It’s been a long, difficult month for the Montana Grizzlies.
Three losses in their last three games have the Griz tiptoeing around some undesirable history.
They’re already on their first three-game losing streak since 1992. If they can’t win two of their last three games, they’ll suffer the program’s first losing season since 2012, and second since 1985.
Suffice to say, they’ll be looking for a spark this Saturday against Southern Utah.
“We just have to make plays,” head coach Bobby Hauck said bluntly at his weekly press conference. “I don’t know what the deal is. We’re not making enough plays on either side of the ball. Certainly it’s not an effort deal, so we just need to play a little better in the fourth quarter.”
It’s not just the losses, but the way they’ve been losing games. Saturday’s second-half annihilation by UC Davis followed a blowout to North Dakota and a last-second loss to previously winless Portland State.
A road game against 1-7 SUU will bring opportunity to get back on track, but also some unique challenges.
The Thunderbirds were co-conference champions last season, but have fallen off precipitously in 2018.
It started with a Week 1 loss to North Alabama, a team that’s just moving up from Division II, and hasn’t gotten any better.
They gave up 42 points in the first three quarters last week to Northern Colorado in a 42-39 loss.
The T-Birds are also on their fourth quarterback of the season, with true freshman Tyler Skidmore expected to start. Skidmore relieved classmate Austin Ewing in last week’s loss and went 27-of-43 for 330 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Southern Utah still has some talent left over from last year. Jay Green is one of the top running backs in the conference, and linebacker Chinedu Ahanonu has returned from a mission trip and injury to be the fourth-leading tackler in the conference.
The Thunderbirds’ one win of the season is over Sac State, which is also the only common opponent they have with the Griz, and they won that one going away, outscoring the Hornets 41-6 over the last three quarters in a 48-27 victory.
Montana’s final margin of victory against Sac State? Just 41-34.
“We’ve got an opponent that’s been really, really good the last few years,” Hauck said. “They do a lot of things well. They run the ball well, to the point where we’ve got to account for a lot of different personnel groups and formations.”
The big thing to watch for Montana will be turnovers. After starting the season clean, Dalton Sneed has thrown five picks in his last four games, three of them losses. Couple that with fumbles seemingly coming from everyone on the roster, and Montana has now turned the ball over 18 times in eight games, 11th in the 13-team Big Sky Conference.
The losing streak has brought some changes to Montana’s lineup. Skyler Martin started over Angel Villanueva at left guard last week. This week, Jeremy Calhoun appears to have taken over the starting running back from Adam Eastwood, although they’re listed as “OR” on the depth chart.
“He had a good week of practice, and was the healthiest of our running backs going into the game, so that probably helped,” Hauck said about Calhoun, who had 16 carries to Eastwood’s five last week. “In terms of production, I thought we blocked decently in the run game. He’s a good, solid running back. He runs hard, he’s got pretty good vision, so hopefully he’ll hang on to the ball and get some tough yards.”
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Josh Egbo, from Gilbert, Arizona, is listed over Dareon Nash at one of the cornerback spots. Junior defensive tackle Jesse Sims, who injured his hand against UC Davis, has been supplanted on the depth chart by redshirt freshman Braydon Deming, although Sims is still expected to play.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.