Cat/Griz: A Classic Rivalry

The Bobcats (9-1, 6-1) will play the University of Montana Grizzlies (5-5, 3-4) for the 112th time in their history, and look to assert themselves and win the Great Divide Trophy in their last regular season game on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 1:35 p.m. in Missoula at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The Cats look to bounce back from a devastating 36-10 loss to the Griz at home last season.

The Cat/Griz rivalry started in 1897, with the Cats losing the inaugural game 18-6. To put it in perspective, the Michigan Wolverines and Ohio State Buckeyes also started playing each other in 1897, and the longest known rivalry in college football between Notre Dame and Michigan, which began in 1887, may be coming to an end in 2014 due to Notre Dame’s new commitment to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

But Cat/Griz is a rivalry that will never end. With UM declining an invitation to the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 2010, the “Brawl of the Wild” is alive and well, and with enough time, the Cats could even the series, but it won’t happen on Saturday.

The Grizzlies lead the all-time series 70-36-5, but since both teams joined the Big Sky Conference in 1963, the Griz hold a slim 28-21 lead. The Griz still hold the longest winning streak at 20, but the Cats have won six consecutive games three separate times and they look to establish a dominance similar to 1963-1985, when they went 17-6 against the Griz. The Cats’ biggest comeback came during this stretch when in 1968, former quarterback and NFL coach Dennis Erickson helped the Cats score 20 points in the final nine minutes to win 29-24.

With the winningest senior class in MSU history and the recent criminal mishaps of former Grizzlies, the Cats have a chance to make amends for past losses, including a 79-0 loss in 1904 and, of course, last year’s surprise loss. MSU’s biggest win against the Griz is fresh in the minds of many current students, as they halted UM’s streak of 17 straight playoff appearances with a 21-16 win on November 21, 2010 in Missoula. Though the Cats are not expected to match their largest margin of victory against the Griz, a 38-0 beating in 1966, we can expect the Cats to dominate the game on Saturday.

The offensive effectiveness and defensive prowess of the Bobcats should ensure victory, but Cat/Griz is less about athletic ability and more about heart. In the history of the rivalry, 36 games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and given the unpredictable Montana weather, we don’t know what might happen. We can, however, expect the Cats to fight for a share of their third consecutive Big Sky Conference Championship with Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly, who all have identical 6-1 conference records. There is a lot to lose for the Bobcats and bragging rights to gain if the Grizzlies can play spoiler to an MSU victory. Expect the Grizzlies to play better than their record represents next weekend. They won’t be the same team that’s gone 3-4 in the Big Sky Conference simply because the Bobcats are on their turf.

By the numbers, the Cats may have a little trouble running the ball, as the Grizzlies hold teams to under 100 yards rushing per game, though Cody Kirk should help MSU surpass that average. The Grizzly defense will also force MSU quarterback DeNarius McGhee out of the pocket. They have 38 sacks on the year, so watch McGhee make things happen with his legs. The Grizzlies are susceptible to a passing attack, allowing nearly 300 yards per game, so Tanner Bleskin and the rest of MSU’s wide receivers should have many yards by the end of the day, and head coach Rob Ash may go for a pass on first down early in the game. The game should be over by halftime, and expect to see the second string get plenty of valuable minutes in the second half.

Prediction: Bobcats win 41-21.