Idaho quarterback John Welsh hasn't given much thought to Saturday being his last collegiate football game. All he's thinking about is beating the Montana Grizzlies.
If that happens, Welsh's right arm likely will have a big say in that matter. Welsh, a 6-foot-2, 213-pounder form Oak Forest, Ill., ranks fourth on Idaho's all-time passing list with 7,714 yards and fourth with 53 touchdown passes.
"We're just concentrating on getting a win," Welsh said. "Me and the rest of the seniors are just trying to enjoy our last couple of days. It's been tough with the way the season has gone. This is probably our last chance to go out and play football."
Welsh, No. 13, is definitely closing his career in style. In his last four starts, he's averaging 383.3 yards per game. He threw for a career-high 410 yards in a 54-27 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 20 and 409 yards in last week's 50-27 loss to North Texas.
"You've got to figure that Welsh will come in here - it's his last game - and he'll crank that right arm up and see if he can't set some kind of record and have a little fun," said Montana coach Joe Glenn. "We'd better get ready."
"Right now, our deal is we're playing with a lot of confidence on offense," said Idaho coach Tom Cable. "We're running the ball and throwing the ball. We've got a good mix. We've taken a number of sacks and that's hurt in the running department. I don't know that we're going to throw the ball all over the yard."
Montana's secondary has been plagued by injuries and been susceptible to the pass. The Grizzlies allow 261.8 passing yards per game, seventh in the Big Sky Conference. However, Montana is second in pass defensive efficiency, which takes into account opponents' completion percentage, interceptions and touchdown passes.
The Vandals have a deep and talented receiving corps, led by senior 6-foot senior Chris Lacy (No. 3), who has 62 catches for 967 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Chris Belser, Josh Jelmberg, Rossi Martin and Ethan Jones all have more than 25 catches.
"It's scary," Glenn said. "Nobody has stopped them. We've got to play as hard as we can and hold it down the very best we can defensively and try to keep them from scoring so many darn points."
Teams have been able to get pressure on Idaho's quarterbacks. The Vandals start three sophomores and two juniors on the offensive line. They've allowed 38 sacks this season.
Montana, which sacked Welsh just once in last year's 45-38 win, is tied with Montana State for the Big Sky lead in sacks with 37.
"We have to get pressure," said Montana defensive end Tim Bush, who has six sacks this season. "Our secondary has been beat up. As a defensive line, all four of us need to get pressure, get him (Welsh) running around and get some hits on him. We've got to get him out of his game."
Welsh, who was intercepted three times by Montana last season, has thrown just five picks in 2001. In his first 25 games, he was intercepted 33 times.
Idaho quarterback Brian Lindgren will see some action. Lindgren has played at least one series in the second quarter of games Welsh has started.
Lindgren, a 6-foot-4, 211-pound sophomore from Walla, Walla, Wash., started three games for an injured Welsh this season. He's thrown for 1,595 yards and 10 touchdowns and set a school record by throwing for 637 yards in a 70-58 loss to Middle Tennessee on Oct. 6
Welsh had nothing but good things to say about Michael Harrington, a freshman from Portland, Ore., who is a redshirt this season. Harrington, the younger brother of Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, was heavily recruited by the Grizzlies.
"He tears up our first-string defense on a regular basis," Welsh said. "We've had a couple of scrimmages with the scout team and he's shown some of the things he can do. I feel we'll be in very good hands with our quarterback situation next season."
Idaho's top running back Blair Lewis, a junior college transfer, was lost for the season with a knee injury during the Vandals' sixth game. Lewis rushed for 509 yards and collected 1,171 all-purpose yards before the injury.
Sophomore Zach Gerstner (No. 28) and senior Anthony Tenner (No. 2 ) will split the running load Saturday. Gerstner averages 4.2 yards per carry. Tenner averages 4.0 yards per carry and has scored eight touchdowns. Tenner rushed for 100 yards and scored three touchdowns in Idaho's 33-30 win over Montana in 1999.
Despite a 1-9 record this year and just six victories in two seasons, Cable's job does not appear to be in jeopardy.
Cable, who signed a three-year contract when he was hired, inked a one-year extension earlier this season.
"We like everything about our (football) program, except the record," Idaho athletic director Mike Bohn told the Spokesman Review last month. "We like the way we recruit, our discipline, the academic performance of the team. Again, everything except the win-loss record."
Idaho's kickoff and punt cover units have been everything but special this season.
The Vandals allow 24.6 yards per kick return and have had four kicks returned for touchdowns against them. Idaho allows 10.4 yards per punt return and Washington returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown against the Vandals.
Montana averages 20.3 yards per kickoff return. Griz true freshman Jefferson Heidelberger earned Big Sky special teams player of the week for his effort against Montana State. Heidelberger had 110 kickoff return yards, and almost broke one for a touchdown near the end of the first half.
Griz senior receiver Etu Molden has been kept in check the last two weeks, catching just four passes for 54 yards and one touchdown. He's still well within reach of finishing with the second-best season in terms of yardage by a UM receiver.
With 80 yards, Molden will pass seven players and move into second on the all-time list. Molden has 1,000 yards this season. Scott Gurnsey, who will be in the radio broadcast booth Saturday, collected 1,079 yards in 1993. Joe Douglass set the record with 1,469 yards in 1996.
Molden likely will pass three players with his first catch - Jimmy Farris (1,003), Mike Trevathan (1,006) and Matt Wells (1,008).
"That receiver - Etu Molden - is as talented as anyone we've played, except maybe that freshman at Washington (Reggie Williams)," said Cable. "He's a really good player. He's their go-to guy. He's the guy you've got to know where he's at and you've got to defend him every play."
Montana's kickoff cover units, which have been solid all season, will be put to the test by Lacy, who averages 26.2 yards per kickoff return.
Lacy holds the school record with 1,394 return yards. He's third on the all-time list with an average of 25.8 yards per return.
Montana secondary coach Dave Doeren and his wife Sara celebrated the birth of their second child earlier this week. Luke David was born Sunday. The Doerens' other son is Jacob.
The Montana-Idaho meetings will continue through at least 2004. Montana is slated to play at Idaho on Oct. 5 of 2002, while Idaho will return to Missoula on Sept. 27, 2003. The Griz play at Idaho on Oct. 23, 2004.
Reporter Jon Kasper can be reached at 523-5247 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.