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THE BASICS

TIME, DAY, PLACE: Noon Saturday, Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Missoula

TV: ROOT Sports Northwest, AT&T Sports Net Rocky Mountain, AT&T Sports Net Pittsburgh (available on DirecTV but not Dish Network), ESPN+ out of ROOT footprint

RADIO: Bobcat Radio Network, msubobcats.com

WEATHER: 44 degrees, partly cloudy

COACHES

Montana State: Brent Vigen

RECORD: 9-1; YEAR: First

Vigen arrived at MSU after seven seasons as Wyoming’s offensive coordinator. He was an assistant in several roles, including offensive coordinator, before that at North Dakota State.

Montana: Bobby Hauck

RECORD: 104-28; YEAR: 10th

Hauck has the most wins as a coach in Grizzlies history, including his first stint at Montana from 2003 to 2009. After a 15-49 tenure at UNLV, Hauck has led the Grizzlies to a winning record in their last three seasons.

MONTANA STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH

1 — Matthew McKay — QB

McKay has passed efficiently to all areas of the field and turned the ball over once in his first seven games. He’s committed four turnovers in the last three games, however. MSU will seek to have a dependable passing game, so McKay will hope to bounce back.

76 — Lewis Kidd — OL

Kidd anchors the Big Sky's best rushing offense and has helped the Bobcats allow just 14 sacks this season, the 26th-fewest in the FCS. He will be especially important in protecting McKay and fueling MSU’s ground attack with right tackle TJ Session out due to injury.

7 — Ty Okada — DB

Okada is one of the best tacklers in the Big Sky. His 63 tackles trail only Troy Andersen for the team lead, and his two interceptions are tied for the most on the Bobcats. Okada will aim to keep Montana’s passing attack out of sync.

MONTANA PLAYERS TO WATCH

13 — Xavier Harris — RB

Harris, who came back from his own injury two games ago, has been the most productive player at an injury-depleted position. He leads the Griz with 68.7 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per rush to go with one score on the ground.

18 — Samuel Akem — WR/TE

Akem is one of the greatest receivers UM has seen. He’s second in school history with 27 touchdown grabs, fifth with 183 receptions and seventh with 2,546 receiving yards. Akem is averaging 62.3 receiving yards over the past four games and will look to keep the momentum going.

58 — Pat O’Connell — LB

O’Connell has been a disruptive force in the backfield, ranking fifth in the FCS with 1.15 sacks per game and eighth with 1.8 tackles for loss per game. His 18 sacks are the 11th most in UM history, while his 27.5 TFLs are 16th.

KEY FACTS

- Montana State has won four straight in the rivalry series for the first time since 1972-77, claiming four of the last five ’Cat-Griz games played in Missoula.

- MSU’s five wins in Washington-Grizzly Stadium is second-most as a visiting team, trailing only Eastern Washington (six). The Bobcats average 200.2 rushing yards in their five wins at Washington-Grizzly Stadium and 100 in their 12 losses.

- Brent Vigen’s nine wins is the most in MSU history by a first-year Bobcats coach.

- Lance McCutcheon’s three 100-yard games this year is tied for ninth-most in MSU history, and 16 of his 47 catches have been for 20-plus yards.

- MSU is fifth in the FCS with 160.8 passing yards allowed per game.

- Montana State has held all 10 of its 2021 opponents under 21 points and 355 yards.

- MSU has the Big Sky’s best rushing offense (230.8 yards per game) while Montana allows a league-best 73 rushing yards per game.

- Montana is second in the FCS in kickoff return yardage at 29.3 yards per return. The Bobcats stand 10th in the FCS, first in the Big Sky, with 15.7 yards per return allowed.

- Montana State clinched a position in the Big Sky standings above UM with its win against Idaho, marking the fourth straight season the Bobcats have finished no worse than tied in the league standings with their rival.

THE BOTTOM LINE

These ’Cat-Griz rivalry games have often been demanding challenges for both teams in suspenseful contests. In a matchup between two programs ranked in the top eight in the FCS, both vying for the best position possible in the postseason, this game seems like it will be no different.

A defensive battle seems imminent. Both rushing attacks will be going against stout defensive fronts. If either quarterback can get in a rhythm, that could provide crucial scoring. But in the end, Montana State should have the defensive prowess to keep the Grizzlies out of the end zone enough to win.

Pool’s pick: Montana State 21, Montana 20

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

This article originally ran on bozemandailychronicle.com.

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