Ian Billings/Mustang News

Sophomore quarterback Dano Graves will be making his second career start when the Mustangs take on Montana in a pivotal Big Sky Conference matchup on Saturday.

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In anticipation of this weekend’s Cal Poly football game at No. 9/10 Montana, Mustang News and the University of Montana at Missoula’s student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, exchanged questions about the opposing schools’ football team and the upcoming game. Mustang News sports editor Stephan Teodosescu spoke with the Kaimin’s sports editor Austin Schempp.

Cal Poly is coming off a 47-0 defeat of Weber State this past weekend and looking to stay undefeated in Big Sky Conference play. Meanwhile, Montana will look to improve on its dominating record at home against the Mustangs—the Grizzlies have won nine of the 10 meetings in Missoula. 

Stephan Teodosescu (ST): Who are some Montana players to watch for in Saturday’s game?

Austin Schempp (AS): On offense, Montana brings many weapons to the table. For starters, quarterback Jordan Johnson is easily noticeable. The redshirt junior quarterback, who averages 231 passing yards per game, is the only starting quarterback in the FCS without an interception. Behind Johnson are two junior running backs — Jordan Canada and Travon Van — who split carries. Van is a transfer from Marshall University and likes to get to the outside where he can show his speed. Together, the two present a challenging one-two punch for defenses.

On defense, Montana has one of the best front seven in the nation. Senior linebacker Jordan Tripp is a Buck Buchanan Award candidate and is usually all over the field for the Grizzlies. Zack Wagenmann, a defensive end for Montana was one of the nation’s best pass rushers last season in a breakout year. This year, his stats are not quite as stellar as the 2012 season, but Wagenmann continues to make bully offensive lines with his speed and strength.

ST: What’s the difference between this year’s Montana team and last year’s 5-6 squad?

AS: Last year, Montana suffered its first losing season since 1985. The Grizzlies were without Johnson, who was dealing with highly-publicized legal issues. Johnson led the Grizzlies to the 2011 FCS Semifinals (which was later removed from Montana history after an NCAA investigation into illegal benefits for players), but redshirt freshman Trent McKinney was the starter for the majority of the 2012 season.

ST: Washington-Grizzly Stadium (25,217) is known to be one of the toughest venues to play in in the country. Cal Poly has only won once there, so how do you think home field advantage will affect the outcome of this game?

AS: Home field advantage is always something opposing teams worry about when traveling to Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Montana boasts one of the best winning percentages in all of Division I football at home. Even when the Grizzlies played an easy Division II opponent (Oklahoma Panhandle State) more than 24,000 fans showed up to see the Griz. Cal Poly will need to make sure the offensive line is disciplined. Many teams have delay-of-game penalties due to the noise.

ST: How well equipped is Montana to stop Cal Poly’s main weapon in the triple-option: the run game?

AS: Montana’s defensive front seven is quick and the Grizzlies three senior linebackers are smart and experienced players, who can read offenses very well. Last season, Montana had one of the top rushing defenses in the conference and this year, they have done a decent job of stopping the run in six games this season. NAU senior running back Zach Bauman broke through Montana’s defense for 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Lumberjacks’ 34-16 win.

ST: What’s your prediction on how this one will turn out?

AS: If Kristaan Ivory can establish a ground game for the Mustangs, then Cal Poly has a good chance to upset the No. 10 Grizzlies at home. Montana’s defense does a good job of pressuring the quarterback, which could prove troublesome for quarterback Dano Graves. The Grizzlies are clicking on offense and defense right now, and I think they learned a big lesson when they lost to Northern Arizona.

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