MISSOULA — For the second straight week, the Montana Grizzlies are tasked with leaving a tough loss behind them as they prepare for another matchup with a ranked opponent.
After falling to Sacramento State last Saturday, the No. 11 Grizzlies (5-2, 2-2 Big Sky Conference) hit the road once again and turn their attention to Weber State, a team ranked No. 5 in the FCS.
"Another huge test on the road, they're a good football team, they're tough," Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said. "They're really big, they're giant up front, particularly on offense. I think they've played really well in all three phases through the first two-thirds of the season, so be a big test and we're excited for the challenge."
In this contest, it's not just the Grizzlies coming off of a wacky loss, but the Wildcats as well.
Weber State (6-1, 3-1) lost their first game of the year last week to Montana State 43-38 in a game where the Wildcats committed four safeties on snaps over their punter's head.
Weber State blew a 24-9 lead in the game, but almost rallied on their final drive before mistakes reared their head again against the Bobcats.
That game will serve as part of UM's tape study heading into this matchup.
"It's the most recent game so it's big in the breakdown," Hauck said. "Their offense is their offense, their defense is their defense. The flow of the game doesn't necessarily go into the breaking down of tendencies or anything like that."
Weber State missed the postseason last year but has been back with a vengeance in 2022, with one of the best defenses in the conference and a balanced offense.
In fact, the Griz and Wildcats are similar in a lot of ways as teams with strong defenses and offenses led primarily by their running games, and the two are neck-and-neck in a number of statistical categories, including scoring offense (WSU 37.4 points per game, UM 35.4) and defense (WSU 15.6 points allowed per game, UM 16.9), passing yards (WSU 230.1 yards per game, UM 228.6), sacks against (UM 7, WSU 8), and defensive yards allowed per game (UM 294.3, WSU 310).
"They're going to run different personnel groups, they'll have nickel and dime and do some different things," Hauck said. "They're going to run their defense. I'd consider them a strong defensive team. So they're going to do what they do and be good at it."
Defensively, the Grizzlies came away with four takeaways against Sac State, and will look to keep that momentum going, with guys like Levi Janacaro becoming impact players over the past couple of games as part of that consistent, team effort. Janacaro started against Sac State, and in the last two games has racked up 23 total tackles, 5.5 for loss, as well as half of a sack.
"I think that my teammates on the defensive side of the ball, the guys that have been in the game at the same time as me, have just been doing their job which is they take up some blockers which has allowed me to be able to make plays," Janacaro, a junior linebacker, said. "But I think it just stems from the other 10 guys that are doing their part which allows me to look like I'm the one that's successful but it's really because of everybody else that I can do my part."
A storyline to monitor at kickoff will be whether or not quarterback Lucas Johnson is able to return under center after exiting the Sac State game after being hit in the head on a targeting call, or if Kris Brown instead will be called upon to start in relief for the Griz.
But fireworks are to be expected as two of the best in the Big Sky Conference get set to square off for the first time since the two programs met twice in 2019, including the quarterfinal round of the FCS playoffs.
"Both sides of the ball, they look pretty decent, good team, strong team," senior left tackle Chris Walker said. "Each week is the same, we got to learn from the week before, flush that game move on to the next so spend these next few days and learn what we can."
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Ogden, Utah, and will be broadcast on the Montana Television Network.