MISSOULA, Montana — Entering last season, Bobby Hauck explicitly addressed the weaknesses he saw in his Montana football team.
He never shied away from the troubles he foresaw for an inexperienced, under-manned offensive line. He openly expressed concern for Montana’s depth at linebacker and overall performance at corner with two wide receivers projected to start.
Yet so much of the narrative leading up to the 2018 season at Montana centered upon the Griz quarterbacks. Despite Gresch Jensen returning following a 2017 season in which he earned FCS Freshman All-American honors, Hauck brought in junior college transfer Dalton Sneed.
The former Fort Scott Community College and UNLV quarterback established his role as a leader on the Griz early on, winning the starting job out of spring ball. Jensen transferred to Texas State and Sneed led the Griz in Hauck’s first season back at his alma mater since 2009.
Throughout the nine months leading up to the 2018 season opener, Hauck consistently emphasized his confidence in Montana’s quarterback. Sneed affirmed that confidence by throwing for 2,723 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for a team-high 675 yards on the way to earning Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year honors.
With an incumbent starter who also serves as the unquestioned leader of the Montana offense entrenched, Hauck and the Griz coaching staff entered 2019 with even higher optimism. That confidence was put on full display on the first play of the game in UM’s season opener at South Dakota.
The first play of 2019 at the Dakota Dome saw Sneed wind up and throw an arching 40-yard dime to a streaking Samori Toure. It also sparked an enormous day in which Sneed showed his marked improvements, affirming that he enters his senior season with a chance to be one of the elite quarterbacks in the country.
Sneed completed 37-of-52 passes for 430 yards and three touchdowns in UM’s 31-17 victory. He repeatedly made the correct read against a South Dakota defense operating new defensive coordinator Travis Johansen’s unorthodox scheme.
“It’s pretty explicit that he is a guy we can trust to do what needs to be done to win,” Hauck said before Wednesday’s practice at the River Bowl on the UM campus. “He’s highly competitive, he’s smart. He does a lot of good things and we trust him to do that. So do his teammates.”
Entering his second and final season as a Grizzly, the Scottsdale, Arizona native feels that confidence his coaches and teammates have in him.
“I think Coach Rosy and Coach Hauck put a lot of trust in me to make the right decisions and that’s why I like playing in this offense,” Sneed said. “When they dial up plays, they make the reads so incredibly easy for you, it’s an awesome system to play in. I can spread the ball around to whoever is open, really or they give you a light box, hand the ball off. The offensive scheme is just awesome.”
Sneed showed his honed acumen and sharp accuracy when operating the run-pass option elements of offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach’s quick-hitting attack during a breakout day that solidified his candidacy as a dark horse as a contender for the top gunslinger in the Big Sky.
“As a whole, as a whole offense, our confidence is definitely through the roof,” Sneed said. “We performed really well on the field I feel like. But there are also a lot of things we didn’t do really well. We want to get those cleaned up.
“It’s a huge confidence booster for the receivers because you go and look back, probably 350 of those yards are off run-pass options where I’m just kicking it out to the receiver to get yards after the catch. That’s a huge compliment to them and their ability to play on the outside.”
In the run-pass option game, if Sneed reads a “light” box, he can hand off to a prospective ball carrier. If the defense stacks the box, he can whip the ball out ot the perimeter. And if he sees one of his outside receivers break loose from coverage — Toure and junior Sammy Akem did that repeatedly against USD — he can zip a short pass and let Montana’s impressive athletes go to work in space.
“I think the run-pass option stuff emphasizes our skill sets very well because we have to read the defense,” Toure said. “A lot of it is up to Dalton, a lot of it is up to us. If he’s off too far, we are going to take what he gives us, a little short route. But if he’s pressed up and I know I can beat him deep, that’s what I know I can do. It’s good it just leaves it up to us and we are not just stuck in one route we have to run.”
Toure finished the game with nine catches for 142 yards and a 16-yard touchdown for Montana’s first score of the game. Akem, a freakish 6-foot-5, 210-pounder with long, fluid strides and enormous hands, finished with nine catches for a career high 158 yards and a 43-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Senior Jerry Louie-McGee added eight catches, including several that converted first downs. UM’s three tight ends each caught one pass. Montana’s two running backs combined for five catches.
It remains to be seen the way North Alabama plays Montana defensively in the Grizzlies’ home opener on Saturday night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Toure was adamant on Wednesday that “we are not doubting them at all”, adding “They re a very good team.”
UM might not have as much room to operate on the perimeter. With each passing game, a unit that returns almost every key piece from a year ago continues to come up with answers against opposing defenses.
“Everyone is getting more comfortable with the offense and the scheme and what Coach Rosy is trying to do,” Sneed said. “When he calls a play, we understand why he is calling that play and where he is trying to attack the defense. When that all comes together, the offense usually does pretty well.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or noted. All Rights Reserved.