BRADEN SHAW Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Time, Date, Location: 12 p.m. MT, Saturday, Bobcat Stadium
Radio: Bobcat Radio Network
Vigen previously served as Wyoming’s offensive coordinator for seven seasons before joining MSU in 2021. Earlier in his career, he worked as an assistant coach in the state of North Dakota.
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Hauck previously coached UM from 2003 to 2009, averaging an 80-17 record and three appearances in FCS title games. He also spent a total of eight years coaching at UNLV and San Diego State.
Impact Player: Montana State
SS Rylan Ortt
After missing the first eight games of that season due to suspensions and subsequent reinstatement issues, Ortt returned to the Bobcats’ starting lineup. Ortt has contributed 14 total tackles over the past two games and even led MSU in tackles against Cal Poly (seven total). The Missoula Sentinel graduate will look to shake off the rust as he takes on the Grizzlies.
WR Marqui Johnson
Johnson has spent the last two months transitioning to running back — a position he played in high school — and it paid off in explosive ways against Cal Poly. Along with four touchdowns in the first half, Johnson finished for 242 yards on 13 carries. He was later named both FCS and Co-Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week.
EN Ben Seymour
Seymour has been a starter for this remodeled defensive line all season alongside Brody Grebe, Sebastian Valdez and Blake Schmidt. One of his biggest plays that year came against Cal Poly, where Seymour picked up the fumble and returned it for a 26-yard touchdown. In 10 games, Seymour has a total of 23 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Impact player: Montana
RB Nick Ostmo
With the departure of Marcus Knight to the transfer portal, Montana needs more traffic jams to step up. Luckily for the Grizzlies, they have Ostmo, who has rushed for 367 total yards and five touchdowns in the last two games. Overall, Ostmo leads UM this season with 704 yards and seven touchdowns on 116 carries.
LB Patrick O’Connell
Expectations for O’Connell’s entry this season have been astronomical after he was named an All-Big Sky first team in 2021 and Big Sky’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year in 2022. He also lived up to the hype, leading the conference in both sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (12 1/2). He is also third at UM in total tackles (45) and has two interceptions.
QB Lucas Johnson
Johnson has struggled with injuries all season, including an apparent hamstring injury against Eastern Washington last week. However, when he’s healthy, he’s been one of the best quarterbacks in Big Sky, with 1,720 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also has seven rushing touchdowns this season.
— No. 3 in Montana State clinched a 72-28 win on the road against Cal Poly last Saturday.
— No. 13 Montana clinched a 63-7 home win over Eastern Washington last Saturday, giving the Grizzlies a 7-3 lead in the season.
– UM leads the all-time streak 73-41-5, winning the last matchup 29-10 in Missoula (2021). MSU has won four of the last five games in the rivalry.
— The Cat Griz series is one of the most played rivalries in all of college football (124 matches). The series ranks behind Oregon-Oregon State (125 matches) in the rivalries west of the Mississippi.
— The Bobcats average 44 points per game, which is the third best among FCS teams. MSU has surpassed 37 points in all but one game this season (28 points against Oregon State).
– UM has won its last two games by a 120-7 aggregate lead, powered by 1,299 total yards in offense. The Grizzlies also have the No. 2 offense (38.9 points per game) and No. 1 defense (14.9 points per game) in the Big Sky Conference.
— At least one MSU player has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game this season. Three players have run more than 200 yards in one game (Sean Chambers, Tommy Mellott, Marqui Johnson).
Playoff spots, a conference title and braggart rights are all at stake in the upcoming 121st edition of Brawl of the Wild.
It will be helpful for No. 3 Montana State to have quarterback Sean Chambers back in the lineup. Chambers not only helps take hits from Tommy Mellott, but adds another dimension to this elite rushing attack. MSU’s defense will also continue to improve, although linebacker Danny Uluilakepa and possibly defensive end Brody Grebe are sidelined. With a win over its historic rival, MSU could hope for a top-four finish and a share of the Big Sky title in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, arguably the biggest question mark for No. 13 Montana is his quarterback. Lucas Johnson was knocked out with an injury against Eastern Washington but is listed on the Grizzlies depth chart this week. If he plays, it will greatly increase UM’s chances in this game and the Grizzlies’ playoff hopes. Either way, UM can count on the aggressive defense that has kept the team afloat all season, led by linebacker Patrick O’Connell and safety Robby Hauck. Outside of Oregon, this will arguably be the best defense MSU will face during the regular season.
This will surely be an incredible feat from both sides, especially when the stakes are so high. In this case — especially since the game is in Bozeman — the slight lead goes to MSU’s explosive offense and bend-don’t-break defense.
State of Montana 41, Montana 35
Braden Shaw can be reached at [email protected] or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @ByBradenShaw