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”

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.

Scores

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.

Scores

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.

Examining the Relationship between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part I

Being a defensive coordinator, if a person would ask me what defense I would build my program around, that answer would have been different 15 years ago, and even 5 years ago. I went from a 4-4, to being a 4-3 wonk and now I am solidly in the camp of the 4-2-5. The reasons are numerous as to why I have changed my defensive philosophy over the years.

The biggest reason as to why my base defensive philosophy has changed, is in part because football has changed. At the college level, you can recruit to some degree, the types of players that fit your vision but at the high school you have to have a system that fits the personnel you have and is adaptable enough for the opposition you play. Not every defense is designed to handle whatever the opposition with throw at you any given week. Not every defense is created equal in adaptability  either.

When you discuss scheme it is an amalgamation of the fronts you use, the stunts, the blitzes, and coverages. Moreover it is every adaptation, every rule, and alignment adjustment you have to make every week to remain sound. Remaining sound is of importance, in that your scheme needs to answer what the offense challenges you with, and to remain sound and be effective scheme are a challenge sometimes.

Continue reading “Examining the Relationship between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part I”

Big Sky Week 1 Preview

The Big Sky football season is upon us once again, and this season looks to be one of the more exciting seasons in recent memory. Super star wide receiver Cooper Kupp has left us, but rest assured there are plenty of other players that we’ll be watching over the course of the season.

Last season ended with Eastern Washington being the last Big Sky team left standing, they suffered a season ending loss to Youngstown State in Cheney on what might have been one of the strangest plays of the college football season. The Penguins moved on to play James Madison in the FCS championship. Other Big Sky teams to make the playoffs were Cal Poly, who was defeated by San Diego in the first round. Weber State, who was defeated by Chattanooga in the first round and North Dakota, who was defeated in the second round.

Eastern Washington had an offseason full of losses, losing their top playmakers to graduation, as well as head coach Beau Baldwin. Baldwin moved onto the FBS to take the offensive coordinator job at California. The Eagles named Aaron Best their new head coach and moved on with their offseason.

North Dakota was picked by the coaches and the media to be the preseason Big Sky champions. The Fighting Hawks were the seven seed in the playoffs last season, Eastern Washington was seeded second. The Fighting Hawks return a pair of talented running backs, John Santiago and Brady Oliveira. They also return one of the top secondary players in the league, Cole Reyes. The Hawks have a lot of talent to win the league, however, their schedule is considerably more difficult this season.

Other teams that factor into the Big Sky race this year are Northern Arizona, Cal Poly, Weber State, and Montana. Northern Arizona returns talented receiver Emmanuel Butler as well as quarterback Case Cookus. Last year a few injuries derailed the Lumberjacks’ season but they should be primed to make a run at the top of the standings this season.

Cal Poly returns running back Joe Protheroe, but the Mustangs will have a gauntlet ahead of them. The Mustangs played a week 0 game against Colgate and lost 20-14. They will face San Jose State and Northern Iowa on the road, and come back to face Northern Arizona at home. Their schedule should be fairly favorable to close the season, but the Mustangs can’t afford to start 0-4 if they want to be a playoff team.

Weber State is a team that’s been slowly building into a talented football team, and somewhat culminated last season with a trip to the playoffs, their first since 2009. This season the Wildcats return a stout defense led by Landon Stice and Taron Johnson. The Wildcats schedule is favorable for another playoff trip, however, games against NAIA Montana-Western and California could be a detriment to the Wildcats playoff resume. They will need to also beat Cal Poly and Eastern Washington on the road to build their resume for the post season.

Montana is looking to recover from a rare season where they did not make the playoffs. After a 6-5 season and no post season the Griz are looking to turn their fortune around. They will need to do it with a new quarterback, Reese Phillips, leading the team. The Griz will rely on Phillips, as well as talented slot receiver Jerry Louis-McGee and linebacker Josh Buss to get the team back to their winning ways. The Griz’s schedule plays out that we probably won’t find out how good the Griz are until September 23rd, a home date with Eastern Washington. The Griz will get North Dakota and Northern Arizona at home, those will need to be wins for the Griz to get back to the post-season.

As for the rest of the Big Sky, Montana State and Southern Utah look like the most competitive teams of the bottom half of the conference. Montana State is returning young quarterback Chris Murray. Murray’s summer development will be important for the Cats if they are going to be competitive under second year head coach Jeff Choate. Southern Utah will again rely on a tough defense to get them through the season led by Mike Needham at linebacker. Portland State is looking for big things with third year coach Bruce Barnum and could be a team walking through the season looking for upsets. Idaho State replaced their coaching staff this offseason, abruptly firing Mike Kramer. Kramer is replaced by Rob Phenecie, a former Montana offensive coordinator. Rounding out the bottom are Sacramento State and UC-Davis.

Scores

Portland State 6
BYU 20

Colgate 20
Cal Poly 14

North Dakota
Utah

Western Oregon
Idaho State

Sacramento State
Idaho

Valparaiso
Montana

Portland State
Oregon State

College of Idaho
Northern Colorado

Eastern Washington
Texas Tech

Cal Poly
San Jose State

Montana-Western
Weber State

Southern Utah
Oregon

UC-Davis
San Diego State

Montana State
Washington State

Northern Arizona
Arizona

Big Sky Player of the Week

I guess we’ll wait and see!

Big Sky MVP Candidates

Gage Gabrud, Eastern Washington
Cole Reyes, North Dakota
Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly
Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona
John Santiago, North Dakota

Big Sky Power Rankings

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

Final Thoughts and Hot Takes

Took me a while to get ready for college football, but now that the season is less than a week away I think I’m ready….

…to pick on North Dakota for the next four months.

 

Spring Game Wrap Up

I watched the film that Alpha put up in the #37 Club. Thanks for that Alpha.

I made my point about choosing to be an optimist over a pessimist, just a view point, here are a few limited observations. I wasn’t at the spring game, just followed it on twitter and saw limited clips. So this is hardly a comprehensive look, definitely a view point based upon a snap shot in time…

#1: I WOULD be concerned, if two things occurred this spring that occurred in regularity last fall. First from what I saw on film this spring the compete level, the attitude in a million times better than last fall. Whether that hangs around, I don’t know, but early reports the coaches attitudes along with players are at least anecdotally better. Second, I saw coaching adjustments. Limited film obviously, but Stitt has said every year that he would correct things. The spring both offensively and defensively I saw some things that I like. If we saw a repeat of last fall (2×2 formations, man coverage, etc) despite the increase of talent, I think we would have a right to be concerned. I think we see some continued evolution of scheme to match personnel.

#2: I get the lamenting over the QB play, but I think it will be fine. I saw three picks into disguised coverages. Two yesterday (Phillips both times) and Jensen the week before. Semore was throwing some zone drop scheme, tampa 2 and some switch coverages. Phillips, Jensen and Hill all showed significant upside, but their basement right now is lower. Phillips obviously struggles with pressing balls into tight spaces. That was a great play call defensively to run a zone drop. Phillips didn’t see him, and was baited into the throw. Hill is a bit like Chalich, in that he has happy feet and will run a bit even when the pressure isn’t there. If things slow down, Hill will be fine. Jensen makes a ton of heady plays but he isnt at times very good at diagnosing defenses. He is a freshman, and I do believe he has the highest upside of the three.

I didn’t see a lot of vanilla from the first team defense, and maybe that was out of design. I would, because I think it is a bit better to evaluate quarterbacks. Semore made the first team experience offense difficult, because that first 11 he has is at this point miles ahead of the offense.

#3: This defense can be really, really good. Remember it was missing several key elements of the defense this spring (including the whole linebacking corps) and all it did was show that it has some skill to go along with a further developed defensive scheme. I think there were a number of adjustments that had to be made.

  • Semore had to have known that staying in man, had to have been a significant weakness in last years scheme. The variance in coverages, the changes in alignments, position changes, and blitz concepts show that Semore and his staff spent a lot of time this winter creating a deeper and more diverse scheme.
  • A person might be apt to down play the offense, and that too would be appropriate, but the most significant part that I like about this defense is that it has the three A’s: assertive, attitude, and athletic. Moving Sandry put him in a position to be a better player. Reduces reads. Sims is going to be a force inside. He was already a FBS fringe player at end, but moving him inside permanently is going to make Semore’s defense much more the utility tool that he wanted it to be last year. Sims is athletic enough to play DT, DE and ILB.

#4: I would need more film to confirm it, but I really do think the O Line will show incredible growth. Schye/Sims are just plain freaks and I think it is good to remember that. Apparently Jace Lewis is too. A lot of the pocket break down wasn’t from blunt force 4 man pressure. Semore brought 5/6 man pressure with stunts, odd fronts and unique blitz concepts. What I saw on a number of the pocket breakdowns is fixed by film work. A lot of doubling a guy, but not getting their eyes right or following a stunt inside and getting beat with a loop.

  • The O-Line missed Reece, and yes Ralston and Beaver got waylaid by speed rushes by DE’s. I don’t think you can dismiss that, but a lot of that is fixed by two things. The first is a full depth offensive scheme that will slow down the d-line a bit. I think that showed on some of the third and long stuff, and neither really have had a tremendous amount of time at the position. The second is an increased emphasis on footwork. You can tell they were a bit tall on certain cases, or their kick steps weren’t as deep or as assertive as some OL coaches want.
  • From limited viewing the QB’s and RB’s will help as well. Spring games are sort of a perverse universe. You are repping 3 new quarterbacks, you don’t have your full allotment of RB’s and a scheme that is at this point a bit restricted. I think it creates an environment where the offense can be far more passive than the defense. Defenses are almost always miles ahead because you can cover up issues in spring ball by bringing heat. Heat was going to cause the QB’s problems, and the o-line too.
  • I also think we’ll see an emergence of two or three guys in fall drills, with an extra summer of footwork, drills and experience to increase competition on the OL. I think the group is attitudinally different, and I think will respond positively. At least that is at least what I am to gather from the word on the street. They got their asses handed to them at times this spring, but they played with good edge and competed.

Conclusions:

The pessimism reigns supreme. The offense wasn’t all that efficient, but I don’t think it is the island of misfit toys that it was the past two years. I think that we will see growth, in part because this at least from removed observers point of view, seems to be a much more cohesive unit offensively. I think the parts work better together. It might be rough early, but the upside for this group is higher I think than the past two  years.

To me Semore dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s on the checklist of things that needed to be tweaked in his scheme, personnel decisions from last year. There is a bevy of talent in the front 7 and an emergent group at safety that could prove to be a more comprehensive group than we have had since the 2011.

I don’t think I saw much of anything this spring, other than I hoped one QB would have taken control, that would lower expectations for the upcoming season. There is a whole summer to tweak, bring some new faces in over the summer and get back to doing work work in the fall.

 

Taking A Step Back Part III: Staying the Course

I know that much of what I will write here will alienate some people because that is what facts and information do these days. Why not build a narrative, support it with tangential and correlative evidence? Seems pretty easy these days, in and outside of the realm of sports. We elected Donald Trump in a post-truth era, so why not create a narrative that gets our venerable head coach fired.

Seems appropriate. Doesn’t make it right, but this is the world that we live in. Most of you that read this blog regularly know that I am a social studies educator as well as a football coach. For much of my professional career, I have always thought of myself as a coach second and an educator first.

That perspective affords me the ability to engage in coaching from an entirely non-emotive perspective. Just as importantly that perspective has allowed me over the years to take an evidence based approach in evaluating the programs, personnel and philosophies of the sports that I have coached.

Maybe the best piece of advice I ever received from a college professor was, “just because you want to believe it doesn’t make it true, just because you know its true doesn’t mean you can prove it.”

We should lock up Bob Stitt for another three years. 

Do it now. Without delay. Not because he is Vince Lombardi, Tom Osborne, Bill Walsh or Don Read. Do it because it is what is best for the program now, and for the future of it.

We want simple answers for complex problems and hence why we elected a man with grand answers but no solutions. Drain the swamp? Nope, he is going to flood it. Firing Bob Stitt right now or after year three is akin to electing Donald Trump president. Yup I said it.

We have arrived at this point in Grizzly football because many people, including fans, administrators and coaches put an emphasis on the present without a consideration for the future. We can spend the next twenty years debating how the cadillac became a Dodge Neon, but that doesn’t get us any closer of getting the vehicle in the shop and fixing it.

We want change without complete understanding what that change indicates. We want immediate results in a situation that cannot provide it. Firing Bob Stitt now or next year isn’t a plan to restore Grizzly football to its highest peaks, it is merely believing a narrative that isn’t necessarily backed up by the right information.

I’ll use a historical analogy. Andrew Jackson became convinced the 2nd National Bank was the implement of the rich to shackle the poor. Might have been partially true, in that it was nearly impossible for a common person to get loans of any significant amount in the 1830’s, but there were more things at play than the 2nd National Bank limiting access to wealth creation.

Despite cogent advice from his own political and economic advisors Jackson killed the bank. The result was as Jackson intended, allow common citizens greater access to capital, but there were a thousand after effects that did more harm than good. Jackson satisfied a short term goal, but with significant short and long term impacts. A run on banks, an inflationary spiral and a depression were the result. People had their money, but it came with a significant cost which was the destruction of the American economy that lasted nearly a decade.

Stylistically Bob Stitt was always going to provide a sharp dichotomy from the Delaney era, and maybe Stitt couldn’t offer as much early success as he promised. You can make an argument that Stitt’s ego might have been a big role in that, but the program frankly is no worse off than it was two years ago. In other words, it was highly unlikely the program would have been any better off or even worse off with Delaney or anyone else at the helm. Yet Stitt at least perceptively and narratively seems to be the nadir of the program when it was showing signs of decline far before it.

Not enough success, not enough Montana kids, not enough defense, not enough offense. Whatever your stylistic complaint might be, we get wrapped up in a narrative that you have come to believe is true even when it isn’t backed up by facts. Perceptively the same criticisms the same individuals have had of the last five Grizzly football coaches (Dennehey, Glenn, Hauck, Pflugrad, and Delaney) are levied upon Stitt. We like who we like, and we hate who we hate. Never mind the same criticisms are true of all.  I think it is high time people recognized that. Until the criticisms evolve beyond the standard and stylistic, there isn’t much merit to the removal conversation.

We can live in a post-truth world and just inundate our opposition in a litany of ‘facts’ but we have to trust those people who actually hold the cards and the information. I believe we have to trust Kent Haslam, and that he has a plan for the success of the program. If that part of the success of the program is signing up Stitt for another three years then we have to do it.

Firing Stitt at this point or a year into the future only fixes the short term problems, but it does nothing to fix the long term challenges of the program. Bringing in a power offense and defensive minded coach isn’t going to create immediate results. Again that is stylistic not substantive.

Just as many laud the Board of Regents for axing Engstrom in early December, again that is a largely stylistic fire that won’t correct the structural problems facing the University of Montana. Substantive issues that not only did Engstrom ignore, but President Dennison and the Board of Regents ignored as well. Sometimes you fire the guy to cover up your own ignorance and ineptitude.

That isn’t the case here. First there is a tremendous amount of supportive data that says Kent Haslam has a plan, he knows how to effect the type of change necessary and who to lead those individual programs. He has hired a bevy of office personnel, several coaches and overseen transformation of an athletic department out of a mom and pop operation into one that will help each of its individual athletic programs and mission succeed in both the short term, and in the long term. He doesn’t need to be muscled by a bunch of petulant boosters who have capital only in the monetary sense to promote a political agenda that isn’t backed up actual facts. At least facts that are defensible in an objective sense of the word.

Despite the impression otherwise, Stitt doesn’t win at Mines with the personnel he had without understanding how to make it work within the unequal academic expectations of his peer institutions. Stitt may not be everything and a bag of chips, he may not even Beau Baldwin, but he was longitudinally able have success in a place that was not the easiest place to have success. Stitt has shown a willingness to think outside of the box, to eschew traditional modalities (which makes him a fan in my world) and to take ownership for his and his staff’s own short comings.

He may not arrived at the UM with a scheme and style capable of producing immediate results, but again I don’t think you turn a Neon into a Caddy or high performance model car by merely replacing a few fenders and a new paint job. You don’t necessarily achieve it by buying a brand new cadillac either.

What made ‘Montana,’ Montana was there was an understanding that tradition and continuity made up a significant portion of the recipe of success. The tradition is only here in name only anymore and is spoken of in past tense and continuity was thrown out the window with three coaches in the past seven years, three offensive styles, the same defensively, and a bevy of turnover in staff and players.

I don’t think Stitt necessarily has the answer, but I think he should be given the opportunity along with his staff to see if his recipe works. Stitt has taken the car into the shop, whether we like it or not, and decided to overhaul the whole thing. Thrown out just about everything from the last two regimes and has decided to build his own model, his own style of vehicle. He doesn’t want a Cadillac, maybe he wants a Tesla. I don’t know.

When you commit to hiring a coach who advocates an overhaul you better let him complete the overhaul. I don’t see him taking short cuts or changing course midstream, rather he seems to have adjusted his methodology and willing to make some hard decisions about the factors of production here. Stitt won the job over a large pool of very qualified applicants because he convinced them (Administration and boosters included) that he could rebuild the program.

He recognized as many others did that a paint job wasn’t going to fix the program. Haslam did as well. Haslam has engaged in an all out offensive to help not only the football program be more competitive but the rest of the programs in the Big Sky. Montana used to be enough in basketball and football to win more than not. That isn’t enough to Haslam. He wants the program to be competitively regionally and he has a plan to achieve that goal. Stitt is a part of that, as is the champions center, student-athlete complex, and the myriad of other personnel, places and entities. I don’t think Haslam will cut-bait unless he sees a sharp deviation from that goal.

Stitt still has a mountain to climb, the disappointing end of the year makes it more difficult, and is mostly likely very aware the type of expectations that he has to meet. The best thing at this point is to allow not only Stitt enough time to fully show his chops but to give him the time to complete the overhaul. At this point, I am of the belief you can’t cut bait unless it is completely aware that his regime and his message aren’t working. I don’t necessarily believe the late season swoon was fatigue of message, though I am quite sure some have made that argument.

For the best interests of the program, I think you have to give Stitt and his staff five years to implement his vision. There are obviously things that will short circuit that plan, but I haven’t seen much over the past two years that is indicative of the type of institutional failure is imminent next year.