Coming off its second consecutive homecoming win in a game that gave the Idaho State football team more wins this season then it had all of last year, the Bengals welcome Big Sky Conference powerhouse Montana to Holt Arena this Saturday.
Montana has scored at least 41 points in four of its five games and has wins over Valparaiso, Savannah State and Portland State while its two losses have come to Eastern Washington and the University of Washington.
“We are playing the flagship team of the conference,” said head coach Rob Phenicie. “They have the best facilities, they have the offensive genius as their coach, they come out with all these neat flags and we are just lucky to be on the field with them. We’re just poor little Idaho State.”
Idaho State has won two of its last three games, where each game was decided by four or less points but has scored more than 41 points one time this season, a 43-42 loss to Northern Colorado.
Last week, the Bengals implemented a run-stopping, option defense to try to contain the Mustangs clock-absorbing triple option offense.
This week, however, the Bengals will have to completely change what they did on defense last week as Montana presents a whole new set of challenges with its high-flying, up-tempo offense run by Montana head coach and offensive coordinator Bob Stitt.
“He is considered a guru in offensive football, so it is hard to stop,” Phenicie said.
“We switched it up for our game with Cal Poly because of the offense they run,” added defensive linemen JonRyheem Peoples. “We are getting back to what we normally do and our normal techniques,”
Montana will be working with backup quarterback and redshirt freshmen, Gresch Jensen, who took over in week one after senior quarterback Reese Phillips went down with an injury. The Griz are averaging 416.8 yards per-game, most of which has come through the air as Montana has thrown for over 300 yards in three of its five games.
In the two losses, both of which were to ranked FCS and FBS teams in Washington, ranked seventh in the FBS and Eastern Washington, 14th in the FCS, Montana was a victim of its own medicine as the Eagles tallied 549 of its 617 total yards through the air in a six-point victory in Missoula, while Washington quarterback Jake Browning missed on four passes while routing the Griz secondary for 259 yards in limited action.
Montana has the worst passing defense in the Big Sky, but most of the yardage according to Phenicie is attributed to teams needing to resort to the air to keep up with the Griz offense.
The defense revolves around preseason First-Team All-Conference linebacker Josh Buss whose availability this week depends on how he handles Montana’s concussion protocol. Phenicie said that the team was preparing as if Buss will play.
“He is the straw that stirs the drink,” Phenicie said. “He’s their key guy. He plays out in space and he is one of the best defenders that plays in the Big Sky Conference.”
Although both Phenicie and offensive coordinator Matt Troxel both hail from Montana, Phenicie says the terminology and offense has changed even since the spring practices where Troxel spent his short stint before returning to Pocatello to coach under Phenicie.
“We don’t call plays the same way they do when I was coaching there,” Phenicie said. “Even with Trox being there for a few months, we watched the film and he said it was different.”
Phenicie worked as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana from 2003-09 where he worked closely with Troxel who played, graduated and coached for Montana while Phenicie was coaching.
While coaching in Missoula, Phenicie helped guided the Griz to a playoff appearance each of his seven seasons and appeared in three FCS national championship games, but failed to win a national title each time. The last time Montana won the national championship was in 2001.