CHENEY, WASH. -- Sometimes playful children cling to furniture. They jump from easy chairs to sofas, perhaps even hanging off book cases, all in the hopes of avoiding contact with the ground.

Don't touch the carpet, they might yell with glee. It's red-hot; it's lava.

Like kids playing make-believe inside on a rainy day, the Montana Grizzlies would rather not set foot on Eastern Washington's home field. Every time they touch the burning red turf at Roos Field -- "The Inferno," as the locals call it -- they lose.

Montana hopes to change the game Saturday when the No. 16 Grizzlies visit Eastern for a top-ranked Big Sky Conference showdown. The third-ranked Eagles have won four straight at home in the series since the red turf went down in 2010 with a fifth installment of the rivalry kicking off at 1:30 p.m. MDT.

The game can be seen regionally on ROOT Sports Northwest.

Montana (5-2, 2-2 in Big Sky) snapped a streak of four losses overall in the series with last year's 57-16 victory in Missoula. Facing a reloaded Eagles team, the Griz are trying to avoid losing back-to-back outings for the first time this season.

"Fortunately and unfortunately, we are playing a very, very good football team," said Montana head coach Bob Stitt, whose squad was on the short end of a 45-34 final at Northern Arizona last week, "but you've got an opportunity to beat a very, very good football team, which would be great for our guys right now. We need something like that."

To beat Eastern Washington (6-1, 4-0) will mean finding a way to outscore its potent offense, either by shackling it or blasting off even more maroon-colored fireworks. EWU ranks second in the nation in both scoring (46.6 ppg) and total yardage (569.6 ypg) and no team throws the ball better (445.6 passing ypg).

Montana is no slouch either ranking second behind the Eagles in the Big Sky in all those categories. But the Griz have played better defense this season and UM needs to stick to its identity and not get caught up in Eastern's eye-popping statistics, receiver Keenan Curran said.

"Every week we need to score points. That's how you win football games," said Curran, a sophomore. "As an offense you try not to focus on their offense so much as opposed to their defense. We're going to go in and game plan to play their defense."


The Eagles' firepower is unquestionable and the talk of the conference over the winter was what EWU could do with another year of Cooper Kupp. Kupp, flanked by fellow senior WRs Kendrick Bourne and Shaq Hill, is at the center of the most impressive passing attack in recent FCS history. The reigning STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year has enough school, league and national records to fill these pages alone.

But what's kept this offense afloat is a rookie offensive line determined not to be the soft spot in an otherwise fearsome offense. The Eagle graduated six big blockers last year and their depth chart is nothing but freshmen and sophomores across the line this fall.

"They read that, they heard that, so they just had a chip and a hunger," EWU coach Beau Baldwin said. "After loosing six seniors like we did last year that played a lot of football, they didn't want to be the reason why we wouldn't be successful."

Not since an early season matchup with perennial national champion North Dakota State, an overtime tussle and Eastern's only loss this year, have the Eagles faced a defensive front seven like Montana's. Getting pressure on quarterback Gage Gubrud, the nation's leading passer, could be the key to cutting into the EWU scoring.

The Griz couldn't do that last week at Northern Arizona and the QB picked apart the secondary. Against Gubrud, a better runner than NAU's Blake Kemp, pressure will be even more imperative.

Montana knows that. So does EWU's Baldwin.

"They're able to create some chaos and play aggressive, but not be out of position," the coach said. "That's always an impressive thing."

The Griz have a chance to shift the top of the Big Sky with an upset win. Three unbeatens look down on the rest in the standings and the other two -- North Dakota (5-0) and Weber State (4-0) -- play each other in Grand Forks, North Dakota on Saturday.

A win in Cheney isn't out of the question. Montana has already beaten one No. 3 on the road this fall, back on Sept. 10 at Northern Iowa, but history is not on the Grizzlies' side.

The Inferno has burned them up like lava.

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