SAN LUIS OBISPO, California -- Though Montana's season-opening win against national champion North Dakota State last year will forever put a smile on Bob Stitt's face, thoughts of what happened the week after still start his teeth grinding.
Riding high on the upset in Stitt's first game as Griz head coach, Montana came out flat seven days later against Cal Poly. The 20-19 shocker, one of just four Mustang wins on the year, was a classic letdown game -- a poor performance following an impeccable one.
The Griz are determined to avoid the pitfall this time.
Montana travels to San Luis Obispo, California to again face Cal Poly on Saturday, a game that kicks off at 1 p.m. (MDT) and airs on ROOT Sports. The sixth-ranked Griz will try to keep the momentum gained in their last outing when UM scored a key victory over Northern Iowa, then ranked No. 3.
The only way that happens is if Montana comes ready to play this time, Stitt said.
"If you think there is gonna be a carry over, you won a big game and somebody is gonna bow down to ya 'cause you had a great win, then you're gonna get punched right in the face," a fiery Stitt said this week.
It's a sentiment the Mustangs (2-1) take to heart as well. Cal Poly is coming off its own impressive road trip, stealing a top-10 win from South Dakota State last week in Brookings, South Dakota.
But head coach Tim Walsh doesn't anticipate needing any extra help getting up for this week's game, the first in Big Sky Conference play for both teams.
"I'm pretty sure that a name like Montana takes care of that for us," Walsh deadpanned.
Kickoff Saturday comes with a rare home day game for Cal Poly, which plays most of its early season contests at night under the lights. Temperatures are expected to rise into the 90s by the afternoon, further solidifying each team's offensive game plan.
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Wear out the opposition.
As usual, the Griz (2-0) want their play count climbing toward 100. Cal Poly, too, holds the ball by design and ranks seventh in the FCS through three games in time of possession -- nearly 35 minutes per contest -- behind its dominant triple option run game. Both styles of play put tremendous strain on opposing defenses.
Cal Poly's game-winning touchdown in the 38-31 win over the Jackrabbits last weekend covered 84 yards in 12 plays and 6 1/2 minutes of game clock.
In order to avoid having the Mustangs milk away the game, Stitt said his team needs sustained drives -- the kind that were missing in the second half two weeks ago at UNI. Unlike then, when UM had just three first downs after halftime, the Griz need to put themselves in manageable third-down situations Saturday.
"If you (face third-and-long and) have to throw the ball, if you're predictable, then they're going to go to a three-man rush or a two-down line and there's no place to throw it," Stitt said. "You've got to be good on first and second down."
Because Cal Poly is great on third down on the opposite side. The 'Stangs convert on 52 percent (23 of 44) of their third-down attempts, good enough for seventh in the country. The Griz have done so on just 29 percent (9 of 31) of tries, thanks largely to the 4-of-17 performance at UNI.
"I know we can stop the run so if we can stop the pass our defense is gonna be successful," added Cal Poly senior linebacker Joseph Gigantino, whose team ranks third in the Big Sky in rushing yards allowed and one spot behind Montana.
Cal Poly has won the past two meetings in the series between these two and three of the last five. The Griz have not beat the Mustangs at Spanos Stadium since 2008.
"I think we've been the underdogs for too long now and we're starting to take a step forward and become one of the better teams in the Big Sky," said Cal Poly fullback Joe Protheroe, who leads the FCS in rushing with 467 yards.
The FCS is starting to agree. The Mustangs are knocking on the door in both the STATS and FCS coaches' top 25 polls.