MISSOULA — The bye week is in the books, and the No. 3 Montana Grizzlies now march forward into the thick of their schedule, beginning with the Idaho Vandals on Saturday in Missoula.
It's a rough gauntlet coming up for the Griz (5-0, 2-0 Big Sky), with three of the six remaining teams on their schedule (Sacramento State, Weber State, Montana State) all currently ranked in the FCS, meanwhile the Vandals are 2-0 to start league play as well. Idaho is 3-2 overall.
The bye week came midseason this year for Montana, and the Griz fit in a couple of practices last week as they used the time to gear up for the Vandals.
"I never know what to think of open dates," UM coach Bobby Hauck said. "We're trying to have our schedule be as normal as it always is. If you can get healthy it'll help you. I've never really liked breaking up the routine when you're on a roll but that's all just B.S., us sitting here needing something to talk about. It's there, so you deal with it as best you can."
Montana and Idaho have a long-standing rivalry with one another, but it's been 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 a 55-30-2 advantage all-time in the series.
Bobby Hauck himself is 4-0 against the Vandals, including a 3-0 mark in his latest tenure.
But new life has been injected into Idaho's program with first-year head coach Jason Eck, and they're looking to enter Missoula with the goal of shifting the rivalry into more of just that.
"Rivalries aren't real rivalries if one team always wins," Eck said. "So probably makes it a rivalry again if we can beat them. There's five teams that are undefeated in conference and this is the only matchup of two of those teams so obviously the winner of this game is in great position."
Part of that is attempting to prevent Montana from starting out hot at home.
With a sold out crowd already set for the game, Eck said falling down early could be a challenging hole to dig themselves out of.
"A lot of the battle when you're playing an FBS school at an FCS school or you're playing at a North Dakota State or Montana, there's a lot of teams who lose those games in the first 10 minutes just by making some critical mistakes and getting rattled and letting things snowball fast," Eck said. "So you like to have some success and settle into the game and not let them get a lot of momentum right away."
Hauck said he expects some similarities to Vandal teams from the past, but he's also aware that they await one of their toughest tests as they get set to shoot for 6-0.
"They look similar. Everybody's doing the same things on offense unless you're playing an option team so everybody looks similar," Hauck said about Idaho compared to past years. "So they're not reinventing the wheel. They're playing hard, they look really physical which is certainly like they've been. They look like they're enjoying the game and having fun playing."