BOZEMAN — This year’s storylines heading into Cat-Griz are nearly identical for Montana State compared to last year’s Week 12 meeting against the University of Montana.
Not only are the Bobcats 9-1 fighting for a first-round bye in playoffs, but once again the team is in a position to secure a Big Sky Conference Championship, which would be their first since 2012.
However, even though the narrative might be the same, head coach Brent Vigen made it clear this team is not.
“The makeup of our team is different," Vigen stated during Monday's presser. "What we rely on is different. The things we’ve maybe overcome through this season are different. There are some things that are the same, but there’s so much different. I think we have to recall last year’s experience and the things that we thought we did well and the things that we didn’t and really just try to put our best foot forward relative to '22.”
One of those areas Montana State has been recalling this week is special teams.
It’s no secret the Bobcats struggled against Weber State earlier this season, and with dynamic returners in Malik Flowers and Justin Ford, it’s a territory they can’t let slip up.
“We have to be on our game on the kick cover game whether that’s Blake's [Glessner] ability to kick the ball collectively with our ability to cover it and tackle it," Vigen said. "In that punt return game, Junior's [Bergen] been the primary guy it would seem. He returned punts against us last year, and that was a part of the game that tipped into their favor for sure last year, so we have to cover.”
On offense, sophomore running back Nick Ostmo is a guy that has emerged on the ground, rushing for 367 yards in just his last two games, but the Grizzly that's really on Montana State’s radar this Saturday is Lucas Johnson — a quarterback transfer from San Diego State who isn’t your typical pocket passer.
“His mobility,' Vigen stated. "His experience. I think he’s got the ability to throw the ball well, he’s got the ability to throw the ball well on the run…. When they’re going they’re a good mix of running the football and play-action, RPO, and they’ve been able to play at a high rate in many of their games, and I think the common denominator in those games is Lucas Johnson is playing.”
The other common denominator is simply Montana’s defense.
The Grizzlies are ranked first in the Big Sky allowing only 14.9 points per game, and for a Bobcat offense that’s whole identity is running the ball, this defense is the best at stopping it (97.3 yards allowed/per game).
“The guys play so hard on their defense, and it’s an aggressive form of defense to start with," Vigen explained. It’s an attacking style. It’s different than anything else we see in our league, and I think that helps them that they’re kind of this stand-alone within our league as far as their seam goes, but more than anything their guys – I think they understand that they play really hard. They’re good on defense, and that’s been a consistent thing throughout the season and it looks a lot like it did last year.”
The 121st Brawl of the Wild kicks off this Saturday at noon, which will be televised on CBS stations statewide in Montana.