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FCS Game of the Week Preview: No. 11 Eastern Washington at Montana

Montana is looking to get back to being the best team in the Big Sky

NCAA Football: Montana at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Game Time: Saturday, September 23, 2017, 8 p.m. ET

Location: Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Missoula, Montana

Where To Watch: ATSN

Betting Odds: Eastern Washington -10, O/U 66

Odds via sportsbooks monitored by GamblersPalace.com


The Montana Grizzlies are looking for their first Big Sky conference title in six years. To do that though, they need to be able to get past the team that has dominated the conference this decade, the Eastern Washington Eagles.

Eastern Washington has looked more vulnerable than it has in recent memory this season. The Eagles are 1-2 and were shellacked by both Texas Tech and North Dakota State. It’s been a rough start for long-time assistant Aaron Best in his first season as head coach of the program.

As for the Grizzlies, they are still looking to turn the corner under Bob Stitt. Montana has lost five games in its first two seasons with Stitt at the helm, but are off to a 2-1 start this year and ripped their two opponents not named Washington.

Reasons to Like Eastern Washington

The Eagles still have one of the best passing attacks in the nation under Gage Gubrud. Gubrud torched Fordham last week and finally started to prove that he could thrive without the amazing Cooper Kupp. Gubrud has one of the biggest arms in the FCS and has had a lot of success throwing the ball throughout his career.

Eastern Washington has also tried to make itself proficient at running the ball. It has been slow going and the top two rushers are averaging under 4.5 yards per carry, but at least it is trying to no longer be one-dimensional.

Reasons Not to Like Eastern Washington

Defense has been an issue for the Eagles this season. Although they were sharp during the last half of last season, they have backslid horribly at the start of this year. They allowed both Texas Tech and North Dakota State to shred them and Fordham might have done the same if they had superstar running back Chase Edmonds available.

Gubrud is throwing a lot of interceptions too. He feels like he has to do too much to keep the Eagles in games and is making decisions he hasn’t made in the past as a result. If Eastern Washington falls behind early, Gubrud might make it worse by throwing risky passes into coverage.

Reasons to Like Montana

Montana has the best home field advantage in the FCS and will have a loud crowd cheering it on this week. The Grizzlies have scored 101 points on the two FCS opponents they have faced at home already and should tear up the Eagles defense.

The Grizzlies also have an offensive genius in Stitt. Although the record doesn’t back it up yet, Montana is lucky to have him. He is turning the program around and the Grizzlies are slowly becoming an offensive juggernaut under him.

Reasons Not to Like Montana

Stitt’s Grizzlies have not been good on the ground this season and are still struggling with turnovers. Montana’s leading rusher, Jeremy Calhoun, has only been able to average 3.8 yards per carry and doesn’t have much in the way of explosiveness. Calhoun’s longest run this season was just 17 yards.

Turnovers have been a major issue too. Through three games, Montana has thrown four picks and lost four fumbles and that has really hamstrung this offense from fully unlocking its potential.

Prediction

I love Montana and the points in this game. I think the Grizzlies are going to find a way to win outright too. Stitt will come up with a gameplan that will exploit the Eagles’ weaknesses and the Grizzlies will win this one late.

Final Score: Montana 34, Eastern Washington 30