Montana at Washington

Sports Xchange

September 06, 2017 at 5:37 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
TV: Pac-12 Network
SERIES: Washington leads Montana 16-1-1. This will be the first meeting between the programs since 1951.
RANKINGS: Washington No. 7

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Huskies
–QB Jake Browning will be seeking a swift rebound from an opener in which he underwhelmed for more than half the game. Browning finished with 284 yards and two touchdowns but his accuracy (17-of-30) wasn’t up to last year’s form. Browning’s 61 career touchdown passes are 14 behind school record-holder Keith Price (2010-13).

–WR Dante Pettis returned his sixth career punt for touchdown against Rutgers to match the Pac-12 record held by California’s DeSean Jackson. The pivotal touchdown came after Washington was unable to score a touchdown in the game’s first 26 minutes as he continues to show a knack for providing the team with a much-needed spark. It was the third straight year in which Pettis returned a punt for a score in the season opener and he figures to make a big impact as either a returner or a receiver against Montana.

–CB Byron Murphy, a redshirt freshman, made it look easy by intercepting two passes in his first college games. The Huskies are looking for more performances like his debut after losing both starting corners off last year’s squad and coach Chris Petersen is mighty impressed with Murphy. “If the ball is around him, the guy can catch,” Petersen said. “He’s an instinctual player.”

–DT Vita Vea had a relatively quiet season opener with just three stops against Rutgers. He figures to get untracked against the FCS Grizzlies, who don’t often see players the size of the 6-foot-5, 340-pound junior. Vea posted five sacks last season and his athleticism allows him to be more than just an interior pass rusher.

Grizzlies

–S Justin Strong, a senior who has returned to the top of this week’s depth chart, is one four Grizzlies with experience in Pac-12 games. Strong played against Washington in Seattle for Oregon State in 2014, logging six tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He finished last season at Montana as the team’s third-leading tackler with 68 and led the team in interceptions with three, one of which he returned for an 86-yard touchdown.

–RB Jeremy Calhoun rushed for two touchdowns against Valparaiso last week, giving him 20 career TDs in his 21-game career. Somewhat surprisingly, last week’s game was the junior’s first career start.

–LB James Banks, a senior who began his career at UAB, posted a game-high 12 tackles against Valparaiso last week to set a career high.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Washington coach Chris Petersen knows his team’s season-opening victory over Rutgers wasn’t aesthetically pleasing.

While it is clear improvement is needed when the No. 7 Huskies host Montana on Saturday, Petersen is proud of one important thing.

“We won. That is what we are here for,” Petersen said Monday. “We got that done, but I do think that it was a little bit of a wake-up call.”

Junior quarterback Jake Browning can hear the alarm ringing. The player that finished sixth in last season’s Heisman Trophy balloting wasn’t the least bit impressed with the offensive performance despite passing for 284 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’ve got a standard we try to play to, and that’s not the standard at all,” Browning said.

Washington possessed the ball less than 22 minutes during the 30-14 victory over Rutgers. The Huskies didn’t take the lead until the game was more than 26 minutes old — on senior Dante Pettis’ sixth career punt-return touchdown to tie the Pac-12 record set by California’s DeSean Jackson (2005-07).

That leaves Petersen looking for a faster start from his team against the Grizzlies, an FCS team receiving a reported $625,000 to visit Seattle. Montana posted a 45-23 win over Valparaiso in its opener.

“I think they’re a really well-coached team,” Petersen said of the Grizzlies. “They’ve got their style. Who knows how they will play against us. They’re more of an up-tempo (attack) trying to run a lot of plays.”

Grizzlies senior quarterback Reese Phillips passed for 381 yards and four touchdowns against Valparaiso. The fifth-year senior, who began his career at Kentucky, thrived in his first career start.

Montana coach Bob Stitt said Phillips — who is in his second year in the program — received high grades in every area.

“He had a great day,” Stitt said at a press conference. “He can really throw the ball and everybody saw that. We’ve been saying this since he got here that he can throw the ball as well as anybody. … He probably had three or four throws that he’d like to have back but the rest of them were pretty darn good.”

The Grizzlies feature a playmaker in sophomore receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, who caught nine passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns against Valparaiso. In one game last season, Louie-McGee set a school record with 21 receptions.

Junior Jeremy Calhoun, who rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns in the opener, is the top running back.

Meanwhile, the Washington defense gets senior All-American inside linebacker Azeem Victor back after he missed the opener due to a suspension for a violation of team rules. Having Victor back should help Washington get off the field quicker.

Washington has much larger defenders than Montana typically sees, and the Grizzlies will certainly find it challenging to block 6-foot-5, 340-pound standout defensive tackle Vita Vea.

The Huskies have a revamped secondary, and one of the highlights of the win over Rutgers was the play of redshirt freshman cornerback Byron Murphy.

Murphy made covering receivers look easy by intercepting two passes in his first college game.

“If the ball is around him, the guy can catch,” Petersen said. “He’s an instinctual player.”

Offensively, while Browning is aiming to improve on his shaky 17-of-30 accuracy, the Huskies also see the need to get the ball into the hands of junior running back Myles Gaskins.

The speedster topped 1,300 rushing yards in each of his first two college seasons but had just seven carries against Rutgers. He had 59 yards for a gaudy 8.4 average and played a pivotal role in the passing game by catching five passes for 79 yards and one touchdown.

“Myles Gaskin was up to his old tricks,” said Petersen, “and we’ve got to get him the ball as much as we can.”

Dealing with Washington’s offense will be a stern task for the Grizzlies, who allowed 450 yards in their opener.

Senior linebacker James Banks (12 tackles) had a solid opener for Montana, while safeties Evan Epperly (a junior) and Josh Sandry (a sophomore) each nabbed interceptions.

Montana is playing an FBS program for the first time since losing 17-12 at Wyoming in 2014. The Grizzlies were routed at Tennessee 42-16 in 2011 in their most-recent contest against a Power 5 conference school.

The Huskies hold a 16-1-1 edge in the series but Saturday’s meeting is the first since 1951.

“This is going to be a great challenge for our football team mentally to be able to go in, focus on their job and when adversity does strike, that they just keep coming, keep your head down,” Stitt said. “The scoreboard’s going to take care of itself. Just keep working and doing your job and we’ll look at it at the end.”

Washington sophomore cornerback Austin Joyner will miss the contest to complete his two-game suspension for violation of team rules.