MISSOULA — Montana is preparing for its first Big Sky football game that'll count in the conference standings since November 2019, but coach Bobby Hauck playfully pointed out that they played a league team, Portland State, in the abbreviated spring season.
“Sorry, I’m being a smart aleck,” Hauck said after a moment, drawing laughs and even laughing himself.
Hauck’s excitement to have football back was evident Monday after the fourth-ranked Grizzlies had their bye week this past weekend, forcing them to put their torrid start to the season on hold.
“I did tell our guys that I was disappointed we weren’t playing last weekend because I’m enjoying watching them play,” he said. “So, we had to wait an extra week, but it’ll be fun this weekend.”
The Griz open Big Sky play by hosting Cal Poly for homecoming at 1 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. They’ve won 10 consecutive home games and are 2-0 this season, with wins over FBS Washington, who was ranked No. 20 at the time, and Western Illinois, an MVFC team.
“Cal Poly’s coming to town for homecoming, so we’re excited to get back on schedule, get refocused,” he said. “As I mentioned, homecoming, so it should be great fun in Missoula this weekend.”
Montana used the bye week to do what it would do during any week it doesn’t have a game. The only difference with the bye so early in the season is that an open date later in the season might be more beneficial to recover from injuries accrued in the long slog of the season.
“We had some good practices last week. I thought it was well done by our players,” Hauck said. “We got some recruiting done, so our coaches got on the road a little bit. We did some self scout, so some pretty normal, time well spent on an open date. That was good.”
Wide receiver Sammy Akem, who’s tied for the seventh-most touchdown catches in UM history, enjoyed the time off.
“It was good to get some time to watch some football,” he said. “Most of the day, we’re getting ready for our games on Saturday, so it was good to just sit down and watch some football, relax. It was cool. You always enjoy a bye week, relax and take some time off."
Defensive end Justin Belknap agreed with Akem.
“Playing in my sixth season now, I appreciate bye weeks, even if they are early,” he said. “They’re out of our control of when they are in the season. But it was nice to watch football on Saturday and just refuel and get ready for Cal Poly.”
One thing UM won’t have to prepare for with Cal Poly is the triple option. Coach Beau Baldwin, who led Eastern Washington to the 2010 FCS title, is transforming the Mustangs into a pass-heavy team.
They went 0-3 in the spring but opened some eyes when they began the fall season with a 28-17 win over San Diego, a perennial power in the Pioneer Football League. However, they followed up with a 63-10 loss to FBS Fresno State and a 48-14 defeat against South Dakota.
“We’ve got a 1-2 Cal Poly team coming in here. They’ll be hungry to beat us,” Hauck said. “We know a lot about them. We’ve been watching them for a week. We have an understanding that they’ve got a fairly veteran team that’s dropped two in a row. They have nine senior starters. We have nine senior starters. So, we’ll see where that goes.”
Cal Poly is going to be without starting quarterback Spencer Brasch, a Pac-12 transfer from California. He “is out for another five weeks,” according to a Cal Poly spokesperson. He started the first two games but missed this past Saturday’s game because of a fractured hand.
That adds a wrinkle to the preparation for the Griz with some uncertainty about who Cal Poly will play at quarterback. But their mindset won’t change just because they’re entering Big Sky play, which Hauck talked about after taking a moment to be a self-described “smart aleck.”
“I think you have to approach every week trying to win that Saturday, so that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “The addition with the Big Sky Conference games is the goal here is always to win a Big Sky championship. So, you got to go get them if you hope to do that.”
Moving on up
Montana’s game at Eastern Washington on Oct. 2 was apparently too good to keep hidden away on ESPNU. It’s been moved to ESPN2, the company announced Monday.
The game is a potential top-10 matchup, with Montana checking in at No. 4 and EWU at No. 6 in this week’s Stats Perform FCS Top 25. The Griz (2-0) host Cal Poly (1-2) this Saturday, while the Eagles (3-0) play at Southern Utah (1-2).
Both teams have an FBS win. UM beat FBS No. 20 Washington, 13-7, while EWU topped UNLV, 35-33, in double overtime.
Kickoff is still scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MT. It’ll be the first-ever Big Sky regular-season football game on ESPN2.
Montana remained at No. 4 in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25, which was released Monday.
The Griz lost 10 points from their season-high 1,110 in the Sept. 13 poll. They’re also down to two first-place votes after having a season-best five in the Sept. 6 poll.
Sam Houston leads the poll with 1,210 points and 31 first-place votes. South Dakota State is at 1,184 and eight, while James Madison is just five points behind at 1,179 and has one more first-place vote with nine. Behind UM, North Dakota State received 1,071 votes to place fifth, while EWU is sixth with 942.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.