3 things we learned: No. 4 Montana's stifling defense swarms Western Illinois

The Western Illinois offense managed only 151 total yards Saturday in a 42-7 loss to fourth-ranked Montana in Missoula. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

Facing one of the nation’s stingiest defenses, Western Illinois managed a mere 151 yards and nine first downs in a 42-7 loss to No. 4 Montana in Missoula Saturday.

Western never advanced into the Montana red zone in the game, and the Leathernecks (0-2) got their only points from a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior safety Michael Lawson.

Lawson intercepted a pair of passes for Western to become the first WIU player since 2018 to have a multi-interception game.

Montana took a 14-0 lead before Lawson’s TD, then scored on an 18-yard pass with 1 second remaining in the first half to kick off a run of 28 unanswered points.

The Grizzlies (2-0) powered their way to 518 total yards of offense in the victory.

Here are three things Prairie State Pigskin learned about the Western Illinois game:

  1. Won if by land, and air

Western’s defense allowed Montana quarterback Cam Humphrey to throw for five touchdown passes and complete 20 of 27 passes on the night.

The Grizzlies enjoyed similar success on the ground, rushing for 242 yards on 41 carries for a 4.9-yard average per rush. Four different Montana players managed at least 35 yards on the ground, led by Isiah Childs’ 76 yards on 14 carries.

2. Running on empty

The WIU run game continued to sputter thanks to Montana’s swarming defense. The Leathernecks managed 40 yards on the ground as a team. The leading rusher was senior Myles Wanza, who gained 40 yards on 10 carries. As a team, Western managed a mere 1.6 yards per carry.

3. Next-level defender

Lawson provided the only points for Leathernecks and was the first WIU player since linebacker Quentin Moon in 2017 to return an interception for a touchdown. Lawson’s pick-six ranked as the ninth-longest interception return in school history.

He also led all players in the game with 13 tackles, including eight solos, and compiled 1.5 tackles for loss.

The bright spot for Western was that it managed four takeaways in the game.

News and notes

Western senior quarterback Connor Sampson completed 21 of 31 passes, but was sacked six times and produced only 5.3 yards per completion against the Grizzlies. … For the second game in a row, senior wide receiver Dennis Houston (five catches, 43 yards) was Western’s leading receiver. … Along with six sacks, Montana’s defense compiled 11 tackles for loss and allowed Western to gain only 2.7 yards per play.

What’s next?

Western hosts No. 7 Eastern Washington in its home opener in Macomb at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18 in Macomb.

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