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No. 2 Montana State set to face No. 9 Idaho in second straight top-10 road showdown

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Posted at 2:46 PM, Oct 26, 2023

BOZEMAN — No. 2-ranked Montana State heads to No. 9-ranked Idaho on Saturday for its second consecutive top-ten road matchup.

The Bobcats are coming off a 42-30 win over then-No. 3 Sacramento State last week. Idaho is coming off a bye week — the Vandals lost to Montana at home on Oct. 14.

"Another top-ten team on the road, and that’s what's in front of us with Idaho," Bobcats coach Brent Vigen said. "A team that we did not play last year, but we did play in ‘21. Very prolific on offense, and they’ve played some very good defense at the same time. And they do have, I suppose, the advantage of coming off the bye week."

Montana State prevailed 20-13 in the 2021 meeting against Idaho, with then-freshman quarterback Tommy Mellott rushing for three touchdowns in the win.

A run game that ruled the landscape then still dominates today. MSU is coming off a performance of nearly 330 yards on the ground in their win over Sac State, just slightly above its per-game season average.

"I felt like we wore them down on the ground," Bobcats tight end Ryan Lonergan explained. "We played our style of football, and we kind of showed them what the Bobcat run game is all about. We opened up those holes, and clearly Julius (Davis) and all those guys showed it."

Lonergan stepped into the starting position at fullback when Derryk Snell was ruled out just prior to the game. According to Vigen, Snell aggravated a previous injury and he is currently day-to-day.

Montana State has been battling multiple injuries. Danny Uluilakepa will be out for an "extended period of time," according to Vigen, after injuring his elbow against Sacramento State. And Vigen noted that Level Price Jr. is also day-to-day with an injury.

The team has had to employ a next-man-up mentality.

"I didn’t know I was going to be starting until Derryk (Snell) came up to me and let me know that he’s not going to be able to play," Longergan said. "He’s obviously played a pivotal role in the success of our offense the past three years, and being able to back that up is something that I have to fill big shoes there. But he’s a very encouraging guy and walked me through the process."

One player who has been out with injury, Taco Dowler, is expected to be back in the lineup at wide receiver and punt returner, Vigen said.

The defensive depth has been on full display with starters having to step away and recover from injuries. Miles Jackson moved from cornerback to nickelback before the Sac State game — a position he's had experience with and needed to step into to provide more depth for the defense.

"Our depth is really good this season," Jackson said. "Especially in the back end, and up front, and all our linebackers too. Our defensive calling was good that game, it was great."

The defense’s disruption of opposing offenses and its ability to wear teams down as the game goes on is something that will be key again against Idaho.

"Getting these teams with really good quarterbacks off schedule, getting them in the second and long is so important, and you’re going to give up some first downs, that’s okay," Vigen explained. "They’re going to be able to move the ball, that’s okay. But as long as we make it really hard on them and they have to be consistent, that’s what we’re after."

And the team has played off the momentum of its fans, both home and away. That's something that might be present in the Kibbie Dome come Saturday.

"I heard our crowd way more than I heard (Sac State’s) crowd, I think," Jackson said. "So, that’s been like that every single game. It’s been awesome. It just shows how dedicated our fans are and how they’re everywhere in the countryk looking out to just be there for us and support us anyway possible."

Saturday's kickoff is scheduled for at 2 p.m. Mountain time. The game will be broadcast on the Montana Television Network.