It’s been an underwhelming year for the Montana State Bobcats. On the other hand, it’s been one of surpassing expectations for the University of Montana Grizzlies. On Saturday Nov. 21, the two teams will clash, each with plenty to play for. The Cats will try to play spoiler to the Grizzlies playoff hopes while the Griz will look to secure their playoff position.
Led by superstar quarterback Dakota Prukop but dragged down by an inexperienced defense, it has been an up-and-down year for MSU. Prukop, a junior, has thrown for 25 touchdowns and ran for 10 more in his second year as the starter and signal caller, but despite a prolific and senior-laden offense, the Cats are even after 10 games at 5-5. The biggest reason for this is a lack of consistency. Boasting a mediocre record, they have flirted with greatness and bottom-dwelling from game to game, often even within the same drive.
Laden with experience and poise offensively, the defense has been a story of one step forward, two steps back. Playing well for the most part at home, including solid defensive performances against Sacramento State and Cal Poly, the defense early in the season was completely absent for road games. Giving up 55, 49 and 59 points in their first three road games, all against Big Sky competition, the Cats fell behind in the playoff race early. But it was their fourth road game, a late October contest against North Dakota, that put the nail in the coffin. In many ways a microcosm for the Cats’ season, the up and down game ended, despite a comeback attempt, with a heartbreaking loss that eliminated the Cats from playoff consideration.
The Bobcats can change that narrative this Saturday. The team has played well the last two weeks, including a dominant road win against Idaho State, perhaps proving to themselves that they can win games from start to finish. With another complete performance, MSU has a real shot at returning the Brawl of the Wild trophy to Bozeman.
On the other hand, the Grizzlies are also trending upward. After a wild win in overtime against Idaho State two weeks ago, they also defeated Eastern Washington last weekend, soundly beating the powerhouse 55-16. Riding on the shoulders of true freshman Jeremy Calhoun’s three first half touchdown scampers, the Griz answered a lot of questions about their offense.
On Saturday, the legitimacy of the improvements for both teams will be truly tested. The strong Bobcat offense will try and dismantle the stout Griz defense and the improved defense of Montana State will try and slow down the resurgent Montana offense. Always a tough battle, the trenches will likely be the keys to the game. Once the Cats get rolling with the run game, they will be incredibly difficult to contain, but defensively they will have to apply pressure on the Grizzly passing game by stopping the run and making U of M QB Brady Gustafson beat them if they don’t want the game to turn into yet another shootout.
Montana State has been very good at home this season and with ever-improving play from the defense, the Cats will find out a lot about the direction of their program during the game. With pride on the line and the opportunity to put the Grizzlies on the outside track for a playoff spot, Montana State should be able to use their homefield advantage to bring the trophy back to Bozeman.
Prediction: Montana State: 42, University of Montana: 31