After two road games to start the season, the Western Illinois football team finally is at home, taking on Montana (2-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Not only is the game the home opener for the Leathernecks, but it is a shot at their first win of the season, taking on the nationally ranked Grizzlies.

After two road games to start the season, the Western Illinois football team finally is at home, taking on Montana (2-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Not only is the game the home opener for the Leathernecks, but it is a shot at their first win of the season, taking on the nationally ranked Grizzlies.

“With the schedule we have, every game is a big one, we know that every game is critical, so this is a big game for us, it’s a big game for Montana,” WIU coach Jared Elliott said “These are two good football teams, it’s great to be at home, our guys are familiar, so that will be good for us.”

The Leathernecks’ schedule, which was hyped as being one of the toughest in FCS, has lived up to it as WIU’s first three opponents are a combined 5-1.

“Our guys understand with our schedule there are zero gimmes, there’s not a game you can circle and say you feel good, you have to bring it every week,” Elliott said. “It’s about your preparation and we’ve talked about it, details, the game can swing in a matter of four or five plays. You saw it against Illinois, they scored 17 points off of turnovers and special teams and just like that you take three plays.

“Our guys understand that so when you’re playing against great opponents like we are Saturday, it’s going to be the same thing. It’s about ball security, taking the ball away on defense, special teams, field position we lost the field position battle the first two games, we’ve been backed up on offense and given the other offense short fields. Those things add up over the course of the game.”

Home and freshmen debut

This offseason, the NCAA changed its redshirt rule for football, allowing players to play in four games and still keep their redshirt.

WIU has used a few freshmen thus far and with the squad being allowed to dress everyone on the roster for home games, Elliott anticipates getting more looks at the newest Leathernecks.

“The first two weeks we’ve played a handful of true freshmen on special teams, kind of getting their toes wet,” the coach said. “With the new redshirt rule we can see if these guys are ready or not. We were able to last week a little bit but now that we’re at home there’s no question we’ll get guys in on special teams and get guys who are more core offense and defense a little bit of a blow because we feel we have some young guys that can help us in some of those phases.

“There’s no question we have guys who we’re going to see if they can get help us.”

Injury front

The Leathernecks had several players leave last week’s game due to injury, and while Elliott is still playing it cool in regards to who will be available for Saturday and who will not be ready, the coach does admit his team is like any other when it comes to injuries.

“We’ve had two physical games and like every team, even in Week 2 and Week 3, there’s no such thing as a healthy football player,” he said. “We’re all at the point, we have some bumps and bruises, we got some guys who got dinged up so I anticipate most of our guys being back at it this week and healthy enough to help us on Saturday.”

Up next

After Saturday’s game, Western heads into the bye week before starting Missouri Valley Football Conference play at home against Youngstown State in Macomb on September 29.

With the schedule even tougher and a long time between games, the coach knows it is much easier to go into the bye on a win instead of three-straight losses.

“The urgency doesn’t change, it has to be the same every week and our kids are very hungry to win, they care a lot, they understand how close we’ve been these first two weeks and plays not going our way or executing little things we have to clean up,” Elliott said. “There’s no question though, you want to win before a bye but also that urgency of our guys is there. They care a lot, it means a lot to them. “

Reach Scott Holland via email at sholland@McDonoughVoice.com and follow him on Twitter @hottscolland81.