As part of its new deal with ESPN, the Big Sky Conference landed two of its football games on the entertainment company’s broadcast networks this season.
The first was Eastern Washington’s game against Montana at Roos Field, which ended in thrilling fashion and aired on ESPN2.
The second ESPN matchup – this one on ESPNU – comes at 7 p.m. Friday, when No. 9 Montana State plays at No. 19 Weber State. While it forces the teams to shuffle their routines and turn around one day earlier than usual, it’s worth it, Bobcats coach Brent Vigen said Monday.
“I think the benefit of us getting an opportunity to play on ESPNU far outweighs the adjustment we’ve got to make playing Friday (night),” Vigen said at his weekly news conference.
Like the EWU-Montana game on Oct. 2, Friday’s contest features two of the conference’s ranked teams and traditionally two of its most successful programs. The Bobcats, 5-1 overall, have matched Eastern’s 3-0 start in Big Sky play.
While the Wildcats are 2-3 and 1-1 in Big Sky games, one of those is a loss to a Football Bowl Subdivision school (Utah) and another was to then-No. 2 James Madison of the Football Championship Subdivision.
Plus, the Wildcats have won at least a share of the past four Big Sky championships, and they have Vigen’s due respect because of that.
“I think how (Weber State coach Jay Hill goes) about it is not only about succeeding at the Big Sky level but at the national level,” Vigen said. “Understanding that you’ve got to play defense, you’ve got to be able to run the football, you’ve got to be physical. Those are all trademarks that we want to be part of our program, and they are certainly theirs at Weber. There’s no question about it.”
Montana State has been doing precisely what Vigen described through its first six games of the season. Bobcats junior running back Isaiah Ifanse ranks second in the FCS with 661 rushing yards (EWU senior Dennis Merritt is ninth with 556).
On defense, the Bobcats rank ninth nationally in yards per game allowed at 270, which is also the best among the 13 Big Sky programs. They have also allowed just 67 points in six games, the third-best average among FCS teams.
Weber State will play Eastern at Roos Field on Oct. 23; Montana State will do so Nov. 6.
Hornets aim to pester Grizzlies again
Coming off a 31-14 nonconference victory over Dixie State last weekend, the No. 5 Montana Grizzlies (4-1, 1-1) return to Big Sky play Saturday when they host the Sacramento State Hornets (3-2, 2-0).
Along with the Eagles (6-0) and Bobcats, the Hornets are among the three remaining teams unbeaten in Big Sky action.
The Hornets have never won in Missoula, and they trail the all-time series 20-2. But they did win the last time the teams met, in 2019 in Sacramento, 49-22.
“I think every loss that we take lingers for every game we go forward with,” Grizzlies junior defensive lineman Eli Alford said. “It just lights a fire under the whole defense and the whole team. That game in 2019 … None of us like to lose, so I think it’s going to motivate everyone this week.”
Sacramento State put up 561 yards of offense in that game, including a 369-yard, four-touchdown day from its quarterback at the time, Kevin Thomson. Two weeks earlier that season, Thomson threw for 315 yards in a victory over Eastern Washington.
Thomson is gone , but Montana coach Bobby Hauck said not a ton has changed for the Hornets’ offense.
“It’s kind of the same offense, just different guys doing it,” Hauck said. “Using the two quarterbacks, it looks to me (like) they try to highlight their strengths, where they had just (Thomson) doing it before.”
Those two quarterbacks are juniors Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara, who have almost the same number of completions (59 and 56, respectively), but O’Hara has rushed 72 times compared to just six times for Dunniway.
Troy Taylor is in his second full season as the Hornets’ head coach, having taken over before the 2019 season. In 2016, he was EWU’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Bengals get first victory
After a 0-4 start, Idaho State handed UC Davis (now ranked 13th) its first loss of the season last week, 27-17, and picked up a couple of the conference’s weekly awards in the process.
Cornerback Jayden Dawson was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week after intercepting a pass and forcing a fumble.
Punter Kevin Ryan pinned the Aggies inside their 10-yard line three times and ranks second in the FCS with a 47.3-yard punt average. For that, he earned Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Southern Utah and Cal Poly, both 1-5 overall, are the only teams winless in Big Sky games (both 0-3).
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