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Unstoppable force vs. immovable object: Montana, EWU to showcase elite units on national stage

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Posted at 11:20 AM, Oct 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-01 13:37:50-04

MISSOULA — It's the old paradox of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.

Who wins?

In the case of No. 4 Montana (3-0, 1-0 Big Sky) and No. 6 Eastern Washington (4-0, 1-0), that all will be decided on Saturday night as the top offense in the Big Sky Conference in the Eagles meets the top defense in the Grizzlies. It's a top-six showdown that has all of the makings for a college football classic.

"They do a nice job on that side of the ball," Montana safety Robby Hauck said. "They’re a skilled group of guys. They’re going to put us in situations where either we’re going to make a play or they’re going to make a play so it’s going to be a big week for us and I’m excited for the challenge."

The catalyst behind that offense is quarterback Eric Barriere, the preseason pick for offensive player of the year in the Big Sky, and a player who has already won the player of the week award three times this season.

Through four games, Barriere has already thrown for 16 touchdowns and 1,698 yards to just two interceptions. The Eagles opened the season with a win over FBS UNLV and in their last three games have scored 50-plus points. The Eagles currently average 52.5 points and 635.8 yards per game.

"He’s an accurate thrower downfield, it’s probably his strongest thing," UM coach Bobby Hauck said of Barriere. "So I think when you’re in coverage and whether it’s man or zone, everything when you get downfield it’s all man, you got to be tight in coverage because he’s an accurate thrower downfield."

Montana's defense will be tasked of halting that momentum with a unit that has allowed just 14 points this season, and has forced eight turnovers and racked up 13 sacks.

"It's a lot of fun," Robby Hauck said of the first three games on the defensive side. "It's always good when you're playing good defense. Like I've been saying to everybody on the defensive side of the ball, we hold ourselves to a high standard. When you do that, you're able to play stout defense and kind of like coach was saying last week, I don't think that we got to that standard so it'll be good to get some corrections in this week."

The two teams sport a common opponent as well in Western Illinois. Montana welcomed WIU to Missoula on Sept. 11, a game the Grizzlies won handily 42-7 behind a five-touchdown performance from quarterback Cam Humphrey. Eastern Washington's match-up with Western Illinois was a shootout, with the Eagles topping the Leathernecks in Macomb, Illinois, 62-56.

On the flip side, Montana's offense enters the game at No. 8 in the conference with an average of 361.3 yards per game. Meanwhile, EWU's defense is seventh in yards allowed per game at 389. After the win over Cal Poly, Hauck said the Griz didn't play "sharp enough," and one area he has said he wants to see the offense improve is efficiency. The Grizzlies currently rank 10th in the Big Sky in third down conversions (14-for-41). EWU's defense is fifth in opponent third down conversions, having allowed 18 conversions on 56 attempts.

The game itself will be played on EWU's infamous red turf, nicknamed "The Inferno." It's a place that has treated the Eagles well since its implementation in 2010. The Eagles are 5-0 against UM in Cheney since then and are currently riding an 18-game home winning streak.

The stage is set for the national spotlight as well with an 8:30 p.m. kickoff time and the broadcast aired on ESPN2, and only one team will head into the early Sunday morning hours with their record still unblemished.

"We want to go out there and execute the best way we can, showcase our team in all three phases," wide receiver and kick returner Malik Flowers said. "I just feel like if we could do that, no matter what stage it’s on, it’ll be good for our team so I feel like we’ll go out there and do that."