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Sitting at 3-0, No. 13 Montana ready to kick off conference play against Northern Arizona

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Posted at 9:48 PM, Sep 22, 2023

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Montana Grizzlies exited non-conference play a perfect 3-0 to start the season.

The Grizzlies faced their toughest test yet in Ferris State last Saturday, a game that pushed Montana to the edge, but one UM was able to find a way to win.

“It was great to get a grind it out win last Saturday night against a good team when it just seemed from our perspective that every break was going against us and we just kind of found a way to get it done,” UM coach Bobby Hauck said. “I really think our team's mentally tough. In fact I don't think it, I know it. We have a mentally tough football team and that'll hopefully pay dividends for us in the upcoming weeks when we get into conference play."

The offense has been hit or miss so far for Montana, while the defense has shined and seemingly improved every game, but it still sees more room for growth.

“I'd say we've got a lot to improve on still,” UM senior linebacker Braxton Hill said. “Obviously always want to hold them to zero (points), but I think we've made great leaps in each game from Week 1 to Week 2 to Week 3 and we just have to keep taking the coaching and keep improving there."

Now, it's on to the most important part of the year: Big Sky Conference play.

The Grizzlies begin their conference slate on the road in Flagstaff, Arizona, as they get set to take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.

With conference play comes more familiarity which helps in the prep, and is something that is sometimes difficult during non-conference play.

“There's not really a difference in preparation but you do have some historical background and some institutional knowledge on them,” Hauck explained. “Oftentimes, it's coaches on staff that you've coached against either there or other places, so you have some background with them which is the case with NAU. Last week was quite odd that way really not having any gauge, any common opponents, any history's that's more difficult I think."

The Lumberjacks are 0-3 to start the season, and most recently lost to Utah Tech, a team Montana beat in Week 2. The Lumberjacks have also fallen to North Dakota and FBS Arizona.

NAU has strengths at wide receiver and on the defensive line, but there's a lot of new faces, including at quarterback.

But even with personnel changes, Hauck doesn't expect the Lumberjacks to change much of what they've done schematically in the past.

“Everybody runs the same thing so it's not a wholesale change,” Hauck said. “They run our plays, we run their plays. Ferris State runs our plays, we run their plays. Alabama runs our plays and we try to run their plays so everybody runs the same stuff."

These two teams last met two years ago in Flagstaff, a game the Grizzlies won 30-3.

NAU finds ways to be in close games, and the elevation always plays a factor, not to mention they play in one of the more unique venues in college football in the Walkup Skydome.

“It's really a cool building,” Hauck said. “It's one of the largest all-wood structures in the world and it's loud in there and I just think it's a neat place to play, and NAU's always good, and we've actually played really well down there over the years so it's always a good game and it's just kind of a fun place to go."