First off: I could actually see this Montana team — defensively anyway — being a bit more of a pain in the ass than one or two of UW’s FBS opponents. It’s not like they have any one elite player or unit, but they also have no weakness really. They’re really experienced, disciplined, quick, instinctual, they hit hard and tackle well... their backend absolutely blankets FCS foes while their 3-3-5 front six is so in sync; ya know how Jimmy and Pete always talk/talked about just knowing your job at all times so you don’t have to think and can just play? That’s Montana’s defense. In the end, Washington’s talent should win out offensively, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a tougher defense than many fans expect.
On the other side though, I just can’t see Montana’s offense overcoming the combination of talent disparity and Washington’s defensive prowess. They scored a metric crapload in all two of their games last season (granted, one was against Central, who’s DII, but still) and for the most part did the same in 2019 other than in losses. Were the two raw talent levels held constant in this game Montana could test this Husky defense pretty good. But they’re not, and defensively the Dawgs should be in control.
Washington- 45, Montana- 20
Montana is one of the best FCS teams in the country, and were a perennial FCS title contender every year during head coach Bobby Hauck’s first stint from 2003-2009. He took the UNLV job and after being unable to turn that program around, he landed back in Missoula in 2018 and has the Grizzlies back on top.
Offensively they like to be a physical running team, but ultimately are led by their quarterback Cam Humphrey. The redshirt senior always gets the ball where it needs to be and has put up great numbers in his 5 starts so far in his career. Receiver Gabe Sulser gets open and catches the ball consistently while All-Big Sky preseason selection Samuel Akem will use his 6-4 frame to be a big play threat. They have a strong offensive line led by LT Conlan Beaver, another All-Big Sky selection. The big challenge will be getting after Humphrey so he doesn’t keep drives alive with his legs. He’s got that Chase Garber-esque knack of doing the right thing on every play, even when things break down.
Defensively, FCS All-American Jace Lewis will anchor a linebacking unit that plays in unison and with great fundamentals. In fact, the whole defense does. They play the slightly unconventional 3-3-5 which can sometimes be tricky for an offense to dissect. Either way, I like the Husky offensive line here to impose their will. Super hot take, I know.
Montana is a great team and will likely make a run in the FCS playoffs. Washington rarely struggles with FCS teams and this should be no different. What I’ll be looking for is if the Husky offense can simply run through and pass over a lower level team without opening up the playbook before the Michigan game. Will the offense give us confidence going into Week 2? Or will it be more red zone struggles, missed deep passes, and stubborn running?
Washington- 38, Montana- 10
I think this Husky team is capable of big things this year. Is it just my excitement to return to an almost normal Husky football experience? Maybe. But I think we’re going to see a Husky team that is absolutely pumped to be playing in front of a purple-filled Husky stadium on Saturday, likewise Jimmy Lake’s first game at the helm in front of fans.
UW started the season much stronger than I expected last year - in the middle of a pandemic, and with a new QB, new Head Coach, and a brand new OC who had barely any time to implement his offense. All that, and they still looked pretty damn good. Now they’ve had an entire off-season to work with, a one-year-older Dylan Morris, and the return of almost everyone who did anything last year. I think this offense is going to surprise some people who’ve prematurely written off Donovan’s offense as humdrum.
I know Montana is a top FCS team - but they are an FCS team that has played just two games since 2019 and are coming into Husky stadium without their top two running backs. Griz quarterback and Issaquah native Cam Humphrey has experience and has shown well in his five starts since joining Montana in 2018, but even with star receiver Samuel Akem they are facing a Husky secondary as talented as any.
Against Montana I expect a run-heavy attack, but I think Rome Odunze, Terrell Bynum, and Cade Otton will all have opportunities to make big plays when Morris puts the ball in the air. I think a lot of Husky receivers could see the field, and I think UW will take some shots downfield early.
I don’t see UW making a slow start versus Montana. I think the Huskies come out hot and handle their business on both sides of the ball.
Washington- 44, Montana- 13
Early season games against FCS teams with huge betting lines are often hard to pick because they come down to whether the superior team’s coaching staff has an interest in running up the score or protecting a big lead at the end of the game. Although Montana is a top 10 FCS team, they are at a significant talent disadvantage heading into Montlake. Additionally, unlike much of the FCS, the Grizz did not complete a full spring season. They only played two games before wrapping for Covid-related issues.
Offensively, Montana is built around a high-completion, lower-risk passing game led by a fairly experienced QB in Issaquah native Cam Humphrey. UW has a defense that doesn’t give up big plays and Montana’s offense doesn’t hunt for them, so they’ll have to execute on longer drives to score points. A key factor when Montana has the ball is whether the ZTF-less front seven will get consistent pressure on Humphrey to disrupt their slow-but-steady offense. Cooper McDonald and Bralen Trice will be crucial in this area.
The general conservatism extends to Montana’s defense. With a 3-3-5 formation and no defensive linemen over 300 pounds, the Huskies will certainly try to establish a consistent running game behind their experienced offensive line. Montana has good and experienced linebackers, but if the line can win up front, that should be a recipe to stay ahead of schedule if Cam Davis and Richard Newton read their blocks correctly. If that run game clicks, it will force the defense to cheat up and give Dylan Morris more space to throw deep, out of play-action or otherwise. I would be surprised to see Morris attempt more than 25 passes in this game, but he should have a high yards/completion average if things go according to plan.
Altogether, it sounds like a recipe for fewer explosive plays, several longer drives, and not the point totals you might expect from a lower-division team. I still expect the Dawgs to cover the spread, but I think the number is in the right neighborhood.
Washington- 42, Montana- 17
This Montana team is reminiscent of Eastern Washington squads that have given the Huskies problems in the past. They’re ranked #9 in the FCS preseason poll so fans shouldn’t be expecting a complete walk in the park. Still, even the FCS champions would be a significant underdog in Husky Stadium and that’s exactly what’s going to be the case tomorrow.
With a premium non-conference matchup at Michigan the following week I would expect the coaching staff to be fairly vanilla with their gameplan. We may not see much in the way of exotic blitzes or trick plays as the athleticism advantage should hopefully become apparent quickly. Cam Humphrey is an Issaquah product who has put up good numbers for the Grizz when he has gotten the chance to play. Montana’s top 2 running backs from the past year both appear to be out due to injury so if Montana has any chance of pulling off the upset it will be on the
hump back of Humphrey’s arm.
I’m expecting Washington to start a little slowly before running away with it in the middle 2 quarters and allowing the backups some time in the 4th.
Washington- 31, Montana- 10
THE FINAL TALLY
Against the Spread (UW -23.5): Washington- 4, Montana- 1
Straight Up: Washington- 5, Montana- 0
Average Score: Washington- 40.0, Montana- 14.0