Quarterback duel continues in latest Griz scrimmage


Quarterbacks Gresch Jensen and Dalton Sneed each had their moments Friday as the Montana Grizzlies offense righted itself in a frigid second spring scrimmage at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

“The offense has finally turned that corner where we’re putting plays together and everybody’s honing in on their skills,” Sneed said. “Last scrimmage, the offense just wasn’t clicking — today, we were. I think the offense won the day over the defense, and we put a lot of points on the board.”

After a slow start, with the offense starting each of the first four drives from its own 2-yard line and failing to move the ball much, both signalcallers found a rhythm.

Helped by better starting field position and backups filtering in on defense, Jensen ended up leading a touchdown drive on seven of his 12 attempts, and Sneed was right behind him with five touchdowns, a field goal, and two more missed field goals on his 12 drives.

Jensen finished 17-of-32 passing for 129 yards and four touchdowns, while Sneed was inconsistent, but still had some nice throws, ending up 8-of-23 for 123 yards and three scores. They each also rushed for a touchdown.

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“We completed some passes, made some good decisions, and I thought the ball was thrown on time, for the most part,” head coach Bobby Hauck said. “I would say they’re making progress. Both of them looked sharper than they did in our last major scrimmage.”

The offense finished with 397 yards on 94 plays, an average of 4.2 yards per play, and, importantly to Hauck, didn’t turn the ball over once.

Montana wide receiver Jerry Louie-McGee (16) in 2017/by Brooks Nuanez

“I liked the way our ballhandlers handled the inclement weather,” Hauck said. “We didn’t turn it over, we didn’t put it on the ground … so it was pretty positive.”

The quarterback battle has been a storyline throughout camp, with transfer Sneed pushing the incumbent Jensen. The two have been splitting snaps with the first team thus far.

Friday, Sneed took the first snaps of the scrimmage, and scored the first touchdown a couple of drives in.

Starting at the defense’s 22, he fired a 17-yard pass to Jerry Louie-McGee and then took it in himself on the next play for a 5-yard score.

The quarterbacks had started the scrimmage just a combined 2-of-9 passing while backed up on their own goal line, but quickly picked it up after Sneed’s score.

Jensen led the longest drive of the afternoon, an 11-play, 65-yard march that ended with a nine-yard Rey Green touchdown run.

Jensen also had the second-longest drive of the scrimmage, a 62-yard march that ended in a score on a 2-yard option keeper by the redshirt sophomore quarterback.

Sneed also led a long drive, taking the offense from its own 35 to the defense’s 10 before stalling.

Tim Semenza came on to make a 27-yard field goal, a relief for the placekicker after he’d previously missed three kicks in a row.

Montana kicker Tim Semenza 89) in 2017/ by Brooks Nuanez

The first was a 25-yard try, banged off the right upright — then came an extra point, off the left upright. After the offense stalled again, Semenza missed a 37-yarder wide left.

“Kickers miss kicks,” Hauck said. “Even if you watch on Sunday, they miss kicks. The crime is to miss consecutive ones.”

Labeled the more stationary of the two quarterbacks, Jensen did move his feet some to keep plays alive, while Sneed, a runner, showed off his arm from the pocket on occasion, including on a 25-yard bullet to Justin Calhoun and a 22-yard touchdown to Samori Toure.

Calhoun led all receivers with four catches for 47 yards and added two scores, while Toure had three catches, 35 yards and three touchdowns, all coming late in the session.

“I felt great,” Toure said. “We started off a little slow, but then we got things going. Those were like end-game situations, and that’s when the game is on the line, so that’s when you want to be at your best.”

Malik Flowers had three grabs for 41 yards, and Mitch Roberts had three for 33, including a highlight on a bobbling, juggling, 19-yarder from Sneed that was thrown slightly behind him.

Montana running back Alijah Lee (24) vs North Dakota in 201/ by Brooks Nuanez

Sneed’s running stats, ironically, likely would have looked better if the defense had been able to tackle him. The redshirt junior broke off two runs that would have been touchdowns if the play hadn’t been whistled dead when a defender got close to him.

He finished with five carries for a net 12 yards.

“It’s frustrating, but they’re protecting the quarterback,” Sneed said. “You never know, so you’ve got to watch the film to see if you would have scored, but it won’t happen in a game.”

Among the other runners, San Diego State transfer Adam Eastwood and returner Alijah Lee looked like potential starters with Jeremy Calhoun still out.

Both averaged over five yards a carry, with Eastwood having eight for 41 and Lee seven for 40.

Green’s eight carries came out to just 30 yards, but the redshirt sophomore did have a highlight with a nasty spin move that left a defender in his wake.

The defense, although it didn’t force a turnover, did have several bright spots.

Dante Olson nearly recorded a pick with a diving attempt, and finished with two pass breakups, as did corner Lewis Cowans and defensive lineman Reggie Tilleman.

Montana defensive end Dante Olson (33) in 2017/by Brooks Nuanez

Redshirt freshmen Marcus Welnel and Braydon Deming led the defense with seven total tackles apiece.

The scrimmage was the last before next Saturday’s spring game, and it was a generally encouraging step for the Grizzlies.

“There are a lot of things to still improve on,” Sneed said. “But we’ll get up, watch film, and hopefully, come the spring game, everything will be clicking.”

Andrew Hougthton is a freelance journalist living in Missoula. Photos to come by Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved. 

Griz will use spring ball to shape fresh offensive line

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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