MISSOULA — Game week preparations for Savannah State — a Historically Black University that plays at the FCS level in Savannah, Georgia — have been a little off-schedule ahead of the Montana game, as Hurricane Irma had other plans for the Tigers.
Due to Savannah being in Hurricane Irma's path, the Savannah State campus has been closed since Saturday because Chatham County, Georgia, was under evacuation orders. Students living on the Savannah State campus can move back in on Wednesday, with classes resuming on Thursday, according to the university’s website.
The travel squad of the Savannah State team was never in danger of Irma. It played on Saturday at Appalachian State’s campus in Boone, North Carolina.
Because many of the Savannah State players reside on campus, they had to find arrangements to ride out the storm elsewhere, namely the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, according to the Savannah Morning News.
Luckily for the Tigers, North Georgia’s campus was partially open during the storm and there were open rooms in a residence hall that was awaiting renovations.
Both Montana and Savannah State are coming off road losses.
Montana (1-1) played No. 6 Washington and lost 63-7, while Savannah State (0-1) played Appalachian State and lost 54-7.
The Savannah State offense was thwarted by a tough Appalachian State defense on Saturday and only put up 37 yards passing and 77 yards rushing for 117 yards of total offense.
Both Montana and Savannah State’s touchdowns last week came off turnovers, as Grizzly safety Josh Sandry returned an interception for a touchdown and Tiger Stephen Dorsey had a 45-yard fumble recovery to avoid the shutout in the fourth quarter.
Saturday’s matchup is the first meeting between the two programs.
Over the past 10 seasons, Savannah State has a compiled a 15-85 record. The best Tiger season in the past 10 years came in 2008, when they went 5-7. Last season, the Tigers went 3-7. Three of those seven losses were shutouts.
Over the same span, Montana has compiled an 80-34 record with two appearances in the FCS National Championship game and four more playoff berths.
Savannah State is coached by Erik Raeburn, who is in his second season at the program. He's previously coached at the Division III level, where he coached Coe College from 2000-07 and Wabash College from 2008-15.
Tigers to watch for:
The Tigers return 16 starters from last season, eight on each side of the ball.
The potential playmakers on offense include:
Quarterback T.J. Bell: Last season as a freshman, Bell completed 72 of 146 passes for 762 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions. On the ground, he contributed 307 yards rushing on 81 carries with three touchdowns.
The Appalachian State game wasn't Bell's best showing, as he completed 3 of 13 passes for 21 yards. He was sacked once. On the ground, he had seven carries for 6 net yards.
Wide receiver Derek Kirkland: Kirkland was one of Bell's go-to receivers last season. He caught 27 passes and had 317 yards with two touchdowns.
The senior wide out didn't record any statistics against Appalachian State.
On the defensive side of the ball, watch out for:
Linebacker Stefen Banks: Banks had a standout sophomore season for the Tigers, contributing 68 tackles with a whopping 17 1/2 tackles for loss and 7 1/2 sacks. His 17 1/2 tackles for loss was tied for 18th across the entire FCS.
Against Appalachian State, Banks had five total tackles.
Linebacker Mulik Simmons: Simmons, a senior, made 73 tackles with 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks last year. He also had one interception, four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
He did not record any statistics against Appalachian State.