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No. 3 Montana set to host Idaho in battle of undefeated conference foes

MISSOULA — The bye week is in the books, and the No. 3 Montana Grizzlies are now moving through the thick of their schedule, starting with the Idaho Vandals on Saturday in Missoula.

It’s a tough challenge for the Griz (5-0, 2-0 Big Sky), with three of the six teams remaining on their schedule (Sacramento State, Weber State, Montana State) all currently ranked in the FCS, while that the Vandals are also 2-0 to start league play. Idaho is 3-2 overall.

The bye week came mid-season this year for Montana, and the Griz took part in a few practices last week as they used the time to prepare for the Vandals.

“I never know what to think about open dates,” UM coach Bobby Hauck said. “We try to keep our schedule as normal as it always is. If you can be healthy, that will help. I’ve never really liked breaking the routine when you’re on a thrown in, but it’s just BS, we’re sitting here and need to talk about something. It’s there, so you’re doing the best you can.

Montana and Idaho have a longstanding rivalry, but it’s a one-sided affair for the Griz, with UM going 11-2 in meetings with the Vandals since 1991, including when Idaho was in the FBS. This is the 88th meeting between the two programs, and Idaho holds an all-time series advantage of 55-30-2.

Bobby Hauck himself is 4-0 against the Vandals, including a 3-0 record in his last term.

But new life has been injected into the Idaho program with first-year head coach Jason Eck, and they’re looking to enter Missoula in a bid to turn the rivalry into more of that.

“Rivalries aren’t real rivalries if one team always wins,” Eck said. “So it’s probably a rivalry again if we can beat them. There’s five teams that are undefeated in conference and this is the only meeting of two of those teams, so obviously the winner of this game is in excellent position.”

Part of that is trying to keep Montana from starting hot at home.

With a sold-out crowd already ready for the game, Eck said falling early could be a tough hole to dig.

“A big part of the battle when you’re playing in an FBS school in an FCS school or you’re playing in a state of North Dakota or Montana there’s a lot of teams losing those games in the first 10 minutes just making critical mistakes and getting jolted and letting things snowball quickly,” Eck said. .”

Hauck said he expects similarities to Vandal teams of the past, but he’s also aware they await one of their toughest tests as they prepare to draw for 6-0.

“They look the same. Everyone does the same things on offense unless you’re playing against an optional team, so everyone looks the same,” Hauck said of Idaho over years past. “So they’re not reinventing the wheel. They’re playing hard, they look really physical, which is certainly what they’ve been. They seem to be enjoying the game and having fun playing .”