Big Sky Round-Up: Week 4

Big Sky

Another week in the Big Sky is done. With that week over we have fully submerged ourselves in the conference play. Many of the games were very good games, such as Montana and Cal Poly, as well as Montana State and North Dakota. Sacramento State gave it a good effort to get into the win column with a mad fourth quarter dash, but couldn’t get it done against Idaho State. Eastern Washington stepped on the gas early against Northern Arizona and never let up. UC-Davis made a run at Weber State in the final quarter, but also faded late.

Cal Poly certainly has been a surprise this season. They were picked low in the media poll, as well as the poll put together by yours truly. They are now 3-1 on the season, and really should be undefeated. They are also tied atop the Big Sky Conference standings with Eastern Washington with their most recent win over Montana. The team was supposedly very angry to start the season because of being picked so low. They are now rolling thanks to Joe Protheroe and Kori Garcia.

At the bottom of the pile is Sacramento State and UC-Davis. The Hornets have yet to pick up a win this season and they may not have any chances for a win until they travel to Greeley to Northern Colorado, or at the end of the season against UC-Davis. UC-Davis’s best chances of winning look like Northern Colorado and Sacramento State.

At this moment there are three teams from the Big Sky ranked in the FCS Stats poll, Montana (11th), Eastern Washington (4th), and Cal Poly (16th). Southern Utah is just outside of the poll. In the Any Given Saturday poll has Eastern Washington (3rd), Montana (11th), Cal Poly (8th), and Southern Utah (20th). In the way too early playoff predictions we should see at least three, perhaps four teams in the BSC in the playoffs.


Montana 41
Cal Poly 42

North Dakota 17
Montana State 15

Sacramento State 34
Idaho State 42

Eastern Washington 50
Northern Arizona 35

Portland State 31
Southern Utah 45

Weber State 38
UC-Davis 35

Player of the Week

Jerry Louie-McGee, wide receiver, Montana. Louie-McGee set a Montana record with 21 receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Cal Poly. Louie-McGee was named the FCS STATS freshman of the week this week as well.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, Eastern Washington. 35/56, 392 yards, 2 touchdowns. 11 carries, 85 yards, 1 touchdown.
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington. 11 receptions, 111 yards.
John Santiago, North Dakota. 19 carries, 57 yards.
Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly. 17 carries, 90 yards. 1 reception, 55 yards, 1 touchdown.
Case Cookus, Northern Arizona. 17/28, 245 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception.
Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona. 5 receptions, 56 yards.

Big Sky Power Rankings

1. Eastern Washington
2. Cal Poly
3. Montana
4. Southern Utah
5. North Dakota
6. Weber State
7. Northern Arizona
8. Montana State
9. Portland State
10. Idaho State
11. Northern Colorado
12. UC-Davis
13. Sacramento State

Looking Ahead to Week 5

In the game of the week in the Big Sky Southern Utah heads to Montana to take on the Grizzlies. Both teams are 2-1 coming into the weekend. Cal Poly will make the long trip to Grand Forks to take on North Dakota. Northern Arizona will drive up the road to Greeley to take on the Northern Colorado Bears. UC-Davis will be heading north to take on Eastern Washington. Idaho State will take on Portland State. Montana State will face off with Sacramento State.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– Sacramento State is baaaaaaad. Jody Sears is probably not going to get another year for the Hornets.

– Montana was the sole team so far to bottle up Joe Protheroe, he still had 145 total yards and a score.

– Cal Poly is a pretty good team. Their quarterback looks like he used to play for Air Force, he looked that skilled running the triple option. He took some pretty mean hits on Saturday from the Grizzlies defense though.. and kept on ticking.

– The top four in the Big Sky are looking pretty tough to beat right now. We’ll find out more about Southern Utah this weekend in Missoula. I didn’t think they’d be this good this year considering they lost their coach, quarterback, a couple of pretty good defensive players, etc. Yet, here they are.

– Gage Gabrud had a huge game for Eastern Washington, a week after he was jerked out of the game in favor of Riley Hennessey. I guess Beau Baldwin knows how to motivate his starting quarterback.

– Good to see Cooper Kupp back on the field. Once he gets his feet back under him he’ll be dominating Big Sky secondaries.

– Perhaps next time Bruce Barnum wants to run his trap he should make sure his team is prepared to back up his mouth, Southern Utah fans showed out in force in response to his “Whoville” comments earlier in the week. Better win something first, Bruce, before you shoot your mouth off.

– The Vikings are now 1-3 on the season.

Stitt’s Zone Passing Scheme

The statistics from Saturday’s loss to Cal-Poly are pretty telling. Brady Gustafson completed 47 of 59 passes for 400 plus yards. Jerry Louis McGee tallied 21 receptions in the loss. A pretty good day for the offense as they tallied 41 points in the loss.

Yet there is still at this point some significant confusion and even frustration about the nature of Stitt’s zone passing scheme and what the end result is.

The zone passing scheme that Coach Stitt employed for vast chunks of the game resulted in lots of little completions and very few big vertical completions down the field. Most of the passes were thrown and completed within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and were designed to get the ball in the hands of the fleet-afoot receiving corp to make plays against a largely 1v1 coverage by Poly. Early on those plays went for five or ten yards. Late those same receptions went for negative yards. As the production waned from the offense, the criticism increased not only for what the offense is supposed to accomplish but also for what the counters are.

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Cal Poly Aftermath

Some quick observations after the University of Montana’s loss at Cal Poly 42-41. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

From a coaches perspective, especially from the defensive side there is going to be a lot of rehashing on the trip home. The offense held its end of the bargain, but the defense struggled to handle the enormity that is the Poly offense.

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Crafting a game plan for Poly

What makes triple option teams so difficult to plan for is that orthodoxy is a little bit out the window. Unless your defense is ideally suited (5-2, 4-4,4-6) you are going to spend your time trying to craft a game plan that requires typically a lot of deviation from what you normally do. Coaches spend time, probably way too much time, trying to create a scheme while technically sound rarely if ever approaches the type of execution efficiency to be successful in the way that you want to.

Maybe the cardinal sin a defense coach can do is create a game plan for a team that his players cannot execute. Failure in a game plan can come from all angles. Superior opponent and scheme, personnel, conditions, and plain old luck. Most coaches have been there at one point in their career, a perfectly molded game plan has failed miserably on Friday night. You look at your call sheet and you have nothing. Then you find yourself fired and looking for employment.

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Cal Poly and the Triple Option

The question every year that we see Cal-Poly on the schedule and it comes about 12 seconds after the schedule release is “How do we stop the triple option?”

Lots and lots of consternation because the UM hasn’t done well in recent years against the option. There are so many ways to skin a cat in this regard and there are few really good solid answers on how to contain it.

One realization is that we won’t. Just get used to it. They will gain yards, mostly in excruciating fashion. They’ll hand off the ball to bowling ball running back who’ll even run into his own man bounce off him, break a couple of tackles (at least one for loss) and it all for a three yard gain on first down. They will make our defenders look silly. The hope is that in the end they get their yards on 60 carries versus 30. There is no silver bullet.

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Big Sky Round-Up: Week 3

Big Sky

Week three of the Big Sky Conference football season is in the books and some teams got some needed wins this week to either save their season or help their season along. The biggest win of the week happened in Cheney Washington as the Eagles took down MVFC opponent Northern Iowa in a shootout. The Eagles scored the winning touchdown on a … very large onions call by Beau Baldwin. A fake field goal that would have tied the game turned into the game winning touchdown pass. Been a long time since I’ve seen a call that ballsy, gotta hand it to Baldwin there. Coaches are generally pretty conservative, especially in that situation, but man.

North Dakota got a big win against their border rival South Dakota this week. That win may have saved their season as they could not afford to fall into a 0-3 hole to start the season, especially as being picked as a dark horse in the Big Sky. Cal Poly got a very quality win against South Dakota State on the road this weekend. Good momentum heading into a big home game against Montana. Even though it may have been fairly insignificant, Northern Arizona took care of business against their division II opponent this weekend to notch a win in the win column.

The Big Sky suffered four play-up game losses this weekend, none of them were even remotely close. Average margin of victory in those four contests was 29 points. Granted, all four teams that were playing up this week are likely the bottom four teams in the Big Sky. Montana State also took care of business against their division II opponent for their second win of the season. All in all, not a bad weekend for the Big Sky.


UC-Davis 22
Wyoming 45

Portland State 3
Washington 41

Northern Colorado 21
Colorado State 47

Western Oregon 0
Montana State 55

Idaho State 7
Oregon State 37

New Mexico Highlands 3
Northern Arizona 73

Cal Poly 38
South Dakota State 31

Northern Iowa 30
Eastern Washington 34

Sacramento State 7
Weber State 14

Player of the Week

Joe Protheroe, running back at Cal Poly. Protheroe had 31 carries for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the Mustangs win over South Dakota State.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, Eastern Washington. 13/26 for 114 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions.
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington. Did not accumulate any stats.
John Santiago, North Dakota. 22 carries for 140 yards and one touchdown.
Case Cookus, Northern Arizona. 14/25, 296 yards and seven touchdowns.
Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona. 6 receptions for 99 yards and five touchdowns.

Big Sky Power Rankings

1. Eastern Washington
2. Montana
3. Cal Poly
4. Southern Utah
5. Montana State
6. Portland State
7. North Dakota
8. Northern Arizona
9. Weber State
10. Northern Colorado
11. UC-Davis
12. Idaho State
13. Sacramento State

Looking Ahead to Week 4

Three big match-ups in the Big Sky this week as conference play gets fully underway. Montana will travel to Cal Poly. Eastern Washington will travel to Flagstaff to take on Northern Arizona. Portland State will head to Utah to take on Southern Utah. In a game that someone has to win, but in the end, we’re all losers for maybe having watched it, Sacramento State will go to Idaho State. No one wins there, folks.

While this week certainly doesn’t have an immediate impact there could be some games this week that will help sort out auto-bids and playoff seeding. Explosive week of games on the docket.

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

– Big win for Eastern Washington and the Big Sky. The Big Sky has a certain reputation against the MVFC that it might be a little soft. So far Montana and Eastern have taken down the likely number two team in the MVFC, and Eastern took the champions to overtime in Fargo.

– Expected Portland State to put up more of a fight against Washington this past weekend. Portland State was simply outclasses by a Washington team under Chris Peterson who is rolling right now.

– Honestly a little surprised that North Dakota beat South Dakota. Both teams played very well and the game went to double overtime. Keeton Stensrud’s touchdown in overtime was the winner, and a win that the Hawks needed.

– The Fighting Hawks is still a really dumb choice, and even worse logo.

– Cal Poly’s win at South Dakota State surprised me as well, kind of out of nowhere. South Dakota State may have been surprised by that triple option offense, and Joe Protheroe was a load to handle for the Jacks. We’ll find out this weekend if Cal Poly is for real or not.

– Weber State and Sacramento State made people regret spending money on watching that game.. just brutal. Not even sure it was good defense as Weber put up 580 yards and only 14 points to show for it.

– Weber quarterback Jadrian Clark was responsible for 451 of those yards, by the way.