Big Sky Round Up Week 4

Is there going to be any Big Sky team going to finish over .500 this season? The fourth week of the Big Sky football slate has provided absolutely no clarity into who the best team might be. This is a freight train headed to disastersville at this point.

At this point last week we thought Idaho State was going to be a good football team, but this week happened. North Dakota, one of the preseason favorites, is in a complete tailspin after injuries have hit pretty much on their team, including their water boy (presumably). Southern Utah looked good in a win vs Northern Iowa, then got blown out by the worst team in the conference. Up is down, Big Sky football happens.

Idaho State and Northern Colorado found themselves in a track meet this past weekend. Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp played virtually flawless, throwing for 413 yards and completing 19/25 passes and four touchdowns. That was juuuuuuust enough to beat Idaho State. The Bengals got 253 yards rushing from James Madison (not the school, nor the president) and two touchdowns. The Bears survived a furious fourth quarter comeback from the Bengals when Collin Root hit a 37 yard field goal as time expired to win it for the Bears. Northern Colorado will be headed to Northern Arizona, and Idaho State will be hosting Cal Poly.

Montana State took a trip across the Eastern border to take on North Dakota in the illustrious Alerus Center to take on the all-injured reserve team, North Dakota. Montana State quarterback Chris Murray had a good day for the Bobcats, going 15/19 for 174 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for 132 yards and a score. The Cats also got 131 yards and two scores from running back Troy Anderson. North Dakota, meanwhile, struggled all day against the Cats. The Fighting Hawks (?) two big running backs Brady Oliveira and John Santiago combined for 13 carries for 58 yards. Not a good recipe for winning football games. Montana State will host Weber State, while North Dakota will travel to UC-Davis.

Speaking of UC-Davis, they got blown out by Weber State. UC-Davis scored on their first drive with a 24 yard field goal from Max O’Rourke. After that Weber State scored 41 unanswered points. Stefan Cantwell had an efficient day for the Wildcats, going 7/11 for 205 yards and three scores. Treshawn Garrett added 122 yards rushing and a touchdown. Aggies quarterback Jake Maier threw for 327 yards, but had a pair of turnovers. Collectively the Aggies rushed for 13 yards. Maier led all rushers in lost yards with -45. Weber State will be in Bozeman to take on Montana State, UC-Davis will host North Dakota.

Southern Utah was fresh off of a win over MVFC opponent Northern Iowa then made the trip to Sacramento State to take on the Hornets. Southern Utah got a taste of humble pie as they were soundly beaten by the Hornets in front of dozens of people. Sacramento State quarterback Kevin Thomson had 409 yards and seven touchdowns to lead everyone in scoring, rushing, passing, etc. Southern Utah kept is close after one quarter, but Kevin Thomson poured it on in the second quarter and the Hornets never looked back. Thunderbird running back James Felila tried to make it interesting in the fourth quarter, but the T-Birds were met with a couple more Thomson scores instead. Southern Utah will have a bye week, Sacramento State will head to Eastern Washington.

Eastern Washington and Montana played their annual “score all the points” game and this one surely didn’t disappoint. The Griz jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead, but Gage Gabrud had other thoughts for the finish of the game. Eastern Washington scored 42 second half points to get past the Griz 48-41. Gabrud had 549 yards passing and four touchdowns for the Eagles. Montana quarterback Gresch Jensen, the redshirt freshman making his first collegiate start, had 358 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a rushing touchdown. Montana will head to Portland State, Eastern Washington will host Sacramento State.

Just when we thought Northern Arizona would be left for dead they come back and take down a team that might legitimately by dead.. Cal Poly. Case Cookus turned in a fine performance throwing for 406 yards and four touchdowns. Elijah Marks caught 206 yards of those passes and a pair of scores. Cal Poly, who is now without running back Joe Protheroe, is making more than due with running back Jared Mohamed who had 124 yards. Cal Poly will head to Idaho State, Northern Arizona will host Northern Colorado.


Idaho State 42
Northern Colorado 43

Montana State 49
North Dakota 21

UC Davis 3
Weber State 41

Southern Utah 27
Sacramento State 54

Eastern Washington 48
Montana 41

Northern Arizona 28
Cal Poly 10

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Sacramento State quarterback Kevin Thomson. Thomson was 14/26 for 253 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for 149 yards and four touchdowns as the Hornets defeated Southern Utah on Saturday.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 44/65 for 549, 4 TD, 1 INT
Cole Reyes, LB, North Dakota – 2 tackles
Tanner Gueller, QB, Idaho State – 15/24 for 264 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 14 rec, 206 yards, 2 TD

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Interesting to see Cal Poly at the bottom of the Big Sky. Has that ever happened before? Not in my recent memory, that’s for sure. What an interesting trip to the bottom.

That spot is usually held by Sacramento State.

Montana needs to figure its defensive problems out in a hurry. Can’t be giving up 42 points in a half and win football games. Scoring 41 points should be enough to win you most football games. Gotta be in a good position to win.

However, 41 points may not win you a lot of games in the Big 12.

Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado might be a fun game if both offenses are humming. Could be a classic Big Sky football game. No defense.

No offense to the defenses out there.

That was a good pun.

Too bad about Emmanuel Butler being out for the season, he’s one of the Big Sky’s best receiver, maybe the best one. Northern Arizona won’t be better without him. Elijah Marks will try like hell to fill that void, but having both of them active is NAUs only chance at survival.

Interesting to see Southern Utah get blown out by a typically hapless Sacramento State. They had such a good week last week, then just get blown completely out. Did I miss something in this game, or this just more wacky Big Sky stuff we’ll never understand?

In the same token, after Idaho State gets top 25 votes for beating Nevada, they were beaten Northern Colorado in a wild shootout. No wonder the Big Sky is so woefully represented in the top 25 every week, no one really gets a head in this conference.


24 Hour Rule: Eastern Washington

This is twitter, egriz and maroonblood currently:


The Nitty Gritty:

  1. Griz up 24-6 at half. Lose 48-41. Gage Gubrud threw for 550 yards, 4 touch downs and the Eagles put up 42 points in the second half.
  2. The Griz have 5 out of their last 6 conference games, and many of in the same excruciating fashion.
  3. Eastern Washington is now 7-2 over the past 8 years against the University of Montana. Eastern is clearly Montana’s superior at this point. Last night left no question as to who was and is the more superior team.

Can it get worse?

I don’t think it takes much to think the program at this point is trending in the wrong direction. Things could be worse, but for Montana fans it is hard to imagine how. In the last six conference games, the program has found new and excruciating ways to lose football games.

Last year it was one bomb after another in NAU, EWU, UNC losses. Last night, it was death by fast screen. Nick Splendorio is still catching passes, I believe he had 7,000 last night. Meanwhile UM receivers dropped key passes, sure touchdowns, and when push came to shove, the defense got shoved.

This is obviously not the Montana football program that most fans are accustomed. Not that roughly 10,000 would know, because they still haven’t returned from half time. Is this the basement?

Gresch Jensen played like a freshmen, and Bob Stitt appeared to manage the game with that in mind. There were 40 carries to moderate success, and a less than complex route combination that should have resulted in possession sustaining drives, but rather resulted in driving killing drops.

Next week the Griz travel to Portland, to play in a high school stadium that everyone agrees that they don’t want to play in. The Griz haven’t played well in Portland very often. Most often the games are closer, sloppy affairs that result in ulcer creating fans who try to medicate by drinking as much Deschutes beer as they can.

Can it get better?

Yes it can. Has to or this is yet another lost season. Hard to say that 4 games in, that when most Griz fans probably thought 2-2 after 4 games would be a reasonable result. A person almost has to think the Portland State as a must win. Last year the UM had one win on the road, and the prospects of the program playing well on the road is less than favorable.

What went well:

  1. Gresch Jensen despite hiccups looked the part of a college quarterback. He has a good to great arm, incredible touch. While his throws were a bit hyper last, night he’ll continue to grow into a position that is solidly his.
  2. The offensive line protected well again. Struggled  at times with consistency in the run game, but our OL is no longer on the list of concerns.
  3. The Diversity in the offense was great and Jensen does show that he can get the football where it needs to go.

What didn’t go well/What needs to be worked on:

  1. The defense. Whenever you give up 560 yards of passing, and 600 yards of offense, it is going to lead the list of concerns. The defense struggles to cover when pressure is added in. There weren’t tons of coverage break downs, but there isn’t a happy medium right now between the soft zone and man looks the team is giving. As a person noted last night, it was ‘death by a 1,000 paper cuts.’ For as talented as this defense is individually, we seem to have returned to the issues of the Gregorak era. There is such a wide gap between good and bad right now. I have some theories, but I am not sure I am qualified at this point to make some solid judgements.
  2. Kick Return game. It was tentative last night to say the least. It put the UM in deeper starting positions, sub 20 yard line for much of the night. If you want to take stress off the offense, getting the return game will always help.
  3. Drops/Self Inflicted Errors. The offense needs to play its part. For as much as we want to vilify the defense, the error prone element of the offense should get scrutiny. Whether it is turnovers, drops or whatever, for as great as the offense looked in games 1-3, those errors didn’t help the team whether the EWU storm last night.


I made this point last night on twitter, and I will repeat it here.

Coaching might bridge the gap between Montana and Eastern, but it won’t put them over the top.

Since 2010 the cardinal reason for Grizzly defeat wasn’t scheme, or personnel, it is execution. Fumbles, special teams, drops, tackling have marred each of those losses. When Montana needs a big play, a big stop those events haven’t happened in any regularity.

You can place blame on coaching, recruiting, liberal bias or whatever, but on Saturday it comes down to whether you execute or not. Sometimes it may not matter, but when games are close as most of the EWU/UM games have been, it is the small things. Eastern Washington has put on a master class, at least against the UM, on how to do the small things.

Coaches are going to get the lion share of the blame, as they should, but you should give credit where credit is due. Eastern is the class in the league because they have found a way to execute when it mattered. Coaches can spend the off season changing how they practice, what they practice but sometimes the hardest thing to do is getting that vision and focus to translate onto the football field.

I fully support the staff. I like what I have seen so far this year. I do believe the program is incrementally getting better. That may not be enough for fans. The Griz were tantalizingly close last night. I thought the crowd, the environment would push them through, but those mistakes, those things not done were too much to overcome.

Washington-Grizzly Stadium is the worlds largest bar.

For what its worth, Reese Phillips is right. At some point either you are there to watch a football game or not. Showing up late in the third, early in the fourth, is a weird way to show your support for the program. Are you a fan? Or are you there to get wasted, swear at the coaches and remember nothing in the morning.

Griz fans are really good at saying how good they are and what the tradition is here. The minority even go as far to ridicule other fan bases and make outrages claims and demands of our own program. Yet they have a weird way of showing it, when it comes to game days in Missoula.

If the game is social hour, then fine. There is the first half advantage in Missoula, then it becomes a neutral setting for much of the second half. I am not going to argue for cleaning out tailgating before half, or locking people inside, but understand that fans do play a role. His criticism is dead on.

Short Memories, Entitlement and diarrhea of the mouth.

The program isn’t what it was 10 years ago. We have fans who have been supporting the program since the lean years in the 1970’s. There isn’t a lot of perspective, but I have absolutely no sympathy for the classless behavior that is exhibited in the stands, in social media and on the interwebs.

The calling out of players and coaches, regardless of their transgressions needs to be handled with more tact and class than some are willing to provide. Players are off limits. Period. You are entitled to opinions, but most of learn at a very young age there are things you just don’t say. You don’t.

Stitt is a public figure, so are his coaches, but we can handle our frustration with a more deft touch. We have the right to be frustrated, but were aren’t granted the protection to say whatever we want, whenever and where ever. You don’t get heat of the moment protections, just shut your damn mouth. Think before you type. Pause before you hit send.

We don’t spend all of our waking time preparing, scheming, practicing and playing the game. We drink our beer, we sit behind key boards, and we craft aggressive statements with no real recrimination for what we say. You can’t unsay those words, those words can inflict as much punishment as a punch can. Just because you have the freedom of speech, doesn’t mean you should always exercise it. As I said on twitter, sometimes you need to live in your own sad pathetic world, leave everyone else alone and not project to others how miserable your own life is and STFU.

Thanks for reading.






Examining The Relationship Between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part II

As I noted in the first installment, I think on the surface cover 2 seems super simple. There are a lot of reasons for it, but when the crowd starts to utter a groan when another 7 yard hitch is given up, the reflexive response is for me to scream “that is supposed to happen!”

Playing pass coverage and doing it right is all about concessions and risk management. There are a lot of ways to get it done, but marrying scheme, the opposition, and your personnel in the secondary it creates a never ending gauntlet of issues to navigate. In regards to complexity and difficulty from a scheme standpoint, zone is much more difficult than man to continuously execute successfully.

Continue reading “Examining The Relationship Between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part II”

Big Sky Round-Up Week 3

The Big Sky got a big win this week in the week three edition of the season. Idaho State took a trip to Reno and beat the Nevada Wolf Pack on Saturday night 30-28.

This could be the biggest win Idaho State has had in quite some time. First year head coach Rob Phenecie had his team ready to play as they had a 23-7 lead at the half. Nevada had a furious comeback in the 4th quarter but missed a two point conversion on their last touchdown that would have tied the game. Tanner Gueller had 269 yards passing and two touchdowns. Michael Dean caught 133 yards of those passes and one score for the Bengals. Mario Jenkins checked in with 17 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. The Bengals will be on the road against Northern Colorado next week.

In other Big Sky action the Eastern Washington Eagles went on the road to New York and took on Fordham. The Eagles had little problem taking care of the Rams, beating them 56-21. Gage Gabrud earned Big Sky Player of the Week honors with his performance. He threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Eagles. Eastern Washington got a desperately needed win after starting the season 0-2. They will travel to Missoula to take on Montana next week.

Speaking of Montana the Grizzlies took on MEAC opponent Savannah State. The Tigers, coming from Georgia had a pretty weird week with Hurricane Irma rolling through Georgia the previous week. The Tigers were forced into temporary housing during the storm. As they flew into Montana the airport in Missoula was fogged in and they were re-routed two and a half hours north to Kalispell. After all of that they came to Missoula and were beat by 53 points. It wasn’t all roses for the Griz though, as they lost starting quarterback Reese Phillips for the season with a broken leg.

Northern Colorado played a tight game against the Colorado Buffaloes this past weekend. The traveling Bears lost 41-21 to the Buffs. Seems like a win for the Bears who normally don’t fare as well in these contests. Jacob Knipp threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns, while Trae Riek rushed for 59 yards. Alex Wesley caught 102 yards of passes and two touchdowns for the Bears.

In somewhat of a shocker the Missouri Valley Conference got another one over the Big Sky with South Dakota demolishing North Dakota this past weekend. The Coyotes cruised into halftime with a 31-0 lead and never looked back from there. John Santiago managed to get 85 yards, but it was all Coyotes from there. Coyote quarterback Chris Streveler threw for 290 yards and a score, but 285 yards on the ground are what propelled South Dakota. North Dakota drops to 1-2 on the season after starting the season as one of the favorites in the Big Sky.

The Big Sky did manage to win one of the MVC challenge games as Southern Utah was able to defeat Northern Iowa this weekend in Cedar City. It wasn’t a particularly pretty game for the Thunderbirds, but their defense came through and put the game away on a Jalen Russel interception. Manny Berz kicked the game winner with 1:50 left from 26 yards out and shut the door on Northern Iowa.

In the night cap Weber State defeated Sacramento State. Folks, if you enjoy a game of strange scoring, this is your game. Weber State scored on a blocked punt, Sacramento State scored on an interception return, and apparently Weber State has no faith in their kicker because they attempted three two point conversions on their first three scores. Remember coaches, kickers are people too.

Coming up this week we’ll see Eastern Washington and Montana lock horns in Missoula in a battle for Big Sky supremacy. Idaho State will be taking on Northern Colorado. Montana State will head across the border to take on North Dakota. UC-Davis is headed to Weber State to take on the Wildcats. Southern Utah will head to Sacramento State. In the late kickoff Northern Arizona will take on Cal Poly.


Savannah State 3
Montana 56

Eastern Washington 56
Fordham 21

Northern Colorado 21
Colorado 41

North Dakota 7
South Dakota 45

UC Davis 37
Portland State 14

Idaho State 30
Nevada 28

Northern Iowa 21
Southern Utah 24

Weber State 31
Sacramento State 24

Big Sky Player of the Week

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington. Gabrud was 29/41 for 399 yards and three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in the Eagles’ victory over Fordham this past weekend.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 29/41 399 yards 3 TD 2 INT
Cole Reyes, LB, North Dakota – 8 tackles
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly – Idle
Emmanuel Butler, WR, Northern Arizona – Idle
John Santiago, RB, North Dakota – 12 carries, 85 yards.

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Big win for Idaho State, might be one of the biggest in the Big Sky this season. Nevada’s not a great team, as they have no quarterback, but a good win for first year coach Rob Phenecie.

Big loss for North Dakota who was beaten out of the building on Saturday. Not sure I’ve seen a Coyotes team this good in the time I’ve been paying attention to FCS football. South Dakota has only finished over .500 twice since 2005, one of the best seasons in their program’s history.

Big game in Missoula this weekend. Hard to get a read on either team has both have been beaten pretty handily by FBS teams. Montana has beaten two  pretty bad FCS teams. Eastern Washington has beaten what looked like a good FCS team in preseason polls, but now Fordham has dropped to 0-3.

Gage Gabrud might be the best player in the Big Sky this season. Not sure if anyone will catch him or not for player of the year.

Cal Poly received four votes in this week’s top 25. They are currently 0-3 and just came off of a bye week. Anyone care to explain how something like this happens?

Good win for Southern Utah. The conference, as well as the Thunderbirds, needed a win against Northern Iowa.

Big Sky Week 1 Round-Up

The first full weekend of Big Sky football is in the books and every game went about as expected for all of the teams. The teams that should have won did so, and the teams that weren’t favored in their games did not win those contests. North Dakota put up a nice fight against the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City, however the Utes aren’t slouches on the football field. North Dakota got an early lead on the Utes but after that first quarter Utah never looked back. Utah ran for 272 yards on the Fighting Hawks, while North Dakota didn’t get much going in the rushing or passing game.

Sacramento State held tough for a while against Idaho, but ultimately lost 28-6 in the Kibbie Dome. The Vandals will be making their way back to the Big Sky next season. Washington State blanked Montana State 31-0 in Pullman. The Cats offense got absolutely nothing going, however their defense somehow held Mike Leach’s Cougars to 31 points. Wazzu’s Luke Falk turned in an impressive game, going 33/39 with 311 yards and three touchdowns.

Portland State fell to 0-2 on the season, losing by three to Oregon State. The Vikings have played FBS opponents two weeks in a row and have been a tough out in both contests. Too early to tell what kind of team the Vikings are right now, but they should be encouraged in their FBS losses.

Texas Tech dismantled Eastern Washington on Saturday night, beating the Eagles 56-10 in Lubbock. Prior to the game Kliff Kingsbury announced that the team would donate $100 per point scored in the contest to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. It appears the Red Raiders will be sending $5600 to Houston for their win against Eastern. The Eagles will be replacing just about everything from last season except Gage Gabrud. Gabrud had a decent day going 22/34 for 207 yards with a touchdown and interception. The Eagles will be looking to replace the combination of Cooper Kupp, Shaq Hill, and Kendrick Bourne from last season.

Oregon absolutely crushed Southern Utah 77-21. San Diego State took care of UC-Davis 38-17. Arizona dismantled Northern Arizona 62-24 as well.

On the flipside, Weber State took care of NAIA school Montana-Western 76-0, and Northern Colorado took down College of Idaho 41-14.

In the only FCS on FCS action this weekend Montana beat Valparaiso at home to start the season 45-23. Jerry Louis-McGee caught 159 yards with of passes from Reese Phillips and had a pair of touchdown grabs for the Griz. Next week Montana will get a taste of FBS punishment from eighth ranked Washington in Seattle.


North Dakota 16
Utah 37

Western Oregon 6
Idaho State 37

Sacramento State 6
Idaho 28

Valparaiso 23
Montana 45

Montana State 0
Washington State 31

Portland State 32
Oregon State 35

College of Idaho 14
Northern Colorado 41

Eastern Washington 10
Texas Tech 56

Cal Poly 13
San Jose State 34

Montana Western 0
Weber State 76

Southern Utah 21
Oregon 77

UC-Davis 17
San Diego State 38

Northern Arizona 24
Arizona 62

Big Sky Player of the Week

Jerry Louis-McGee, WR, Montana. The receiver had nine catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns in the Griz’s opening season win vs Valparaiso.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington
Cole Reyes, RB, North Dakota
Joe Protheroe, RB, Cal Poly
Emmanual Butler, WR, Northern Arizona
John Santiago, RB, North Dakota

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion but the Big Sky Conference leadership needs to put an end to these Big Sky vs NAIA games. College of Idaho and Montana-Western should –never- appear on teams’ schedules. There are one or two hundred division 2 teams to choose from, pick one and schedule it. NAIA football is not appropriate for scheduling. That would be the equivalent of an FBS team scheduling a D2 school.

As far as this week in games goes, they turned out about as they should have. Everyone won and lost as they should have. Portland State had a shot at the upset. Oregon State is probably not a good football team this season, having been blown out of the stadium vs Colorado State last week, and nearly getting upset this week by an FCS school.

In other FCS upsets, James Madison, Liberty, and Howard all pulled off impressive FBS upsets this weekend. James Madison crushed East Carolina. Liberty took down perennial FBS power Baylor in a clash of universities with terrible morals. Howard, winner of three games over the last two season, put 43 points on UNLV and beat them.

Montana may have one of the toughest play-up games for a Big Sky team in recent memory. The Washington Huskies defense is nails. Several players named to preseason award watch lists, and quarterback Jake Browning is back. Hopefully Chris Petersen shows mercy at some point.

College football is back.