MISSOULA — Big Sky Conference football play is officially back in Missoula.
Sure, the Grizzlies played Portland State back in the spring, but Saturday's contest against Cal Poly will be UM's first fall league game since 2019 as they begin their quest for a Big Sky title.
UM's home game with Cal Poly comes after Montana was dealt an early bye this season. After wins over Washington and Western Illinois to start the season, Montana had last weekend off before a run of nine straight weekends of football games that begins on Saturday.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, Griz head coach Bobby Hauck said that's just how the schedule worked out and the team is tasked with adjusting accordingly.
"The schedule is set so you plan for it," Hauck said. "We really do about the same thing on every open date. The only time it’s more beneficial than another in my opinion is if you’re banged up and you get another week to heal up. I did tell our guys that I was disappointed we weren’t playing last weekend because I’m enjoying watching them play. So we had to wait an extra week but it’ll be fun this weekend."
Along with game prep, Hauck said the team did some self-scouting and evaluation during the bye, and also got on the road to get some recruiting done. For the players, they were able to take in some football and relax.
"It was good. It was good to get some time to watch some football," wide receiver Samuel Akem said. "Most of the day we’re getting ready for our games on Saturdays so it was good to be able to watch some football, relax, it was cool. You always enjoy a bye week, able to relax and take some time off."
The attention is now on league play. The Grizzlies (2-0) enter Saturday's contest ranked fourth in the FCS, the highest mark in the Big Sky Conference. But UM says it's business as usual as they march toward another goal.
"I think you have to approach every week trying to win that Saturday so that’s what we’re going to do," Hauck said. "The addition with the Big Sky Conference games is the goal here is always to win a Big Sky championship, so you got to go get them if you hope to do that."
"I’m just going to go out there and whoever they put in front of me," defensive end Justin Belknap added. "I’m just going to play the football I know how to play. I never really looked at other teams as what conference they’re in or anything like that. They’re 11 grown men just like we’re 11 grown men."
The Mustangs enter Saturday 1-2 on the season. Their lone win was a 28-17 victory over San Diego to open the season and have since dropped contests to FBS Fresno State (63-10) and South Dakota (48-14).
Cal Poly is known for its triple option, but that is not the case anymore under new head coach Beau Baldwin. Baldwin, who took over in December of 2019, is in his first fall season coaching the Mustangs after spending time as an assistant coach at Cal. Prior to that, Baldwin was the head coach at Eastern Washington where he led the Eagles to the 2010 FCS national championship.
Now, Cal Poly is known for throwing the ball more. And as for the Grizzlies, they won't be missing that triple option scheme anytime soon.
"Absolutely. So right now this is the first time in many years not to have a true triple option team on the schedule so we are very, very pleased that Cal Poly’s not running the triple option anymore," Hauck said to a number of laughs. "Exceedingly pleased, happy. It’s like Christmas came again."