UND meets defending Big Sky champions Montana State
BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The buzz from last week's record-setting UND-Montana game is still hanging around.
That's a good thing. And it's a bad thing.
The good: UND has received national recognition from its prolific passing game against Montana last week, which turned into to a 40-34 North Dakota win.
The bad: The accolades don't do much considering UND plays No. 4 Montana State today in a Big Sky Conference game in Bozeman, where a crowd of nearly 20,000 is expected.
The game against Montana State will end a stretch of five brutal weeks for UND, which will have played four teams ranked in the top 13 of the latest FCS national poll. The fifth team was Montana, a traditional FCS power.
"We're still in a meat grinder as far as the schedule goes," said UND coach Chris Mussman. "We've been tested. I don't think we're going to be intimidated by anything."
UND is 2-3 in the Big Sky and 4-4 overall. North Dakota can take a major step forward as a first-year member of the league if it can beat the powerful Montana schools on back-to-back weekends.
But Montana State presents a bigger challenge than Montana.
The Bobcats have the best defense in the league, as they allow 300.8 yards per game.
Offensively, Montana is in the middle of the pack but quarterback DeNarius McGhee is on the Walter Payton Award watch list. The junior already has thrown for more than 8,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in his two-plus years as a starter.
"We know everything goes through their quarterback," Mussman said. "He's athletic and has a cannon for an arm."
UND's offense put up more than 700 yards last week. Braden Hanson threw for 660 yards, single-game school and Big Sky records. And Greg Hardin caught 12 passes for 333 yards, again single-game school and Big Sky marks.
"Greg was in a different zone last week," Mussman said.
Still, UND would like to run the ball more -- to keep Montana State's lightning-fast defense honest.
"We have to establish a little bit of a running game to help us out," Mussman said.
But in Week 9 of the season, it's clear that UND's strength is its passing game.
"We are who we are," Mussman said. "We're going to try and do what we're good at and they're going to do the same thing."
Montana State is 3-1 in the league and 6-1 overall. Its only loss came two weeks ago to Eastern Washington.
The Bobcats were off last week, and have had two weeks to prepare for UND.
Lost in the numbers
Hardin had the record-setting performance last week, but lost in the numbers was the game turned in by UND receiver Blair Townsend.
Townsend hauled in 13 passes for 152 yards against the Grizzlies. He entered the game with only three catches on the year.
His 13 catches equaled Townsend's total from his sophomore year.
The junior wasn't shocked by the day.
"At all times, you have to have confidence in your quarterback and offensive line," he said. "That showed in the game. As long as you have that confidence and swagger coming into the game, you put it on the field and it speaks for itself."
Montana State running back Cody Kirk will play today. Kirk, a 1,000-yard rusher last year, has missed time with an injury. He has 330 yards and four TDs this season ... Today's forecast in Bozeman calls for a high temperature of 42 degrees. There also is a 30 percent chance of morning snow showers ... Defensive lineman Ross Brenneman is expected to play today after missing the last two weeks ... Linebacker Damon Andrews, however, is not expected to play ... Twice this season, UND has played teams coming off a bye week. Northern Arizona played UND after a week off. ... UND defensive back Erik Mersereau who was suspended indefinitely against Montana last week was back practicing with the team this week.