Sacramento State is perfect proof that one week's successes can't guarantee next week's outcome.
After a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback two Saturdays ago and Sac State's first win of the year, the Hornets got swatted by North Dakota in a big way last weekend. Montana, oh so good recently at carrying momentum from game to game, is determined not to get caught in a similar trap this week.
The 10th-ranked Grizzlies close out a three-game home stand that has popped with offensive fireworks when they host Sac State at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. with the game airing on local Cowles Montana Media affiliates (ABC/FOX).
The Griz (4-1, 1-1 in Big Sky Conference) are coming off a 67-7 dismantling of Mississippi Valley State, the squad's final nonconference tilt and the third straight game in which it scored more than 40 points.
"We wanted to be good on Saturday because we were executing our stuff, not because they were doing things wrong. There's a big difference," Griz head coach Bob Stitt recapped the MVSU game.
It's the same script for Montana this weekend. Again the Griz enter as heavy favorites over the Hornets (1-5, 1-2), a team recoiling from its own one-sided affair. North Dakota wiped out Sac State 40-7 a week ago, a game in which the Fighting Hawks piled high 625 yards of total offense.
"I was really anxious to see how our guys were going to react after a comeback win," Sacramento coach Jody Sears said of the team's 41-38 victory over Montana State. "Shoot, we didn't change anything. Came to work with a little more pep in our step. I knew we were facing a really good team, a very physical team, and we did not at all play like we had all year."
Where Montana's passing attack has hogged the spotlight in the past month, Saturday presents an opportunity for the Griz rushers to share the stage. Sac State owns the worst rushing defense in the Big Sky, allowing a crippling 249.5 ypg -- thanks in large part to its poor performances stopping the run the past two weeks.
Montana State rumbled for 385 rushing yards in its defeat and then North Dakota one-upped that total with 422 this past Saturday. The Hawks finished with three 100-yard rushers and none of them were even 2015 league rushing champion John Santiago, who added 76 on eight carries.
So that is what's lining up across from Montana's offensive line, which has continued to improve in recent weeks behind a simplified scheme and bigger bodies.
"We're gonna keep it simple for those guys so they can be very aggressive," Stitt explained. "When you're an offensive line questioning who you should be blocking, things are gonna go bad."
The Grizzlies' top rushing output this season came two weeks ago when UM put up 202 yards on Southern Utah. Jeremy Calhoun (90 yards) and John Nguyen (87) combined for the bulk of that. UM ranks last in the league in rushing yards with 131.4 ypg and has yet to have an individual break 100 yards on the ground.
Montana's first 100-yard rusher didn't come until the team's ninth game last year when quarterback Makena Simis finally broke the century mark with 105 at Idaho State.
Sacramento State's best bet is to continue to force its opponent into third-and-long scenarios, though that hasn't helped much recently. MSU was 2 of 14 on third-down conversions and still managed 38 points. The Hornets are fourth in the league with a 34.1 percent defensive conversion rate and sooner or later that will start paying off in defensive stops.
"Because then they need to start stretching out the field and that'll keep the quarterback in the pocket a little longer and give us more opportunity to get pressure on him," Sac State's junior defensive end Ben Sorensen said.
And the Hornets need stops. Sac is scoring a league-worst 20.3 points per game while its offense struggles with inconsistencies and errors. Only Portland State (16) has more turnovers than Sac State's 12, among Big Sky schools.
The Griz defense will go without senior cornerback JR Nelson once again this week. His suspension of 50 percent of the team's season covers 5.5 of 11 games, but the NCAA rounds up in such cases. He'll be eligible to return in UM's seventh game next week at Northern Arizona.