FCS game of the week: Montana at Sacramento State

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(STATS) – Week 8 Matchup: No. 5 Montana (5-1, 2-0 Big Sky) at No. 15 Sacramento State (4-2, 2-0)

Kickoff: 9:05 p.m. ET at Hornet Stadium (21,195) in Sacramento, California

Television: Pluto TV (Channel 533) and Montana/Sacramento State local affiliates

Series: Montana leads 20-1 (last meeting: Montana won 41-34 in Missoula on Sept. 22, 2018)

The Skinny: The best is being saved for last Saturday night as the FCS Game of the Week has the final kickoff on the schedule. A banner crowd is expected for Sacramento State’s Homecoming, which features two teams that are a combined 9-0 against non-FBS opponents. Montana has won every meeting except in 2011 and last year’s game in coach Bobby Hauck’s return season featured two 200-yard rushers and 1,095 yards of total offense.

Montana is coming off a bye, while Sacramento State beat Montana State for its second straight win over a nationally ranked Big Sky opponent (also Eastern Washington) to earn its first national ranking since 2011. In coach Troy Taylor’s first season, Sac State has jumped on opponents, outscoring them by 73 points in the first half (131-58), which is ninth-best in the FCS. UM has started more slowly, outscored 31-17 in the first quarter, but its plus-101 (151-50) second-half advantage is the best in the FCS.

The quarterback play of UM’s Dalton Sneed and Sac State’s Kevin Thomson is at a high level as they’ve combined to capture the last four Big Sky offensive player of the week awards. Sneed ranks fourth in the FCS in total offensive yards per game (346.3) and Thomson is seventh (330.2). Thomson has a combined 24 passing and rushing touchdowns and Sneed has 19. Sneed rushed for 206 yards and Sac State RB Elijah Dotson had 234 in last year’s game. An 1,100-yard rusher in 2018, Dotson has been more dangerous as a receiver this season, catching 39 passes for 437 of his 663 scrimmage yards. Sneed throws to arguably the top WRs unit in the FCS – Samuel Akem, Samori Toure, and Jerry Louie-McGee, who’ve combined for 106 receptions in six games. Improved health has gone a long way at Sac State, where DE George Obinna, back from injury last season, has led a physical defensive front with 6½ sacks (he’s 3½ shy of the school’s all-time record). The Grizzlies’ defense is improved against the run and features LB Dante Olson, who has 69 tackles this season and 220 in 16 games over the last two years. While UM’s Brandon Purdy is 6-for-8 on field goal attempts, Sac State is 0-for-3.

Prediction: Montana’s next win will be its 600th all-time, a place where no Big Sky program has gone previously. The Griz are a slight favorite to gain it here. Montana, 31-28.

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