Bobby Hauck and the Montana Grizzlies are getting a pretty nice present for Homecoming — a date with one of the worst teams in the Big Sky Conference.
The Grizzlies will host Portland State, which has won just one of its last 18 games, Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Montana will not be taking the Vikings lightly, though.
“They’re a concern, and these conference games are huge, no matter who’s on the other sideline,” Hauck said. “Every one of these is huge, especially in a league where you don’t play everybody.”
Montana, at 4-1, 2-0, has been one of the early-season positive surprises in the Big Sky Conference.
After a 2-1 non-conference schedule, the Griz squeaked by Sac State at home and blew out Cal Poly on the road.
That has them 14th in the polls and rising.
“I think we’re off to a decent start,” Hauck said. “We’ve improved through the first five games. … We’re doing some good things. We’re a work in progress but we’re trying to become a complete football team, and I think we’re making progress to that end.”
They the likelihood is high that the Griz move to 5-1 after a matchup with a program in disarray this weekend.
After leading the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015, his first year at the helm, coach Bruce Barnum has struggled to find the same success. Portland State was 3-8 in 2016 before going winless, 0-11, in 2017.
Attendance is down, they’ve been forced to play in two different home stadiums, and recruiting has suffered as a result.
So far this year, the Vikings have been blown out by FBS teams Oregon and Nevada, returned the favor with a rout over NAIA College of Idaho, and lost by double-digits to Big Sky foes Montana State and Idaho.
Going to Montana will not be any easier.
“There are no holes [on Montana’s team] right now,” Barnum said. “Defensively, you’ve got [linebacker Josh] Buss leading the way, you’ve got some guys on that side, they run around. Kent [Baer], the coordinator, he’s doing some things you haven’t seen in a while. It’s organized chaos. They’re constantly moving, they’re pressuring more than other teams.”
Any noise that the Vikings will be able to make will likely come from junior tight end Charlie Taumoepeau, a big-play threat who has five of the Vikings’ nine total receiving touchdowns through five games.
“He’s a freak,” Montana State safety Brayden Konkol said after playing the Vikings. “He’s their leading receiver. He’s big, fast, strong, physical in the pass game, runs way better routes than you think for a tight end, good hands.”
Sophomores Davis Alexander and Jalani Eason have split time at quarterback for Portland State, with Alexander getting the majority of the reps but Eason also playing in all five games.
Alexander is a dual-threat who leads the Vikings in rushing as well as passing, but has completed just 50 percent of his passes.
Eason isn’t much better at 56.5 percent.
Despite that, PSU’s offense still provides some challenges.
“They’re going to try to control the game with their rush offense,” Hauck said. “They’ll use multiple personnel groups. They’ve got one group that’s got four tight ends in the game at one time, which is unique. They’ll formation you, personnel you, and they’re going to find ways, they’ll be insistent upon running it.”
On defense, the Vikings are better-than-average against the pass (227.6 yards given up per game, fourth in the conference), but that’s undone by a rush defense that gives up nearly 215 yards per game, 10th in the Big Sky.
Like Barnum’s offense, Payam Saadat’s flex defense could be a challenge — PSU gave up just 13 offensive points to Idaho last week — but expect the Montana running game to stay on track after gashing Sac State and Cal Poly in consecutive weeks.
The Griz, meanwhile, have answered most of the questions about them going into the season, which means fans should expect to see more of the same Saturday.
That means short passes, Dalton Sneed running the ball, and a swarming defense.
With just two of five at home to close out the season, being at Washington-Grizzly, especially with the pageantry surrounding Homecoming, should also be welcome.
A win would move the Grizzlies to 5-1 and probably near the top-10 teams in the nation.
With just four games after this weekend until the season-ending Brawl of the Wild, a win would also put them in the drivers’ seat for a playoff spot, as even a split would leave them 7-3 going into the Montana State game.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or attributed. All Rights Reserved.