MISSOULA — Montana returns to the football field for its first game in 485 days when it hosts Central Washington at 11 a.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula.
The Griz and the Wildcats were supposed to play during the 2020 fall season, but the season was postponed to the spring and the teams decided to still get together this school year. It’s the Grizzlies’ first of two games during an unprecedented spring season.
To get a better understanding of Central Washington, 406mtsports.com caught up with CWU beat writer Alec Dietz, who’s also the sports editor of the Ellensburg Daily Record.
Q: How would you describe the vibe around this team and how they feel about playing in the spring?
A: It's been such a weird year, across all of sports, but especially in the GNAC and in Division II football. There was a lot of flip-flopping on whether any football would be played in the GNAC, and the conference lost a few programs, but finally CWU was able to put a single game on its schedule. Azusa Pacific announced it would be ending its football program late last year, and now with just three teams in the GNAC, there are a lot of questions about the future of Central Washington football.
That's a long-winded way of saying that there is a ton going on with CWU's program right now, and I would guess that the players and coaches are just excited to focus on playing a real game this season. It's been a weird year, but it's probably been the same way for everyone, so I'd guess that the Wildcats are going to be pretty pumped to play against someone else this weekend.
Q: How is CWU approaching this game in terms of trying to win or an opportunity to spread out live reps or something else?
A: I'd be shocked if CWU's coaches and players ever admitted that they scheduled this game with any intention other than winning. The Wildcats have a decent track record when it comes to pushing Division I programs (they took Idaho to the wire in 2019), and they have a pretty experienced squad, so while they probably know they're the underdogs I do think they intend to try and win the only game on their schedule.
That said, due to the nature of this season, I don't think they'll be devastated if they lose. This is definitely an opportunity to see how much they've grown since 2019 and put some new concepts on the field against a really good opponent.
Q: What are the areas of strength for the Wildcats and the players to watch this game?
A: The experience really stands out. Any time you bring back your leading passer, rusher, your top two receivers, and a slew of top tacklers and defenders, you're going to be in a good position. Junior quarterback Christian Moore is the head of the snake, he came on strong late in 2019 and threw for almost 30 touchdowns, but expect a healthy dose of senior tailback Michael Roots, who rushed for over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. He fairly easily ran for 137 yards per game in 2019.
On the defensive side the Wildcats are pretty strong too in experience, Donte Hamilton is a senior linebacker that led them in tackles in 2019 and junior Isaiah Carbajal is a stud on the defensive line.
Q: What are the biggest question marks for CWU this spring and in this game?
A: The offense is somewhat of a proven commodity, as much as any team that hasn't played in a year and a half, but the defense was suspect at times in 2019 and they look like they could be fairly green in the backfield. The Wildcats allowed opponents to score nearly 30 points a game against them, and their top five defensive backs from that squad have moved on. A lot of new starters on defense will have to grow up and grow up fast, which might be a tall order given the inconsistent practice time and rust, but they are more than capable of stepping in.
Q: What’s your prediction for this game and why?
A: I think this game is really hard to predict, for a lot of reasons. We haven't seen CWU take the field in well over a year, and while they do bring back a lot of experience, it'll be interesting to see what kind of team shows up to Missoula this weekend. I think having a great running game helps you in a situation like this, and with experience behind center, the offense is going to move.
I think this will go a lot like the Idaho game, the Wildcats will keep it real close at the half before we see the more talented team pull away. Grizzlies win, 44-28.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.