
It's Northern Arizona head coach Jerome Souers' last game against Montana at the helm of the Lumberjack program. He's been at Northern Arizona for 20 years — longer than some of his players have been alive.
Souers coached the Grizzlies from 1986-1997. He coached defensive backs for his first two seasons and earned the role as defensive coordinator from 1989 to the end of his tenure in Missoula.
And, of course, there are playoff implications.
But winning isn't going to be easy.
Here are some Lumberjacks to watch this weekend:
Scouting the Jacks' offense
QB Case Cookus: Montana was lucky last season that Cookus was on the bench. If Cookus hadn't have been injured and out for the season, the loss in Flagstaff could have been worse.
Montana's seen Cookus before, back in his freshman season. NAU's game against UM was Cookus' fourth career start. He completed 13 of 22 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked eight times.
He went on to win the Jerry Rice Award — the FCS accolade for best freshman — and the CFPA FCS National Performer of the Year Trophy that season.
He's up for the CFPA accolade again, as that was announced Tuesday, and for good reason. Cookus is dominating in the pocket and will more than likely play better against Montana than he did in 2015.
He's ranked nationally in nearly every statistic a quarterback can be ranked in:
- No. 6 in completions per game — 25.38
- No. 7 in passing yards — 2,468
- No. 7 in passing yards per game — 328.9
- No. 9 in total offense — 324.3
- No. 13 in passing touchdowns — 19
- No. 14 in points responsible for — 126
- No. 15 in points responsible for per game — 15.8
- No. 38 in passing yards per completion — 12.96
- No. 39 in yards per pass attempt — 7.63
- No. 40 in passing efficiency — 138.9
Because of that success this year, Cookus has won the FCS National Offensive Player of the Week award once and the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week award twice.
WR/KR Elijah Marks: Marks makes a mark on Northern Arizona's offense too, just like Cookus.
He's Northern Arizona's go-to receiver with 54 receptions, 945 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
His 945 receiving yards are fourth nationwide and second in the conference.
But he's not just an offensive play maker. He dominates on returns too. With 279 yards on kick returns and 62 yards on punt returns, Marks leads the Lumberjacks.
One of his biggest plays of the season came on a kick return against Northern Colorado. He returned a kickoff in the third quarter for 100 yards for a touchdown. Can't get much longer than that.
After that game, Marks earned Big Sky Special Teams Player of the Week.
His grand total of 1,290 all purpose yards leads the entire FCS. When compared to FBS players, he'd be tied for fifth.
Scouting the Jacks' defense
S Kam'ron Johnson: Johnson leads Northern Arizona in interceptions with four. Only 12 men in the FCS have more.
He's also second for the Lumberjacks in terms of total tackles with 53 and is fourth team-wide with four tackles for loss.
S Josh Clarke: Clarke is second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks, and is fifth in total tackles.
He's had big games on big stages, including an 11-tackle game with three tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup in Northern Arizona's upset of No. 7 Illinois State. Because of that, he was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week.
S Wes Sutton: Sutton's a dominant force in NAU's secondary as well. Sutton is second on the team in tackles with 53 (tied with Johnson) and tackles for loss (along with Clark) with five.
Sutton, like all of the NAU players mentioned, has earned a Big Sky player of the week nod as well. His defensive player of the week honor came after NAU won its first game of the season in late September against Cal Poly.
He had seven tackles, with two tackles for loss and an interception in that game.