Separately, Tim Walsh and the Cal Poly football team have played Montana their fair share of times.
And despite how well the Mustangs have stood up to the Grizzlies since 2003 — winning once and coming up short by an average of two points three other times — it’s Walsh who has more wins against them all-time.
Going back to his 14-year career at Portland State, Cal Poly’s first-year coach is 2-9 against Montana. The Mustangs are 1-12.
Walsh’s Portland State team picked up a 35-32 win over the Grizzlies in 2004, and that was a Montana squad that advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision title game.
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What’s that one extra win worth?
“Hopefully, a calmness,” Walsh said. “It’s really easy to get too amped up for these guys because of who they are, because of where they’re playing, and I think you get lost in all the surroundings of the game rather than concentrating on the game.”
Together, Walsh and Cal Poly take on the No. 4 Grizzlies (4-0) for the first time today, and their chances at getting one of those elusive wins in Montana is seemingly hindered by a laundry list of factors.
• The Grizzlies will have the home field and climate advantage: A 25,000-plus-seat stadium known to acoustically amplify noise to legendary levels. The temperature is not expected to rise above 38 degrees.
• Coming off a bye, Montana had two weeks to rest up and prepare for Cal Poly, which has played four straight games, including two against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents.
• The Mustangs have been hit hard by injuries and could be without five of their opening-game starters on offense.
• The Grizzlies run defense is ranked second in the country at fewer than 50 yards allowed per game and has given up just one touchdown on the ground — numbers that are not encouraging for a triple-option offense that’s scored just two touchdowns in the past three games.
But Montana actually looked human in its most recent game, a 41-34 overtime win against Northern Arizona, and in an earlier 17-10 victory over UC Davis.
And the Grizzlies rank next to last in the FCS in giving up more than 300 passing yards per game.
“The major point of emphasis for us this season was to play better rush defense,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “So we’ve emphasized that. Some teams have abandoned their run game a bit and really passed it a bunch. Our passing yards don’t look good, but we’re No. 1 (in the Big Sky Conference) in passing efficiency defense. Our touchdowns, percentages and our yards per completion are pretty good.”
Cal Poly won’t likely have the luxury of abandoning its running game with an offense predicated on 3 or more yards at a time, but the injuries play a role as to whether the Mustangs can take any advantage in the passing game.
One of the biggest questions marks is Cal Poly leading receiver Dominique Johnson, who said he partially dislocated his shoulder in last week’s 21-14 win over South Dakota State and did not practice at all this week.
“I definitely have progressed,” said Johnson, who isn’t listed on this week’s depth chart and could be a game-day decision. “I’m feeling better. It’s just much more than what I’ve been able to do earlier in the week. Hopefully by (today), I’ll be fine.”
Ruled out is running back Jon Hall, who is still recovering from knee surgery and hasn’t played since a 28-10 loss at Ohio three weeks ago.
Several other players practiced for the first time Thursday after being hurt against the Jackrabbits. Running backs Jono Grayson and Jaymes Thierry were in the action for the first time Thursday, the last day before Cal Poly began its travel to Missoula, Mont.
Cornerback Xavier Gardner and safety Greg Francis also got in their first days of practice.
Walsh said he had not made any concrete decisions on which injured players would be available for the game, but if not assured of their readiness to play, some might not even make the trip.
“Everybody’s made progress,” Walsh said. “Whether they’ve made enough to where we can count on them to really contribute in the game — that’s the question. Because I’m bringing guys that can go play. I’m not bringing guys to go on the trip, and say ‘I tried but I really can’t go.’ That doesn’t do us any good when we’re only allowed 54 players.”