The Power of Silence

Here are a few tidbits for you to gnaw on as you try to recover from the Grizzly loss at Montana State yesterday.

  • Yesterday marked the first time since 02-03 that MSU had won two games in a row. That bridged the Glenn-Hauck eras.
  • The loss yesterday marked the first time since 2005 that UM lost to MSU in Bozeman.
  • The loss will most likely end up causing the University of Montana to miss the playoffs in consecutive years since 91-92.
  • Stitt is the first Montana coach to lose to MSU in consecutive years since Larry Donovan. (1984-85)
  • Montana suffered three or more conference losses in consecutive years for the first time since 86-87
  • Montana has not won the Big Sky Conference officially since 2009.

Those are the type of stats that make you want to start drinking at 7am on a Sunday morning. I’m not, but you can. Even with all of the those stats, Bob Stitt should wake up on Monday morning and be the head coach of the University of Montana football program. He should be the coach there until he isn’t anymore.

The words that fill my blog will likely never  include words, phrases, clauses that ask for coaches to be fired.  That doesn’t mean coaches should be fired, or have merited a second look into their performance by the powers that be. Again if Bob Stitt is the coach on Monday morning, he should be until he isn’t anymore.

I have to imagine the weight of the air, the power of the silence, inside the halls, lockers and offices of Washington-Grizzly Stadium is overwhelming this morning. That is NOT a comfortable feeling. You don’t want to be in those places that remind you of your shortcomings, failures, and inadequacies. Whether you are a coach or a player, you have to face them eventually, but the idea of being there right now is likely crushing under the weight of that failure.

For the coaches and the players, those returning, will use it to fuel their off-season. For those who are walking out for the last time, it’ll haunt them for many years to come. The weight of things not done, not achieved, are not easily lifted or erased away. That is baggage you don’t want to leave University of Montana as a football player or a coach with.

Yet while there is silence inside Washington-Grizzly, the cacophony of critics asking, wanting, demanding change is deafening. The barbarians are at the gate and Emperor Haslam has some tough decisions to make. There are omnipresent issues afoot that must be addressed. Declining attendance. Declining performance. Losing to the Bobcats. Department shortfalls. Booster Support. A new main hall administration.

Lets make this clear. Bob Stitt was a great hire in 2015, and still is. That results are less than overwhelming is something that you could not possibly have known. Some claim you can by looking deep into Stitt’s record at the Colorado School of Mines and know. Great coaches with pedigree fail, and fail all the time.  Bill Belichick and  Nick Saban failed. At this point, the only failure Bob Stitt has on his record at the University of Montana, is his inability to live up to the ghosts of Grizzlies past and the standards of an impatient Grizzly booster and fanbase.

Stitt has done A Lot of things right. That won’t matter in the end. Petulant fans and boosters have a way of getting their way. They shouldn’t, but the salvage yard of programs done in by hyper vigilant fan bases and super sensitive administrations is long and distinguished. Texas. Nebraska. Tennessee. Florida. The trail is pretty narrow and administrators have tough jobs. A great hire puts you at the top of the mountain. A bad one and you  fall off into the valley to do.

There are reasons to fire coaches. Stitt hasn’t done much to merit being fired. Yet he hasn’t done much to merit being kept either. Those points listed above matter to Griz fans, boosters and administration. The constant drive to meet an almost unattainable standard can wear upon not only players, but coaches and administration.

The problem is optics. Jeff Choate has 9 total wins in his first two years in Bozeman. He has a total of 7 conference wins. He only carries two significant victories and that is all that matters. He is 2-0 against the Griz, and has taken them to the woodshed like no other team has in Stitts tenure. Their rah-rah Friday night style sure contrasts rather sharply with Stitts cerebral and reserved style. Choate owns Bozeman now, and Stitt with largely a better resume may very well be looking for a job Monday morning. Administrations shouldn’t make decisions based upon narratives of fans but they do.

Rarely does firing coaches for better than industry performance work out well for the institution or the fan bases that represent them. Stitt is 8 games above .500 in his tenure, averages 7 wins a year, and even has a playoff win under his belt. His teams played maybe 7 bad quarters this year, and they resulted in 3 losses. They competed. Won games with three different quarterbacks at the helm. They improved the model from a year before. But. They missed the playoffs and lost to Montana State. That is enough to get Bob Stitt fired, and he probably knows it too.

If the decision is to retain Stitt, it’ll be the right one. I don’t envy the decisions that need to be made. Will there be sacrificial lambs (Semore, Neikamp?). Stitt made a ton of concessions last year. An uniformed eye saw the improvement. Yet, it might not be enough. There were maddening inconsistencies, continued flat play at inopportune times.

Coaches are deeply self-aware. The stuff not accomplished keeps them in their offices until 3am with  only the glare of the TV monitor lighting the room. They’ll replay the same clip a hundred times over, and over again to find the flaw. The mistake. Yet some flaws are not easily found within the film, nor are others correctable. Some only can be removed only by removing themselves. For the detailed oriented nature of Stitt, the meticulous nature of how and why he does everything, there are lingering details that seem obvious from the outside that seem to be ignored. Seem to be ignored. Maybe those details were addressed, but not successfully so.

Maybe those details are outside or even above the ability of this coaching staff. Doubt it, as at least with my limited interaction, this coaching staff is one of the most intelligent staffs I have encountered. Sometimes that doesn’t translate.

Lou Holtz said many years ago that ability gets you only so far. In the end it is attitude that determines how far and how high you go. There is some legitimacy to that assertion at least from a player perspective. I don’t think attitude replaces ability in coaching. Way too much success and failure in coaching is in the details. That it matters to fans that Choate is a rah-rah guy, personable, over actual results is revealing.  Both programs have similar roster make-ups, 2/3rds of the roster are Redshirts, Freshman or Sophomores. Both start similar amounts of seniors, collected in different areas or get playing time from upper classmen. Choate is 9-13 in two seasons. Bob Stitt is 13-9.

Again 0-2 and missing the playoffs are the only narratives that matter outside the offices of Kent Haslam and Bob Stitt. They matter inside, but there is substantively more. Ex-players can cry foul. Boosters can pull money. Fixing what ails Montana football isn’t as easy as bringing another coach in. You can replace Stitt with a rah-rah guy and end up in the same place in three years. You know what you have in the coaches offices right now. You don’t know what is walking in. You think you might know, but you really don’t. Ask Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.

Montana will be in a better place in three years with Stitt, than Montana State will be with Choate. Fans won’t like that. Wasn’t as if Ash left the cupboard completely bare. Many elements of his recruiting were elemental in winning these last two Cat-Griz games. All of those young guys still led Choate to 9 wins in two years. Choose your narrative and run with it. Gresh Jensen is a better quarterback as Freshman, than Murray is a sophomore.

Whether Stitt is the coach tomorrow or not, just replacing the coach isn’t a guarantee. The roster and that locker room are poised, and in a much better situation to build upon the success and failures of this season. There is a great foundation for the future. Whomever that leads them on the field in 2018, is likely inheriting or has a squad poised on potential alone capable of taking the next step.

The silence in Washington Grizzly is just as deafening as the clamoring outside of it today. That is problem and there isn’t an easy solution. Changes need to be made. Diagnoses are easy, prescriptions and cures aren’t. Who Haslam listens to over the next 24 hours will be interesting.  Here is hoping that he listens to common sense within room, versus the barbarians at the gate.

 

 

Big Sky Round Up Week 11

The Big Sky’s playoff picture didn’t get much clearer on Saturday win week 11 of play, however we now have the setup for a big final weekend of regular season play. No big upsets this weekend, which means there are six teams alive for a playoff berth, but possibly only three or four spots will be given to Big Sky teams. As of now Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, Weber State, Eastern Washington, and Sacramento State are alive for spots. Realistically, Eastern Washington and Sacramento State will probably not be in the field. The other four, however, are still alive.

The final weekend will pit a bubble team, Montana against its in-state rival Montana State. Northern Arizona and Southern Utah will also face off, with NAU quite possibly being on the bubble. Southern Utah and Weber should have spots wrapped up for Sunday’s selection show.

The Big Sky’s week started with Eastern Washington take a trip across a couple of time zones to take on the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. The Hawks are having a bit of a letdown this season due to a number of injuries to key starters. Eastern Washington on the other hand was dealing with the suspension of two players due to some extracurricular activities last weekend. One of those players was starting quarterback Gage Gubrud. The Fighting Hawks got on the board first with a Keaton Studsrud touchdown run. Eastern Washington would answer with a half back pass, Sam McPherson to Talolo Limu-Jones. Eastern Washington hit on two more scoring plays in the second quarter including a touchdown from quarterback in relief Eric Barriere to McPherson. Barriere also had a touchdown run. North Dakota tried to make it interesting in the fourth quarter by closing to gap to within seven but couldn’t close out. Eastern Washington will take on Portland State next weekend while North Dakota’s season is over.

After Montana’s victory against Northern Arizona last weekend without starting quarterback Gresch Jensen the Griz were happy to have Jensen back for Northern Colorado. The Bears know a thing or two about playing with a backup, as Jacob Knipp was knocked for the season and Conor Regan was brought in for the remainder of the season. The Griz got off to a quick start with a touchdown run from Gresch Jensen to open up the scoring. Northern Colorado answered right back with a scoring drive of their own, Alex Wesley catching a 26 yard pass from Conor Regan. From there the Griz scored 37 straight points and blew the doors off of Northern Colorado. The Bears managed a garbage time pick six by Marshaun Cameron to get the score a tiny bit closer. Montana will be at Montana State next weekend, while Northern Colorado will host Cal Poly in the Big Sky pillow fight of the week.

Portland State, the Big Sky’s kicking post this season, hosted Weber State this weekend. If you read that last sentence correctly you can probably imagine how this game turned out. Weber State got up 49-3 at the half and that’s really all you need to know about this game. The Wildcats rushed for 421 yards in this contest and somehow only kept the ball for two and a half minutes more than the Vikings. Kevin Smith rushed for 143 yards, David Jones rushed for 103 yards, and Treshawn Garrett rushed for 88 yards. Combined the rushers had seven touchdowns for the Wildcats. Portland State scored a couple of touchdowns in the second half, presumably against the Weber State JV. Weber State will host Idaho State next weekend in the Zion border war, while Portland State will look to keep it respectable against Eastern Washington.

Southern Utah kept their winning ways going and their lead in the Big Sky with a victory against UC-Davis this past weekend. The Aggies came into the game looking for an upset of the Big Sky’s leader and instead found a buzzsaw. Jake Maier turned in a respectable game, however it wasn’t enough to overcome the Thunderbird defense. Patrick Tyler earned Big Sky player of the week honors, as he passed for 370 yards and three touchdowns. Southern Utah quickly got up 21-0 on the Aggies, the first score on an interception return, then a Patrick Tyler touchdown pass. Jay Green would punch in a one yard touchdown to follow. At the half the Thunderbirds were up 26-7. Davis would come back and score in the third and fourth quarter, however the game was pretty much in hand before the Davis offense woke up. Southern Utah will host Northern Arizona next week while Davis will play the Causeway Classic against Sacramento State.

Case Cookus made his return to the field this week one week after being ejected against Montana for a helmet to helmet hit. Cookus came back and threw for 314 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for a touchdown as well. On the other side of the ball was the Montana State Bobcats who were looking to play the role of upset team, as their season is basically already over. The Bobcats made the game interesting in the fourth quarter by scoring with 13:18 left in the 4th to even it up at 30. NAUs Joe Logan would put in a touchdown to give the Lumberjacks a seven point lead with 4:49 left in the game. Montana State wasn’t done and went driving. Chris Murray hit Kevin Kassis with :32 seconds left in the game to put the Cats in position to win or tie the game. Coach Jeff Choate opted for the two point conversion and Chris Murray could not finish the play and NAU would escape with the win. Montana State will host Montana next week in the Treasure State Super Bowl, while Northern Arizona will be at Southern Utah.

In the night cap the Sacramento State Hornets went on the road to take on fairly helpless Cal Poly. The Hornets were trying to keep their very remote playoff chances alive and needed a win. Sacramento State put their foot to the gas almost immediately scoring three plays into the game and went on to score 49 straight against the Mustangs. Kevin Thomson had three touchdown passes for the Hornets. Ernest Jenkins returned a blocked field goal attempt for a 74 yard touchdown in the first quarter. The Hornets piled up 465 yards on offense while only holding the ball for 21:15 of the game. The Hornets will host UC-Davis next weekend while Cal Poly will be playing in the Big Sky pillow fight at Northern Colorado.

Scores

Eastern Washington 21
North Dakota 14

Northern Colorado 14
Montana 44

Weber State 63
Portland State 17

Southern Utah 47
UC-Davis 27

Montana State 36
Northern Arizona 37

Sacramento State 49
Cal Poly 14

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Southern Utah quarterback Patrick Tyler. Tyler was 26/36 for 370 yards and three touchdowns as the Thunderbirds took care of business against UC-Davis on Saturday in Davis, CA.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington – Did not record any stats
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 9 receptions, 123 yards
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 11 receptions for 93 yards
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – 17/25 for 228 yards, 3 TD, 30 yards rushing 1 TD
Patrick Tyler, QB, Southern Utah – 26/36 for 370 yards, 3 TD 2 INT, 15 yards rushing

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Fully expected to UC-Davis to pull the upset this week, but that Southern Utah team might be the real deal. I haven’t known what to think of them all season, and every week I think, “there’s no way they can win again this week” and they do. Hope they can win out and get a playoff seed, they’ve earned it.

Montana State going for two and losing was basically how I expected that game to end. As I was sitting in the bar area at Jakers in Missoula watching the game I said to the group with me, and whomever was in earshot at the time, “This is going to end with the Cats failing on a two point conversion.”  Welp.  That said, Jeff Choate made the right decision. The Cats literally had nothing to lose (except the game). They’re not going to the playoffs, they’re on the road, what the hell.. take the shot. You’re the hero if you convert it, no worse off if you lose. Right decision, poor execution.. didn’t like that play call.

I’m guessing none of you had Sacramento State blowing out Cal Poly when this season started.

Gage Gubrud’s replacement, Eric Barriere, had an okay day in his first start for Eastern Washington. 13/23 for 130 yards and a touchdown pass, as well as 55 yards rushing and a touchdown. Game probably looks a bit different if Gubrud is playing, but he didn’t.

The Big Sky comes down to next week. There’s a three way tie at the top of the conference for the autoqualifier bid. Southern Utah, Weber State and Northern Arizona are all 6-1 in conference. Montana, Eastern Washington, and Sacramento State are all sitting at 5-2 in conference. Eastern Washington and Sacramento State are both 6-4 on the season. In theory, EWU and Sacramento State are probably not getting into the playoffs at 7-4 (if they both win next week). That leaves Montana, Weber, Northern Arizona and Southern Utah probably fighting for three spots. Southern Utah and NAU play next weekend. Weber did not have to play NAU this year. Going to be a screwy tie breaker scenario that plays out.

At the same time… can’t believe we give a playoff spot to the NEC and the Pioneer league. Man alive.. why? I get it, but why? Also, the Patriot league leader, Lehigh, is 4-1 in conference.. and 4-6 overall. The second place team, Colgate, is 6-4, 4-1 in conference. Lehigh owns the tiebreaker over Colgate in this situation.

North Carolina A&T won the MEAC this past weekend. They have indicated that they will play in the Celebration Bowl rather than the FCS playoffs. That’s a shame that one of the FCS’s top teams, and one of two that are left undefeated, won’t be competing in this year’s playoffs. It would be interesting to see how they’d fare in the tournament.

My picks for the week: Montana, Northern Colorado, Weber State, Southern Utah, Sacramento State, Eastern Washington.

Big Sky Round Up Week 10

The top of the Big Sky standings got pretty shaken up this week with two top teams going down. This is the time of season where the conference haves and have-nots start to separate themselves into who is going to be playing in the post season.

The Big Sky week started off in Bozeman with the visiting Kennesaw State Owls making the nearly cross country road trip to take on the Bobcats. Kennesaw State, a third year program from Georgia and ranked in the FCS top 25, presented a few new wrinkles for the Bobcats. The Owls, who run a triple option style offense, started the game with an eight and a half minute drive and ended with a touchdown. The Owls piled up 346 yards rushing and held the ball for nearly 40 minutes in a two point victory. Montana State got a touchdown from Chris Murray on the ground, and a touchdown pass to Mitchell Herbert for their only scores. After Kennesaw’s opening touchdown they’d ride three field goals from Justin Thompson to victory. The Bobcats will face off with Northern Arizona in Flagstaff next week.

Weber State, fresh off of a win over Montana took a trip to the Palouse to take on Eastern Washington. The Eagles, who are clinging to their playoff hopes, needed a win over Weber State to keep them alive. The Wildcats, on the other hand, had other thoughts in mind. Treshawn Garrett had a pair of touchdowns from Stefan Cantwell to get the Wildcats going. In all Cantwell had three touchdown passes and 230 yards to lead the Wildcats. Post-game, it was announced that Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gabrud will miss next week’s game due to a violation of team rules. Weber State gets a win to remain at the top of the Big Sky standings. Weber State will head to Portland to take on Portland State. Eastern Washington will make the trip to Grand Forks to take on North Dakota.

UC-Davis is looking to turn in one of their best seasons since joining the Big Sky and looked to keep that going with a game at Idaho State. The Bengals, also having a good year by Bengal standards needed to slow down the Aggie offense to have any chance in this one. That chance quickly disappeared when Jake Maier got the ball in his hands and led three scoring drives in the first quarter, the Aggies quickly up 21-0. The Bengals would get on the board early in the second quarter, however, that didn’t really matter because UC-Davis didn’t look back. Maier piled up 358 yards and three scores, while Justin Williams had two rushing scores for the Aggies. UC-Davis will host Southern Utah, while Idaho State will have a bye.

Southern Utah kept making their case for the Big Sky’s autobid later this month by dismantling North Dakota in Cedar City this weekend. Patrick Tyler had a nice game for the Thunderbirds, throwing for 310 yards and two scores. Jay Green had 62 yards and three scores on the ground. North Dakota never made this game interesting. John Santiago turned in a 115 yard effort for the Fighting Hawks, with a score but wasn’t enough to help the Hawks effort. Southern Utah will travel to UC-Davis to take on the potent Aggies offense, while North Dakota will host Eastern Washington.

Sacramento State seems to have found their scoring groove. This week they got to put their offense to the test against Northern Colorado. The Bears have been reeling for a lot of the season, but even moreso since starting quarterback Jacob Knipp got injured. Hornet quarterback Roman Ale had a pair of touchdown passes. However, the Hornets rode a 333 yard rushing effort from their trio of backs to put their foot down on the Bears. Elijah Dotson had 124 yards and two scores to lead all rushers. The Hornets were also aided by three Northern Colorado turnovers. Sacramento State will head to Cal Poly to take on the Mustangs, while Northern Colorado will be at Montana.

Montana was smarting after a loss at Weber State last week, and this week didn’t get any easier as they took on the Big Sky’s sole unbeaten team in conference play, Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks had a rough start to the game as starting quarterback Case Cookus was ejected early in the first quarter for a targeting call on a play he was blocking for a receiver. From there Stone Smartt came in and did his best with what he was given. He was given a defense anxious to hit him early and often, recording seven sacks. On the other hand, Montana starting quarterback Gresch Jensen was ruled out with a concussion. This led to Montana starting fourth string quarterback Makena Simis. Simis rushed for 101 yards, and with the help of a special teams touchdown from Jerry Louis-McGee Montana defeated Northern Arizona. The Griz will host Northern Colorado, while the Lumberjacks will host Montana State.

In the final game of the week, and the Big Sky Pillow Fight of the Week, Portland State took their trip down the coast and took on Cal Poly. In a game that didn’t feature a whole lot of defense both teams got to showcase their offenses. Davis Alexander recorded 409 passing yards with a touchdown and interception. Cal Poly rushed for 400 yards and five touchdowns to return the favor. Running back Jared Mohamed had 194 yards and two scores for the Mustangs. The teams combined for 50 first downs, however! Portland State will host Weber State, Cal Poly will host Sacramento State.

Scores

Northern Arizona 15
Montana 17

Kennesaw State 16
Montana State 14

Weber State 28
Eastern Washington 20

UC Davis 56
Idaho State 17

North Dakota 21
Southern Utah 47

Northern Colorado 21
Sacramento State 50

Portland State 28
Cal Poly 35

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky Player of the Week is Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell. Cantwell was 21/31 for 230 yards and three touchdowns as the Wildcats defeated Eastern Washington in Cheney this weekend. Cantwell also added 66 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 22/42 for 239 yards, 1 TD 1 INT
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 3 receptions, 16 yards
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 11 receptions, 112 yards
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – No stats recorded
Tanner Gueller, QB, Idaho State – 13/21 for 183 yards

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Interesting to see a quarterback get tossed for targeting.. might never see it again, but it sure was fun to see in person.

Kennesaw State runs a pretty good triple option. Not a bad team for a third year program from Georgia playing in the snow and cold in Bozeman.

We’ll see what Eastern Washington is made of this weekend. They have a gimme game against North Dakota, however, they’ll be without two players who were involved with police in Cheney on Saturday night. Gage Gabrud will not be playing and his backup will be there in relief. We’ll see how that goes.

Looking at the playoffs there are still five teams from the Big Sky looking for a spot. Southern Utah, Weber State, Montana, Northern Arizona, and Eastern Washington should all have a shot, however, only three or maybe four are getting in. Unless there are upsets this weekend, there’s no reason to think that anything will be really decided this weekend.

Congrats to Cal Poly on their win in the pillow fight against Portland State. True incompetence can’t always be measured easily, however in Portland, it may be measured by not winning any games.

My picks this week are Montana, Eastern Washington, Weber State, UC-Davis, Northern Arizona, and Sacramento State.

Big Sky Round Up Week 9

If you look at the playoff scenario for the Big Sky Conference at this point in the season you can see there’s a clear mess at the top. The auto-bid right now appears to belong to Northern Arizona with a perfect conference record. Right behind them with one conference loss is Southern Utah, Weber State, and Eastern Washington. Also in the playoff hunt are Montana, Montana State, with a very outside shot to Sacramento State.

Right now there are four ranked Big Sky team, Eastern Washington, Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, and Weber State. Montana fell out of the rankings with their loss at Weber State this past weekend. With a 24 team playoff field typically at least three Big Sky teams have gotten in, with four a possibility. With the teams above having a possibility of playoffs, which ones make it? The next two weeks should clear up a lot of questions.

Getting things started in the Big Sky this week was Montana taking a 54 minute flight from Missoula to Ogden to take on Weber State. Weber State jumped out to a commanding 34-6 lead at the half thanks to several Montana turnovers and miscues. The Wildcats jumped on those early and capitalized. Montana was without starting defensive back Justin Strong, and lost two defensive starters in the first quarter to targeting penalties. Weber capitalized with four straight touchdowns. Montana temporarily stopped the bleeding with a Gresch Jensen touchdown run before the half. Montana fought back in the second half, getting within 14, however a Jensen interception returned for a touchdown by Jordan Preator sealed the deal for the Wildcats. Montana will host Northern Arizona next week while Weber State will be on the road at Eastern Washington.

Southern Utah looked to continue their assault on the Big Sky Conference with a game in Greeley this weekend. The Thunderbirds have already taken down Weber State and Eastern Washington, and Northern Colorado was going to be their next victim. Southern Utah used a strong rushing attack from James Felila (126 yards) and a fine passing attack from Patrick Tyler to take down the Battlin’ Bears 27-14. UNCs Conor Regen, in relief of injured quarterback Jacob Knipp, threw for 392 yards and a score but couldn’t get the Bears into the game. Tyler started off the scoring on a quarterback keeper of 31 yards and the T-Birds never had to look back. Cameron Chambers iced the game with a 13 yard pass from Tyler to end it. Southern Utah will host North Dakota, while Northern Colorado will be at Sacramento State.

Idaho State was looking to keep their name near the top of the Big Sky standings in their trip to Bozeman this weekend. However, the Bobcats had other plans for the visiting Bengals. Bobcat quarterback Chris Murray turned in one of his finer passing efforts of his young career by throwing for 231 yards and two scores. He added 67 yards rushing and a score to aid his effort. The Bobcats owned the first quarter with a pair of touchdowns from Mitchell Herbert and Troy Anderson, but the Bengals weren’t done. Michael Dean and James Madison had touchdowns of their own to knot it at the half. Mac Bignell sealed the game for Montana State by intercepting Tanner Gueller and retuning it for an 18 yard touchdown. Montana Stae will host Kennesaw State while Idaho State will host UC-Davis.

In the Big Sky pillow fight of the week North Dakota made the trip across the Big Sky to take on Portland State. Portland State jumped out to a quick 14 point lead in the first quarter. After that North Dakota ripped off 34 straight points thanks to a combination of John Santiago and Reid Taubenheim. While up 34-14 Portland State attempted to come back, Davis Alexander punched in an 8 yard touchdown. However, North Dakota’s Brady Oliveira answered with his own touchdown to make sure that comeback was short lived. Carter Wilson iced the cake with a 53 yard fumble return touchdown. Portland State will be at Cal Poly in next week’s Big Sky Pillow Fight of the Week, while North Dakota will be at Southern Utah.

Sacramento State was looking to unseat the only team with an undefeated record in Big Sky Conference play, however they were going to have to play lights out for that to happen. Northern Arizona’s defense held the Hornets to 233 yards to stop Sacramento State in their flight pattern. The Jacks jumped out to a quick 17-0 lead thanks to a Case Cookus touchdown and a Wes Sutton interception return. The Hornets came right back with a Joseph Ajeigbe 71 yard touchdown run. Sacramento State made it interesting in the third quarter with Elijah Dotson touchdown catch from Roman Ale to get the score to 20-17. However, the Jacks had other plans getting a score from Joe Logan, then icing the game with a pick six from Kam’Ron Johnson to put it away. Sacramento State will look back on this one and be kicking themselves. Northern Arizona will be at Montana next week, Sacramento State will host Northern Colorado.

In the Big Sky night cap Cal Poly was trying to get into the win column for the first time this season, but to do so they had to beat their in-state rival UC-Davis. The Aggies jumped out to a quick 21-0 lead on three Jake Maier touchdown passes. Two of them to Wesley Preece, one to Aaron Moore. Cal Poly got one on the board with a score from Jared Mohamed. On their opening drive of the second quarter Cal Poly got another sore from Kyle Lewis, hauling in a 42 yard touchdown pass. Davis would answer right back with another Aaron Moore touchdown reception. Poly wasn’t done as they kept chipping away, getting touchdowns from Broc Mortensen and Jared Mohamed, however, that wasn’t enough to get by Davis. Davis was held scoreless in the second half. Cal Poly will host Portland State in the Big Sky Conference Pillow Fight of the Week, while Davis will travel to Idaho State.

Scores

Montana 27
Weber State 41

Southern Utah 27
Northern Colorado 14

Idaho State 14
Montana State 28

North Dakota 48
Portland State 21

Sacramento State 17
Northern Arizona 37

Cal Poly 28
UC Davis 31

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky player of the week is Northern Arizona’s Case Cookus. Cookus was 35/57 for 407 yards and a touchdown in the Lumberjacks’ win over Sacramento State this past weekend.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – Idle
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – No stats recorded
Tanner Gueller, QB, Idaho State – 17/28 for 193 yards, 1 TD 2 INT
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 14 receptions, 145 yards
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – 21/42 for 347 yards, 3 TD 3 INT

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

The Pillow Fight of the Week is hilarious for the second week in a row. These teams at the bottom of the conference are so bad.

Speaking of bad, it’d be awesome if Big Sky commish Andrea Williams watched her referees and made some changes. All I’m saying on the topic.

The mess at the top of the Big Sky won’t be cleared up for at least a couple of weeks. By then we should see how many Big Sky teams are going to the playoffs. Naturally there will be some bubble teams but I see four BSC teams getting in. I see five teams playing for those four spots.

If Cal Poly doesn’t beat Portland State this weekend I don’t think they’re going to win a game this year. Far fall for the Mustangs.

Saw a game in Ogden last weekend. That was a difference experience. Utah has weird laws in bars, man.

Northern Arizona has played a pretty easy Big Sky schedule so far, their next three games aren’t going to be as nice to them. They’re rolling with a lot of momentum right now and anything can happen, but these next three weeks could make or break them.

Southern Utah, on the other hand, have only one test left. They will be hosting Northern Arizona to end the season. I’d say SUU is lock for the playoffs even if they trip up once in the last three weeks. Or even twice, for that matter.

My picks this week: Montana, Kennesaw State, Eastern Washington, UC-Davis, Southern Utah, Sacramento State, Cal Poly.

Big Sky Round-Up Week 8

Southern Utah just keeps on rolling, and Cal Poly just keeps getting rolled. Welcome to week 8 of the Big Sky Round-Up!

Two weeks in a row Southern Utah has taken down one of the top teams in the conference, winning games they shouldn’t be winning, and doing it convincingly both times. Last week the Thunderbirds got the best of Weber State and this week they took down an FCS top ten team, Eastern Washington. The T-Birds started off a little slow, but completely dominated the second half against the potent Eagles offense. The Thunderbird defense talked Gage Gabrud into throwing three interceptions in a solid defensive effort. In all the Southern Utah defense got Eastern Washington to turn the ball over four times, including a back breaker late in the fourth quarter. Eastern Washington score once in the second half, an Antoine Custer touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. At that point the Eagles had a three point lead, from there on out it was the Patrick Tyler show. Tyler finished 22/33 for 183 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 49 yards. Gabrud finished with 246 yards and a touchdown, and three turnovers. Eastern Washington will have a bye, while Southern Utah will head to Northern Colorado.

North Dakota’s year just isn’t getting any better and at this point they’re just hoping to get through the season without any more injuries. On Saturday they had the visiting Sacramento State Hornets in town to check out the Fabulous Alerus Center. Sacramento State rolled off 24 points in the third quarter to get a handle on this game and never looked back, despite a flurry of activity from the Hawks in the fourth quarter. The Hornets were aided by a North Dakota fumble and returned for a touchdown by Marcus Bruce. Hawks quarterback Andrew Zimmerman attempted to lead a comeback, throwing a touchdown in the fourth quarter to Noah Wanzek but couldn’t get much traction to close the game. Roman Ale had an efficient day going 13/19 for 263 yards and two scores. Sacramento State will head to Flagstaff to take on Northern Arizona, while North Dakota will make a long trip to take on slightly worse Portland State.

Montana State looked like it was pretty much left for dead on Saturday at Northern Colorado, then went to the well and discovered a bunch of fourth quarter points hiding in there. The Bears had a comfortable 21-7 lead at the half and 24-10 to start the fourth quarter. However, the Bears defense wasn’t up to the task of keeping Montana State from scoring. The Bears gave up 17 points to drop a home contest by three points on Saturday. Chris Murray threw for 222 yards and rushed for 150 yards with a combined two touchdowns to lead the Bobcat comeback. The Bears were without starting quarterback Jacob Knipp who is out for the season. Backup Conor Regan had a nice game, but the Bears ground game had a hard time getting anywhere against the Bobcats. Bobcat freshman kicker Gabe Peppenger broke the tie with no time left to win it for the Bobcats. Montana State will host Idaho State, while Northern Colorado will have a bye.

Okay, so Portland State is bad. They are so bad that also usually bad, Idaho State, scored 59 points on them. Forty-two of those points came in the second and third quarters. Twenty-four of those points came consecutively. Tanner Gueller was responsible for 21 of them. But hey, Portland State got on the board first, they recorded a safety on Idaho State’s first possession. Idaho State had two rushers over 100 yards, James Madison (not the school, nor the president) rushed for 160 yards, Ty Flanagan had 108 and four touchdowns. Tanner Gueller had 327 yards passing and three touchdowns. Idaho State will be heading to Montana State this weekend, while Portland State hosts North Dakota in the Big Sky Pillow Fight of the Week.

In a game I fully expected to become a track meet somewhat lived up to that reputation but did not quite have the fireworks that we all expected. Northern Arizona and UC-Davis scored a lot of points, but 76 seemed like not as much as you’d think you’d get here. Case Cookus had 293 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Lumberjacks over the Aggies. Elijah Marks continued his one man assault as a receiver hauling in 174 yards and a touchdown. His counterpart, UC-Davis receiver Keelan Doss had 106 yards and two scores. Outside of Doss, a pedestrian day of offense for the Aggies. Northern Arizona cooked up a 28 point second quarter to take control of this game and never look back. At one point in this game I thought to myself, “This looks like the kind of game NAU is going to just get their hearts broke.” But as we’re seeing they’re playing it out for Jerome Souers. Northern Arizona will host Sacramento State, while UC-Davis will host Cal Poly.

Weber State made the trip to wine country to give us a snoozer against the worst team in the Big Sky, Cal Poly. Weber State got their starting quarterback, Stefan Cantwell, back after an injury and did just enough to get the Wildcats to a win. Cantwell had 182 yards and two scores, while rushing for another 54 yards for the Wildcats. Weber State running back Treshawn Garrett had 69 yards on the ground. Cal Poly bigly struggled on offense much of the day, as their three points on the scoreboard show. Weber State got a touchdown from David Jones hauling in a Cantwell pass. They capped the game with a Drew Batchelor touchdown catch. The teams combined for seven turnovers, which is the same number of passes that Cal Poly completed. Cal Poly will head to Davis, while Weber State will host Montana.

Scores

Sacramento State 34
North Dakota 27

Montana State 27
Northern Colorado 24

Portland State 30
Idaho State 59

UC-Davis 31
Northern Arizona 45

Eastern Washington 28
Southern Utah 46

Weber State 17
Cal Poly 3

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky Player of the Week is Southern Utah quarterback Patrick Tyler. Tyler was 22/33 for 183 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for 49 yards, as the Thunderbirds knocked off Eastern Washington in Cedar City this past weekend.

Big Sky MVP Rankings

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 24/44 for 246 yards 1 TD, 3 INT
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 9 receptions, 174 yards, 1 TD
Tanner Gueller, QB, Idaho State – 14/23 for 327 yards, 3 TD
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 10 receptions, 106 yards, 2 TD
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – Idle

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Southern Utah, wow what are you guys doing? That defense is a salty bunch, and they’ve completely shut down two pretty good offenses in consecutive weeks.

On the other hand, the bottom of the Big Sky is very very bad.

Sacramento State got votes this week for the FCS top 25. I don’t even know how this happened, or what planet we’re on now, but here we are. When’s the last time the Hornets got top 25 votes?

Montana and Weber State should be a fun one this weekend.. a group of dudes, including myself, are headed south to take this game in. This might be the most sober road trip I’ve ever gone on. Send help.

Keelan Doss is an underrated receiver in this league. So good, big numbers every week, should be first team All-Big Sky when it’s said and done this season.

Chris Murray at Montana State is a one-man show.. he does a lot for that Montana State offense, but man. Watching him throw a football is not a thing of beauty. He gets it done, I’ll just never know how.

I think it’s fair to say right now that there is no great teams in the Big Sky, a lot of good teams, but no one that’s going to be playing in the semifinals of the playoffs this season.

Big Sky Round-Up Week 7

The Big Sky week seven is now behind us and now that we’ve had some time to reflect on the events of the past weekend it’s been hard to judge the have’s and the have nots. Obviously Cal Poly and Portland State are have nots, however, this conference is still very much up for grabs. There’s a battle brewing at the top between Eastern Washington, Weber State, Montana, and Northern Arizona for that elusive auto-bid. The Eagles are still sitting at the top of the conference, however, they will probably need to go undefeated to win the league this season.

This week’s Big Sky slate started off with Montana hosting North Dakota on homecoming. The Hawks are basically a walking medical unit, everyone is essentially injured with a handful of starters gone for the season. Safety Cole Reyes being one of the bigger losses for the Hawks. That said, you can imagine the result of this game. It was not pretty, folks. Despite Montana turning the ball over three times in the first quarter the Griz still won 41-17. The game wasn’t really that close, however. James Johannesson came in for a 50 yard touchdown run after a plethora of Griz missed tackles that made this look prettier than it was. Montana was led by redshirt freshman quarterback Gresch Jensen, despite his three turnover, still threw for 423 yards and three touchdowns. The Griz will be on a bye, while North Dakota will host Sacramento State.

Montana State took a trip across I-90 over to the red carpet to take on the Big Sky leading Eastern Washington Eagles. Gage Gabrud kept on doing that thing that will probably win him the league’s most valuable player by throwing for 224 yards and a score. A slight disappointment that he did not have a rushing or receiving touchdown. Apparently he saves those days for when he’s down 20 points at halftime. The Cats tried mounting a fourth quarter comeback with Logan Jones and Nick LaSane scoring touchdowns to close within five, however, the Eagles shut the door with a 13 play, 5:43 drive and a touchdown from Antoine Custer to seal the deal in Cheney. Montana State will head to Northern Colorado this week, while Eastern Washington will walk into a potential buzz saw in Southern Utah.

Case Cookus apparently also wants to be considered for Big Sky MVP as he’s been stringing together a few nice wins for the Lumberjacks. He continued that this past weekend as he led the Jacks to a win in Portland over the second worst team in this conference. Cookus tossed for 347 yards and four touchdowns. His favorite target, Elijah Marks, caught 173 of those and a score in this victory. Portland State struggled all day to get anything going, except their running game. While effective, certainly didn’t result in a lot of points, or at least enough to beat the Jacks. The Vikings rushed for 305 yards and did a good job of holding onto the ball, however, that didn’t stop NAU from beating their pass coverage all day. Portland State will travel to Idaho State next, while Northern Arizona will host UC-Davis in what looks like might be a track meet.

Southern Utah got the win of the week over Weber State in Ogden this past weekend. The Wildcats were sitting pretty with Eastern Washington at the top of the Big Sky standings, however, the horribly unpredictable Thunderbirds beat on the Wildcats. The Thunderbird defense knocked Weber State quarterback Stefan Cantwell out of the game and from there on the Wildcats were bad. In fact, the Wildcats were so bad four different people attempted passes for the Wildcats. Cantwell accounted for half the completions before he exited the game. Thunderbird quarterback Patrick Tyler, however, threw for 281 and three scores. The Thunderbirds were clinging to a 20-19 lead at the half then opened it up in the second half with 10 points in the first eight minutes of the quarter. Weber only managed a field goal in the second half. Weber State will be at Cal Poly, while Southern Utah will host Eastern Washington.

In the #BigSkyAfterDark Sacramento State hosted Idaho State in front of probably seven people (it was actually 10008). Sacramento State actually turned in a nice game, racing out to a 17-7 halftime lead on the Bengals and just kept their foot on the gas from there on out. Hornet quarterback Kevin Thomson completed 18/23 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns. The Hornets also had a nice day on the ground, rushing for 318 at 6.2 yards per carry. For those keeping track at home, that’s pretty good YPC. Idaho State was barely above that in yards per pass completion. Idaho State tried to make it interesting in the third quarter with Mitch Gueller catching a pass from his brother for a 30 yard score, to get within ten, however, the Hornets just used the fourth quarter to step on their throat. Idaho State will have a bye, while Sacramento State will be at North Dakota.

Scores

North Dakota 17
Montana 41

Montana State 19
Eastern Washington 31

Northern Arizona 42
Portland State 20

Southern Utah 32
Weber State 16

Idaho State 21
Sacramento State 41

Big Sky Player of the Week

Southern Utah quarterback Patrick Tyler is this week’s Big Sky Player of the Week. Tyler was 20/30 for 281 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Thunderbirds over Weber State this past weekend.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 25/31 for 224 yards, 1 TD
Tanner Gueller, QB, Idaho State – 20/35 for 244 yards, 2 TD
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 6 rec, 173 yards, 1 TD
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – Idle
Gresch Jensen, QB, Montana – 22/35 for 423 yards, 3 TD

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Cal Poly with a goose egg this season is a little bit of a surprise. Not sure since I’ve ever been doing the power rankings that they’ve been in the low man’s spot.. but here they are.

Weber State losing at home to Southern Utah didn’t surprise me all that much. Southern Utah is one of those teams you never want to bet against.. but never want to bet on either. Saturday afternoon I was thinking this was the kind of game that SUU would probably win, and they did, but they had no business winning. Once Stefan Cantwell went down with injury it was all over for the Wildcats.

Northern Arizona is still playing football in October. Too bad they waited until Jerome Souers got fired to try out this new concept. Case Cookus and Elijah Marks are having quite a season as a tandem and currently have the Lumberjacks undefeated in Big Sky play.

To start the season Eastern Washington was 0-2 and only scored 10 points in a Texas Tech team that traditionally gives up all the points to teams they play. My how times of changed, will the Eagles lose a conference game? Looks like Gabrud and his receivers are fully on the same page now.

Two winless Big Sky teams are not the way to promote a strong conference. Luckily Idaho State and Sacramento State are having “up” seasons or else this would be a dumpster fire that the smokejumpers couldn’t contain. The Missouri Valley is likely reveling in the Big Sky’s misery. Whatever, you live in flyover states.

North Dakota’s entire team is hurt. Not really anything to add to that, just thought I’d mention it.

Rob Phenecie was right last week, his Bengals don’t belong on the same field as the Griz. Losing to Sacramento State is pretty much proof positive you should be saddling up with Ricks College and College of Southern Idaho on the field. Perhaps he’ll learn to keep his mouth shut and be a head coach.

 

Big Sky Round-Up Week 5

The Big Sky Conference Round-Up is back for the week five edition and this past weekend saw some high scoring games across the league. The Big Sky Conference has always been known for its prolific offenses and this week was no exception. The Eastern Washington Eagles are doing what they always do, and UC-Davis is starting to find an offensive groove under first year head coach Dan Hawkins.

Montana got a conference road win in who knows how long this weekend as they took on Portland State in a high school stadium. Yes, a literal high school stadium, not that thing in Cheney. Montana used a balanced attack featuring transfer Alijah Lee and Gresch Jensen to run up 45 points on the Vikings. The Vikings, however, were not going to go quietly. Quaterback Josh Kraght piled up 381 total yards of offense to keep Portland State within striking distance most of the game. Montana running back Jeremy Calhoun had 124 yards and two scores to lead the Griz. Griz safety Justin Strong had three interceptions, and one pass intercepted on a two-point conversion to win Big Sky defensive player of the week honors. Montana will be at Idaho State, while Portland State will be at Montana State.

Weber State made the trip up north to Bozeman looking to continue its winning ways this season against the Bobcats. Stefan Cantwell passed for 206 yards and rushed for another 49 yards and a score. Montana State quarterback Chris Murray completed eight passes for 124 yards and a score, plus 123 yards rushing, and a 25 yard receiving pass. For a slow evolving game this game may have featured two of the better teams in the conference. Weber State leaned on a stiff defense to try to contain Chris Murray who had 282 total yards for the Cats. Montana State will host Portland State next week, Weber State will have the week off.

Cal Poly’s woes just aren’t getting any better this season. They’ve lost Joe Protheroe for the season and now they’ve lost every game so far this season. Idaho State continued to show off their much improved team and beat Cal Poly by four. Despite giving up 202 yards rushing to Cal Poly quarterback Khaleel Jenkins the Bengals did just enough to win. Tanner Gueller threw for 341 and three touchdowns in the win. The Bengals got a late score from James Madison (still not the president, nor the school) to put the Bengals up for good in this game. The Bengals overcame a 10 point deficit in the last ten minutes of game time to win. Idaho State will be hosting Montana next week, while Cal Poly will be at Southern Utah.

Sacramento State and Eastern Washington didn’t waste any time lighting up the scoreboard like a ping pong machine. The teams combined for over 1200 yards of offense in a wild Big Sky game. Gage Gabrud continued his MVP performance by doing everything in this one. The Eagles quarterback passed for 447 and five touchdowns, and caught a 43 yard touchdown pass to help himself. On the other side of the ball the Hornets rushed for 307 yards, 121 from quarterback Kevin Thomson. It wasn’t enough to overcome the onslaught of Eagles offense. After Eastern went up 21-0 on a 33 yard Antoine Custer touchdown catch from Gabrud the Eagles never had to worry about a threat from the Hornets. Eastern Washington will be at UC-Davis. Sacramento State will have a bye.

Northern Arizona is in the middle of a little bit of turmoil as a team, however, that didn’t stop them from beating Northern Colorado over the head for four quarters this past weekend. Case Cookus tossed three touchdowns and 271 yards to lead the Lumberjacks over the Bears on Saturday. Lumberjack receiver Elijah Marks continued his impressive season by hauling in 106 yards of passes and a score. On the other side of the ball Jacob Knipp threw for 301 yards with a touchdown, but had two interceptions. The Lumberjacks got out to a 20-0 lead right before halftime but the Bears got on the board right before the half with a Frank Stephens touchdown reception. The Bears would take over at the half and get a score from Trey Reik, but it was foot to the gas for NAU after that. The Bears will be at North Dakota, while NAU will host Illinois State in a Big Sky vs MVFC matchup.

In the Big Sky night cap we got North Dakota traveling to Davis to take on the Aggies. Gunslinger Jake Maier threw for 415 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-24 victory for the Aggies. Star receiver Keelan Doss caught 199 yards and a touchdown in the winning effort. On the other hand North Dakota got a nice rushing day from its two running backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira for a combined 277 yards and a score, but wasn’t nearly enough to pull the Hawks out of this hole. North Dakota, facing a multitude of injuries including safety Cole Reyes, is seeing the effects on the season. The defending Big Sky champions are now 1-4 on the season. UC-Davis will host Eastern Washington, while North Dakota will host Northern Colorado.

Scores

Montana 45
Portland State 33

Weber State 25
Montana State 17

Cal Poly 34
Idaho State 38

Sacramento State 31
Eastern Washington 52

Northern Colorado 20
Northern Arizona 48

North Dakota 24
UC-Davis 48

Big Sky Player of the Week

This week’s Big Sky player of the week is UC-Davis receiver Keelan Doss. Doss had 11 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown in their win vs North Dakota.

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, QB, Eastern Washington – 35/50 for 447 yards, 5 TD, one receiving TD
Cole Reyes, LB, North Dakota – Did not play
Tanner Gueller, QB, Idaho State – 14/24 for 341 yards, 3 TD
Elijah Marks, WR, Northern Arizona – 7 receptions, 106 yards and 1 TD
Keelan Doss, WR, UC-Davis – 11 receptions, 199 yards and 1 TD

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Eastern Washington and UC-Davis has the potential to be a lot of fun next week. I’ll be interesting to see how the Aggies come out firing against the Eagles. UC-Davis is seeing an offensive resurgence under Dan Hawkins, who has hardly held a job over the last few years. We know what Eastern Washington will do, but this could be a potential 1200 yards of offense game.

Bad time for Northern Arizona to host Illinois State. That team is a very good team. Big Sky took it on the chops from the MVFC for the most part this year. Sad!

Didn’t predict Cal Poly to be the worst team in the Big Sky this year, that’s usually reserved for Idaho State and UC-Davis. What a world we live in nowadays.

Montana and Idaho State could feature a hell of a lot of offense. More than would make either coaching staff comfortable. Idaho State escaped a close one against Poly last week, Montana struggled at times with Portland State. Make or break game for both teams, you’d have to think.

So do we just hand the MVP to Gage Gabrud now, or nah?

Glad to see Cooper Kupp playing well on Sundays.. that’s a hell of a lot better than watching him wreck Big Sky secondaries week in and week out.

Wonder how much longer Portland State is going to deal with Barnum’s bluster and do something about the state of its football program. A really undisciplined team.

No Big Sky blog from me next week, I’ll be in Denver at the Great American Brew Fest. Pour one out for my liver.

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.

Scores

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.

Observations:

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.

GF24.

 

 

 

 

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”