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UNC not alone in its Big Sky struggles
The University of Montana football team always has been considered the standard-bearer of the Big Sky Conference, winning two Football Championship Subdivision titles (1995, 2002) and being a runner-up for the national title five times, including four times since 2000.
Recently, however, the Grizzlies have fallen on hard times.
Montana has lost three of its past four conference games dating back to last season including last week when the Grizzlies snapped a 16-game winning streak against Sacramento State by losing to the Hornets, 42-28, in Sacramento. It was the first time in school history the Hornets had beat Montana.
However, the University of Northern Colorado football team isn’t about to take the Grizzlies lightly. The Bears can’t afford to at 0-2 in conference play and 0-4 overall, as they get ready to take on Montana (1-1, 2-2) at 1:05 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzlies Stadium.
Beside, UNC knows that the 16th-ranked Grizzlies will be loaded for Bear after losing last week and it being homecoming for Montana.
“I always hear the word ‘Montana’, the team Montana and I just know ball is about to be played,” UNC cornerback Marcel Gibbons said. “I don’t think that they are any less than they have ever been. Maybe they’re just figuring things out and their team is a little younger, I’m not really sure. But I know when I watch film that those boys can still play football.”
While the Bears know they can never take Montana lightly, the Grizzlies appear to be struggling more than usual. Their numbers statistically are pedestrian so far.
Montana ranks seventh in the Big Sky in scoring offense at 24.5 points per game and is sixth in scoring defense, allowing 30.2 per outing. UNC is last in scoring offense (18.8) and defense (37.5).
Montana is eighth in total offense (343.8), while UNC is ninth (262.5).
Despite their struggles, UNC defensive coordinator Zach Shay believes the Grizzlies are as dangerous as ever.
One of their losses this season came at the hands of FBS power Tennessee. They did beat defending FCS national champion Eastern Washington, 17-14, but EWU is 0-4 this season.
“They did some good things against Tennessee,” Shay said., “They are huge up front. They dwarfed the Tennessee defensive line, so obviously they are big up front. Their quarterback (Jordan Johnson) is really the triggerman, and he is their leading rusher. They do a lot of play action and screens. We have tried to prepare for some of that. We have a tall task ahead of us.”
If that wasn’t enough, the Bears know they will face a hostile crowd of more than 25,000 fans that are expected to fill the stadium for homecoming.
UNC head coach Earnest Collins, Jr., knows how difficult it can be to play there, having coached the Bears in Montana as an assistant coach in 2002 before UNC even joined the Big Sky.
Collins prepared the Bears this week for the crowd noise by blowing a megaphone horn during practice right at the players as they were at the line of scrimmage before the snap.
”I have been up there once before in 2002 and I understand the excitement and the crowd noise,” Collins said during the weekly Big Sky teleconference. “The crowd noise is going to be there, and we are going to get our kids prepared for that and go up there and try to get a victory.”
UNC true freshman linebacker Taylor Young will get his first taste of what it’s like to play in Montana, but is trying not to worry about it.
“They are definitely dangerous,” Young said. “Montana has always been dangerous, but coming off a loss, we have just got to have our heads up and do what we need to do.”
By Matt Schuman, Greeley Tribune