Sep. 5—MONTANA STATE (1-0) AT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (1-0)
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings
TV: Midco Sports
RADIO: WNAX-AM 570; Jackrabbit radio affiliates
RECORD LAST YEAR: MSU 12-2; SDSU 14-1 (FCS champions)
SERIES: Montana State leads 11-6
LAST TIME: SDSU beat MSU 39-18 last year in Brookings in the FCS semifinals
LAST WEEK: MSU beat Utah Tech 68-20; SDSU beat Western Oregon 45-7
RANKINGS: SDSU is ranked No. 1 in FCS; MSU is ranked No. 3
COACHES: MSU — Brent Vigen (3rd year, 25-5); SDSU — Jimmy Rogers (1st year)
WHAT TO KNOW: Rarely does an FCS non-conference game come along with this much at stake. Rogers called it a playoff game at his Tuesday morning press conference. And it kind of is. Last year Montana State went undefeated in FCS games and were still unable to earn a top-2 seed in the playoffs. If this year plays out at all like last year did, the loser of Saturday's game will not be in the hunt for home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
And how important is that home field advantage? SDSU has gone to Frisco both times they had it. Montana State beat the Jacks when they hosted them in the semifinals and got routed by them in the semifinals when it was in Brookings.
Both teams are coming off easy wins in their opener. Which team is most able to ramp up their intensity and lock in for a battle is likely going to come out on top.
Both teams are also dealing with injuries — Montana State will be without running back Lane Sumner, guard JT Reed and receiver Ty McCullouch, while SDSU could again be without middle linebacker Adam Bock. Receiver Jadon Janke, who sat out last week, will return to make his season debut.
The Bobcats saw freshman running back Scottre Humphrey emerge as a weapon last week, as he rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns against Utah Tech. Another freshman back, Jared White, had a 79-yard touchdown run, while quarterback Tommy Mellott, who burned the Jacks in the 2021 semifinals, rushed for 79 yards and threw for 157.
The Bobcats played two quarterbacks last year, often at the same time, with Sean Chambers joining Mellott, but they didn't get to use that against SDSU as Chambers was hurt early in the first quarter. The Jacks should get more of a taste of the two-headed monster this time around.
"That's extremely difficult because when you hand it off to another quarterback they can throw the ball," Rogers said. "They use Chambers in every way, they use Mellott in every way and they're both extremely athletic and physical runners that can make you miss. They're very well-coached and they have a ton of weapons — it's not just taking away the quarterbacks. We have to play 11-on-11 and stop every person on the field and that's easier said than done."
The Jacks, of course, counter with an offense that ran over Montana State to the tune of 281 yards on the ground — 158 from Isaiah Davis, 69 for Amar Johnson and 52 for quarterback Mark Gronowski, who also went 10-of-13 passing for 189 yards and three touchdowns. That trio is all back this year along with their entire offensive line and a receiving corps that adds exciting freshman Griffin Wilde to the Janke twins.
"It's gonna be one of those games that I imagine will go down to the fourth quarter," Vigen said. "They're good in all three phases. Gronowski can run it, can throw it and I look at those two running backs and that tandem is really good. You don't see a real weakness across the board for them."