MISSOULA — Montana will play its first playoff game since 2015 when it hosts Southeastern Louisiana at 1 p.m. MT Saturday in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Griz earned a first-round bye and are 9-3 overall. They're the No. 6 seed as an at-large team out of the Big Sky Conference and the seventh-ranked team in the most recent STATS FCS Top 25.
Southeastern Louisiana improved to 8-4 by upsetting Villanova in the first round. The Lions are an unseeded at-large team from the Southland Conference and aren't ranked in the current Top 25.
406mtsports.com caught up with Rob DeArmond, who covers Southeastern Louisiana for The Livingston Parish News, to gain some insight into the Lions and preview the upcoming game, which will be streamed on ESPN3.
Q: What’s the vibe around Southeastern Louisiana coming off the first-round playoff win after the heartbreaking loss in the regular-season finale? What do you make of the Lions coming to play in Missoula, where they’ll have to deal with the elevation of about 3,200 feet, weather predicted to be in the 30s and the noise of 25,000 fans?
A: The program is enjoying the moment, but at the same time, realizing there's still work ahead to keep the season going. The loss to Nicholls was tough, but all the team and its coaches wanted was another chance to play. They got it, and they've taken advantage of it.
The Lions really aren't concerned with any of those outside factors.
Q: What does Southeastern Louisiana tend to run offensively with its pass-heavy attack and quintet of quality receivers? What are the biggest differences in how the offense operates when the Lions switch between quarterbacks Chason Virgil and Cole Kelley?
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A: Southeastern's goal isn't complicated — get the ball to its athletes, get them in space and let them make plays. With Virgil, the Lions are looking to pass. He's coming off a game in which he threw for a career-high 474 yards. Kelley, meanwhile, has a team-leading 10 rushing touchdowns. Kelley is 6-foot-7, 260 pounds, and he uses every bit of his frame when he runs the ball.
Q: What can Montana expect to see out of Southeastern Louisiana’s defense? How have teams successfully attacked the defense, and how have the Lions shut down opposing offenses?
A: Southeastern is running an attacking style of defense under first-year defensive coordinator Lance Guidry, the former head coach at McNeese State. Last week, Villanova rushed for 143 yards on 21 carries in the first half — an average of 6.8 yards a carry — and finished with 231 yards rushing. One of the things the Southeastern coaching staff is really good at is making adjustments, both in-game and at halftime.
Q: What are the main matchups/position battles you’ll be watching from a Southeastern Louisiana point of view? What do the Lions have to do to win the game?
A: In talking with Southeastern coach Frank Scelfo, one of the key matchups will come down to the Southeastern offensive line and how it handles the Montana linebacking corps. The matchup between the Southeastern defensive backs and Montana receivers and vice versa also bears watching.
The key for the Lions will be limiting the Grizzlies' big plays.
Q: What’s your score prediction for the game? Why?
A: Southeastern 35, Montana 34. Why not? Southeastern has faced the No. 6 team in the nation twice this season and won both of them — the season opener hosting Jacksonville State (35-14) and Central Arkansas (34-0) on the road. It has the potential to be a great game, and another nail-biter will just make it that much better.