Analysis

GRIZ NOTES: Quarterback struggles, historic defeats for Griz in Grand Forks

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The Montana Grizzlies lost their second straight Big Sky Conference game on Saturday, falling to 2-2 in league play, 4-3 overall following a 41-14 loss at North Dakota. Montana has a bye this week.

A few notes from Montana’s 41-14 loss to North Dakota

Griz can’t rally comeback

After an awful start that saw them go down 21-0, the Griz were strangely timid on the comeback trail. One possession after North Dakota scored its third touchdown, Montana drove to the UND 48, where the Griz faced a fourth-and-2. But Eric Williams trotted onto the field and punted down to the 13, giving Montana 35 yards of field position at the expense of trying to score and maybe get back in the game.

On their very next possession, Montana punted again on fourth-and-12 from the North Dakota 38. This time, Williams pinned the Fighting Hawks at their own 5. Two possessions later, Montana finally went for it on fourth-and-5 from the UND 42, but Dalton Sneed overthrew his receiver. Not that it would have changed the game, but going for it on the two earlier chances might have gotten the Griz on the board earlier. Most coaches would at least consider going for it in that down-and-distance regardless of the score. Being down 21-0 made it even worse. It was a long shot for Montana to get back in the game at that point, but refusing to even try reflects poorly on the Griz.

Sneed struggles continue

Montana junior quarterback Dalton Sneed rolls out/ by Russ Hons, for Skyline Sports

Once again, Dalton Sneed was inconsistent and Cam Humphrey was good, albeit in garbage time, for Montana. Sneed was not as bad as his 25-for-38, 200-yard, one-interception stat line showed — he was hurt by drops for a second consecutive week and was under constant pressure — but he did miss some throws and, on the whole, couldn’t move the Montana offense.

Humphrey, meanwhile, was going against second- and third-stringers, but was 5-of-8 for 143 yards and two scores. The backup also missed some throws, and his first touchdown was the result of a great play by Sammy Akem, but showed off the arm that made him such a highly-prized JUCO recruit. It would be very surprising if the Griz moved away from Sneed against UC Davis in two weeks — I wouldn’t make a change — but Sneed’s leash might be shorter.

Montana can’t afford to lose another game if the Griz want to make the playoffs, meaning Bobby Hauck can’t afford to make the wrong decision. Playing Davis next will only exacerbate the situation. The Aggies have one of the most explosive offenses in the country, meaning it might be a shootout, and a few empty possessions to start could put Montana in a hole.

 Montana linebacker production wanes

Through all the ups and downs of the first half of the season, Montana could always count on one thing:  Dante Olson and Josh Buss racking up the tackles and spearheading a tough run defense. In the past few games, though, that’s steadily changed.

Saturday, Buss and Olson didn’t even post their normal otherworldly stats. Buss did lead all tacklers, but with just nine stops, while Olson had his first single-digit tackling game of the year with eight. More worryingly, though, North Dakota gashed Montana on the ground, gaining 282 yards on 53 carries. That average of 5.3 yards per carry is the second-worst the Griz have allowed in a game this year, behind 5.8 against Sac State. The trend line there has been troubling for Montana. After holding their first three opponents under three yards a carry, the Griz have surrendered over five yards a carry in three of their last four games, losing twice.

North Dakota also exploited Montana’s man coverage scheme on the perimeter in the first half as Nate Ketteringham threw for 210 yards and four touchdowns to help UND built a 34-0 lead at intermission.

Historic defeats

Montana head coach Bobby Hauck, pictured here on UM’s homecoming against Portland State/ by Jason Bacaj

For the second consecutive week, Montana made some undesirable history. After losing to Portland State last week, this year’s Griz became the first time in Hauck’s Montana head coaching career that the Griz have lost back-to-back regular season games. The closest they had previously come was in 2005 when, a week after getting blown out by Oregon, the Griz scored on a first-quarter touchdown run by Lex Hilliard and then held South Dakota State scoreless the rest of the way for a 7-0 win.

In 2003, Hauck’s first season, Montana lost in a two-overtime thriller to Idaho State a week after beating Weber State 12-7. Despite having a closer margin than that SDSU game, the Weber game wasn’t actually closer, with Montana leading 12-0 until the Wildcats scored a consolation touchdown with 13 seconds left.

Saturday’s 27-point loss to North Dakota was also, by far, Hauck’s largest margin of defeat to an FCS opponent in his tenure as Montana coach. In his previous stint, the Griz lost by 17 points to FCS teams twice — a 45-28 defeat at Weber State on October 4, 2008, and a 24-7 loss to Richmond in the national championship game that same year. Montana avenged that loss to — the only Big Sky loss for the Griz, period — between 2006 and 2009, by ousting Weber from the playoffs with a 24-6 win in Missoula.

The North Dakota game Saturday very nearly marked Hauck’s biggest loss as Griz coach regardless of classification — Montana lost 47-14 to Oregon in 2005 (33-point margin) and 41-7 to Iowa in 2006 (34-point margin).

Hauck fell short of his 100th career victory and his 50th career Big Sky for a second straight week. Hauck is now 84-20 in his career at Montana, including 49-8 against Big Sky competition.

 

 

 

Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed hands to running back Adam Eastwood/ by Russ Hons, UND athletics

 

Montana wide receiver Samori Toure/ by Russ Hons, for Skyline Sports

 

Montana running back Adam Eastwood/ by Russ Hons, UND athletics

 

 

Photos by Russ Hons for Skyline Sports. All Rights Reserved. 

 

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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