(2) Northern Iowa (10-2) at (5) Montana (10-2)
The Sports Network
By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Friday, December 9th, 8:05 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Washington-Grizzly Stadium/John Hoyt Field (25,217) - Missoula, Montana. Surface: Sprinturf. Television: ESPN 2. Announcers: Justin Kutcher and Tom Luginbill. Home Record: Northern Iowa 6-0; Montana 7-0. Away Record: Northern Iowa 4-2; Montana 3-2. Series Record: Montana (4-0). Last Meeting: December 15, 2001 (Montana def. Northern Iowa, 38-0 at Montana). Series Streak: Montana has won all four meetings. Conference: Northern Iowa - Missouri Valley; Montana - Big Sky. Nicknames: Northern Iowa Panthers; Montana Grizzlies. Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Northern Iowa (2); Montana (5). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Northern Iowa (5); Montana (4). Head Coaches: Northern Iowa - Mark Farley (11th year, 99-39 at Northern Iowa and Overall); Montana - Robin Pflugrad (2nd season 17-6 at Montana and Overall). All-Time Record: Northern Iowa (620-382-47); Montana (544-462-23). FCS Playoff Records: Northern Iowa (19-15); Montana (2 national championships 1995, 2001, 31-18). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Northern Iowa 15 (1985, 1987, 1990-96, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007-08, 2010); Montana 20 (1982, 1988-89, 1993-2009).
GAME NOTES: Montana continued to cruise last week, dismantling Central Arkansas, 41-14, and winning its eighth straight game after a 2-2 start to the season. Northern Iowa, which has now won four straight, got a pair of back-to- back touchdowns, to knock off Wofford, 28-21.
Like most four- vs. five-seed match-ups, the teams come in well matched. Both have a reliable defense and a potent offense, and both have a chip on their shoulder after playoff failures from last season. Last season, Montana missed the playoffs, the first time in 17 seasons, while Northern Iowa was upset at home by Lehigh in the second round.
Northern Iowa didn't have the ball much against Wofford, as the triple option burned up 34 minutes, 29 seconds, and when it did get the ball it didn't do much to put together long drives. Of the Panthers' nine offensive drives, four ended in punts and six ended with 22 yards or less. Montana, on the other hand, thrashed Central Arkansas' defense, holding the ball for 38:43 and compiling 415 total yards.
If the Panthers' offense can run as planned, expect quarterback Tirrell Rennie (231.2 ypg) to make plays with his arm and his legs. Rennie won't be alone in the backfield, running backs David Johnson and Carlos Anderson could both get significant carries against the Grizzlies.
Montana's rush defense has bottled up opponents all season (115.8 ypg), and if it can stall the running game, the linebackers and secondary will have an opportunity to force turnovers like it did against Central Arkansas. However, winning the turnover margin against Northern Iowa is easier said than done.
The Panthers have turned the ball over 13 times this season (10 fumbles, 3 interceptions), but the opportunistic defense has responded with 30 takeaways (12 fumbles, 18 interceptions). With Northern Iowa's takeaway ability, ball security will be a point of emphasis for Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson and his trio of running backs - Peter Nguyen, Jordan Canada and Dan Moore - who combined to run for 229 yards against Central Arkansas.
Northern Iowa lost at North Dakota State earlier this season, 27-19, and the Panthers could use that past experience to prepare for another hostile environment. Washington-Grizzly Stadium has been a safe haven for Montana as the Grizzlies are 30-1 at home over the past four seasons and a perfect 7-0 this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 28, Northern Iowa 21
12/07 11:12:07 ET