MISSOULA — Homecoming at the University of Montana this weekend won’t be for just the alumni but will also apply to a number of Idaho State coaches as well.
When the eighth-ranked Grizzlies get set to take on the Bengals on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, multiple former coaches with UM’s program who are now with ISU will make their returns in what could be a shootout Saturday afternoon.
ISU head coach Rob Phenicie, who is in his third year as the head coach with the Bengals, served as Bobby Hauck’s offensive coordinator from 2003 to 2009 when the Grizzlies were among the elite in the FCS and dominated the Big Sky Conference.
And he’s not alone. ISU offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Ferriter, a Helena native, played at UM and coached the Grizzly receivers from 2015-2017 under Bob Stitt. JB Hall Jr., Idaho State’s safeties coach, also was on Stitt’s staff, and strength and conditioning coach Dan Ryan spent four years with Hauck during his first stint at Montana before following him to UNLV.
During his weekly press conference on Monday, Hauck was quick to compliment ISU’s coaching staff, where he highlighted the familiarity between the two programs.
“I think they’re extremely well-coached, they’ve done an amazing job there,” Hauck said. “It’s historically been a place where it’s been a little up and down and these guys have done a really good job of coaching there. They play hard, they’re sound, their scheme is excellent. They’re a handful to prepare for."
“This is a dangerous opponent, they’ve got our attention early on in the week this week. The programs and staffs know each other really well, so with that crossover we’re going to have to change some things, offense, defense and special teams.”
Idaho State, like No. 8 Montana, is coming into the matchup with plenty of confidence. The Bengals defeated Portland State 51-24 last weekend to improve to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
“They know how we do business and we probably don’t have quite as good an idea how they do it because we haven’t been immersed in it,” Hauck said. “But, as I mentioned, we’ll have to change a few things to counteract that.”
Hauck specifically highlighted ISU’s QB, Matt Struck. Struck lit up Portland State’s defense as he completed 16 of 25 passes for 343 yards and six touchdowns.
But the Grizzlies are coming off their own dominant performance after topping then-No. 4 UC Davis 45-20 last Saturday on the road. Quarterback Dalton Sneed threw for 268 yards and five scores and ran for 81 more yards while running back Marcus Knight added 91 yards of his own on the ground as the Griz tallied 528 total yards on offense.
And through this week of practice leading up to Homecoming, the Griz are feeling plenty confident.
“We’ve been very confident just like we have been all season ever since fall camp,” redshirt junior Samori Toure said. “We know what we can do. We’re just honed in and focused on the details and the little things and just keep trying to do what we’ve been doing.”
Toure caught four passes for 67 yards and a touchdown against Davis. He said with both teams coming off big wins, that makes Saturday’s contest a little more exciting.
“I would say so,” Toure said. “With any team in the Big Sky, there’s no easy wins. It’s going to be a competition every game so we look forward to every Big Sky game, especially the ones at home.”
Toure has been a big part of Montana’s explosive offense which has caused fits for opposing teams this season. Montana ranks second in the Big Sky in yards per game (477.8), just behind Northern Arizona’s 478.2. The Griz are third in points per game (37.4) but have racked up 46 points per game against their FCS opponents.
Toure, who hails from Portland, Oregon, has 26 receptions for 351 yards and two touchdowns this year. Toure saw playing time the past two seasons and contributed frequently but is breaking through in a more consistent way this season as a starter. He also has a touchdown pass thanks to a trick play the Griz ran against Monmouth.
“I feel like we’ve all been on the same page,” Toure said of Montana’s offensive efficiency. “Last year, a lot of the offense was all over the place sometimes. We just weren’t used to working together and the system. Getting better just comes with time and this season everything is starting to come together and we’re starting to click in all areas of our offense. The sky is the limit for us.”
And for him personally, Toure said those reps and experience have helped him the most.
“As time goes on, the game starts to slow down each year, and the game is starting to slow down a lot this year,” Toure said. “It’s just little things like pushing myself in the weight room, at practice on the field, in the classroom. Just working on the little things that I’ve started to catch onto as my career has gone on.
“College football is definitely not for everybody and it can be a shock when you first get there. I know it was for me, but it just all depends on how you adapt to it and persevere.”
Kickoff between Montana (4-1, 1-0) and Idaho State is at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Montana has won the past 12 meetings between the two schools and is 46-14 all-time against Idaho State.