First Look

FIRST LOOK: Griz return at long last with matchup at No. 20 Washington

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MISSOULA, Montana — Montana got a taste of football in the spring. And an endless off-season that could prove to be one of the Grizzlies’ greatest benefits is about to end, commencing a campaign with as much anticipation as any in a decade around Missoula.

The Griz advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2019 FCS playoffs in Bobby Hauck’s second season back at the helm. His first stint included 80 wins and seven consecutive Big Sky Conference championships between 2003 and 2009.

Following a 17-10 loss at Weber State the second weekend of December two years ago, Montana did not play again until April of this year. The Grizzlies destroyed Central Washington (59-3) and Portland State (48-7).

Following the Portland State victory, Hauck said simply his team had two goals during the spring: “to win and to send a message we have a good football team here in Missoula and University of Montana. And I think that message has been sent.”

Hauck and the Griz make their long awaited return to the field on Saturday in Husky Stadium in Seattle. Montana last played against the University of Washington in 2017; that afternoon, the Griz fell 63-7 to the No. 7 Huskies. That UW team went on to play in the Rose Bowl.

This Griz team is looking to make its first real run at a national title in a decade.

Spring pushed us into summer workouts and I’m excited about that,” Hauck said earlier this month while the Griz gutted through fall camp. “Persistence and work ethic are kind of demands around here but they have to be embraced by the individuals on the team and I think they certainly have. The confidence level is really high coming out of how we played in the spring.”

Washington enters Saturday’s matchup with a No. 20 national ranking. In six seasons under Chris Petersen, Washington went 55-26, advancing to the 2016 College Football Playoff and playing in the Rose Bowl two seasons later. But Petersen resigned following the 2019 season, giving way to Jimmy Lake.

Washington is picked to finish second in the Pac 12 North behind Oregon. Kickoff from Husky Stadium is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST.

QUICK HITS

Location: Seattle, Washington

Nickname: Huskies

Founded: 1861. Originally founded as the Territorial University of Washington (Washington didn’t become a state until 1889), but closed multiple times over its first years because of low enrollment and funding. The first student didn’t graduate until 1876.

The original 10-acre campus is now 703 acres in downtown Seattle. According to the National Science Foundation, UW spent $1.41 billion on research and development in 2018, ranking it 5th in the nation.

Enrollment: 47,571 as of fall 2019, making it one of the largest universities on the West Coast.

Stadium: Husky Stadium, originally opened in 1920, has an official capacity of 70,083, making it the 25th-largest in the country and third-largest in the Pac-12 (Rose Bowl, LA Coliseum). The original construction cost $600,000. A 2013 renovation cost $280 million. Husky Stadium has hosted Warren Harding’s final public address in 1923, the 1990 Goodwill Games, and multiple Seattle Seahawks games, including full seasons in 2000 and 2001.

The Coach: Jimmy Lake, second year at Washington

Washington second-year head coach Jimmy Lake/ contributed

Lake replaced Chris Peterson after Peterson surprisingly stepped down after the 2019 season. It’s Lake’s first job as a head coach, although he had a decorated resume as an assistant. That included five years at Eastern Washington, where he started his coaching career in 1999 after a playing career as a safety for the Eagles.

Lake also spent one year as the secondary coach at Montana State in 2005 before leaving for the NFL, where he spent five years as a defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions.  He returned to the college game in 2012 at Boise State, and moved to Washington in 2014. Lake was promoted to defensive coordinator for the Huskies in 2018.

Washington went 3-1 during the most recent fall season, Lake’s first at the helm.

“I didn’t watch them very much last fall but I competed against (Lake and his staff) when they were at Boise,” Hauck said on Monday during his weekly press conference, referring to his time as the head coach at UNLV and the special teams coordinator at San Diego State. “They are very similar. The defense has evolved. They’ve been doing this sort of structure for quite a while now so that hasn’t changed.

“They are personnel-based on offense and they will play to their strengths like all good coaches do.”

THE OFFENSE — Players to Watch

Dylan Morris, quarterback, 6-2, 200, freshman

Dylan Morris

Morris started all four games the Huskies played in the 2020 season, throwing for 897 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions. He was the consensus No. 1 recruit in Washington state coming out of Graham-Kapowsin High School (Puyallup) in 2018, and also ranked as a top-five pro-style quarterback in the country.

The last four Washington quarterbacks — Jake Browning, Jacob Eason, Keith Price and Jake Locker — played in the NFL. Now Morris, with the 2020 season under his belt and four years of eligibility left, has a chance to one-up Browning’s four-year run as starter for the Huskies.

Cade Otton, tight end, 6-5, 250, junior

Cade Otton

Otton accounted for 258 yards in the 2020 season, over 100 more than any other UW receiver, and caught three of the Huskies’ four receiving touchdowns.

At 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, the tight end from Tumwater, Washington, made preseason first-team all-Pac-12 and was named to the John Mackey Award watch list as one of the top tight ends in the nation.

That was his third-straight year on the Mackey watchlist. He had eight catches for 108 yards and two scores in UW’s 24-21 win over Utah in the fall, including the winning score with 36 seconds left.

Otton enters his junior year with 63 catches for 776 yards and eight touchdowns in his career.

“They have a really good group of tight ends, the best one being Otton who is just a future pro,” Hauck said. “They will have a tight end or several tight ends on the field throughout the game but they want to run the ball and pound you a little bit, so we kind of expect that.”

THE DEFENSE — Players to Watch

Zion Tupuola-Fetui, outsid linebacker,

Zion Tupuola-Fetui

Tupuola-Fetui was almost literally unblockable in the shortened 2020 fall season, finishing with seven sacks and three forced fumbles in four games. He won the Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week Award in three out of four weeks he played, with two strip sacks against Oregon State, two sacks and a forced fumble against Arizona and three more sacks against Utah.

The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder from Pearl City, Hawaii, was unsurprisingly named first-team all-Pac-12 in his first season as a starter.

Trent McDuffie, defensive back, 5-11, 195, sophomore

Griz fans will remember Dante Pettis’ 67-yard punt-return touchdown to end the first quarter in the Huskies’ 63-7 win in 2017 as the moment it was apparent that the two teams weren’t on even playing fields.

Trey McDuffie

McDuffie could be the one to provide a similarly disheartening revelation in 2021. The preseason All-American and all-Pac-12 first teamer averaged 18.5 yards on three punt returns in the spring season, including a 45-yarder against Utah.

The cornerback from St. John Bosco High School near Los Angeles is even better at his regular position, where he’s been named to the Jim Thorpe, Nagurski and Bednarik preseason award watch lists coming off an all-Pac-12 second-team nod from the spring.

As a true freshman in 2019, McDuffie piled up 45 tackles and a pick after coming to UW as the No. 13 ranked corner in the entire country.

“The scheme is a one-high, 3-deep, four-down scheme and they have the know-how on that side of the ball to get to what they need,” Hauck said. “They are big and physical on defense and they have some shutdown guys in the secondary so that will be a challenge.”

About Andrew Houghton

Andrew Houghton grew up in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Montana journalism school in December 2015 and spent time working on the sports desk at the Daily Tribune News in Cartersville, Georgia, before moving back to Missoula and becoming a part of Skyline Sports in early 2018.

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