MISSOULA — Montana (9-2, 6-1 Big Sky) will try to snap a three-game losing streak to Montana State (8-3, 5-2) and in the process wrap up its first Big Sky title since 2009 at noon MT Saturday at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman.
The following are key Grizzlies players to keep an eye on during the game, which will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.
Quarterback: Dalton Sneed, No. 11
The 6-foot-1, 216-pound senior dual-threat quarterback from Scottsdale, Arizona, returned on Nov. 9 after going down with an apparent ankle injury Oct. 19. Sneed has been a pocket passer since his return but has scrambled with an odd stride when needed. He’s averaging 305.4 yards of total offense per game. Sneed is completing 66.9% of his passes for 280.6 yards with 19 TDs to eight INTs. He’s rushed for 24.9 yards and five TDs. Backup Cam Humphrey led two wins as a pocket passer, completing 41 of 57 passes for 511 yards with five TDs, no INTs in those games.
Running back: Marcus Knight, No. 21
The 6-foot-1, 194-pound sophomore running back from San Juan, Capistrano, California, is a breakout star in his first year. Knight has blended speed and physicality to run for 853 yards, an average of 77.5 per game, sixth in the Big Sky. His 19 total TDs are tied for third most in the FCS, and his 26 catches for 239 yards are fourth most on the team. Knight has fumbled three times, tops on the team, and has been benched when he does. The Griz have another emerging player in backup Nick Ostmo, a hard-running true freshman who has 294 rushing yards and 2 TDs.
Wide receiver: Samori Toure, No. 8
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior wide receiver from Portland, Oregon, is in the midst of the best stretch of his resurgent season. Toure has 462 receiving yards and seven TDs in the past three games, stepping up without Sammy Akem the past seven quarters. He’s up to 1,052 yards and 10 TDs in 11 games, both tops in the Big Sky, becoming the first Griz since 2015 to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. Jerry Louie-McGee, the school’s career receptions leader, has 49 catches for 424 yards and three TDs. Mitch Roberts has filled for Akem, catching 16 passes for 204 yards.
Offensive line: Cy Sirmon, No. 66
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The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior center from Wenatchee, Washington, has locked down the middle of the O-line in his first year there. Sirmon came to Montana as a linebacker, moved to the D-line and then to the O-line at right guard before sliding to center late in spring camp. The improved line has paved the way for 172.9 rush yard per game in BSC play and allowed 26 sacks in 11 games, seventh in the Big Sky. The O-line of Sirmon, left tackle Conlan Beaver, left guard Angel Villanueva, right guard Moses Mallory and right tackle Dylan Cook have 95 career starts.
Defensive line: Jesse Sims, No. 37
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior defensive tackle from Stevensville, Montana, is playing some of the most disruptive football of his career in recent weeks. Sims has been a wrecking ball at nose tackle in his first year there. He’s tied for fifth on the team with 44 tackles, is fifth with 4.5 TFLs and tied for fourth with 2.5 sacks. Joining Sims on the line, redshirt freshman Alex Gubner leads the team with four INTs despite being a 6-foot-3, 285-pound defensive tackle. Another redshirt freshman, Milton Mamula, has four TFLs, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one recovery.
Linebacker: Dante Olson, No. 33
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior linebacker from Medford, Oregon, keeps racking up the tackles in his second year as a starter. Olson leads the Big Sky with 133 tackles, 19 away from breaking his school record. He’s filled the stat sheet with 8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, one INT, one forced fumble and one recovery. First-year starter Jace Lewis is close behind with 104 tackles, four sacks, one fumble recovery and a team-best five hurries. D-II transfer Patrick O’Connell brings a relentless motor to lead the team with 6.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, 44 total tackles and four PBUs.
Secondary: Robby Hauck, No. 17
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore safety from Missoula, Montana, is always ready to lay a hit on whoever has the ball. Hauck is second on UM with 108 tackles and has four TFLs and two sacks. He’s collected one INT and forced one fumble. Safety Gavin Robertson brings physicality too, tallying 56 tackles, two INTs and one recovery. Hybrid safety/LB Josh Sandry is fourth on UM with 5.5 TFLs and has one forced fumble, one recovery and one INT. Cornerbacks Dareon Nash and Justin Calhoun have two and one INTs, respectively. Backup safety Nash Fouch has two INTs.
Special teams: Jerry Louie-McGee, No. 16
The 5-foot-9, 171-pound senior wide receiver from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, has lived up to his “Mr. Electricity” nickname in his career. His three career punt return TDs are tied for the most in UM history. Louie-McGee is joined by Malik Flowers, a kickoff returner who has two career return TDs and leads the BSC with 26.6 yards per return. Kicker Brandon Purdy has made 49 of 51 PATs and nine of 12 FGs, with a long of 47 yards. Adam Wilson is ninth in the Big Sky with 40.9 yards per punt, and nine of his punts were 50+ yards, with 20 of 48 inside the 20-yard line.