Despite injuries, Griz offense shows positives in scrimmage

2014-08-17T10:19:00Z 2014-08-17T23:35:11Z Despite injuries, Griz offense shows positives in scrimmageBy BILL SPELTZ Missoulian The Billings Gazette
August 17, 2014 10:19 am  • 

MISSOULA — For those wondering just how much Jordan Johnson means to the Montana football team, Saturday was a good example.

The senior signal caller has been dealing with a lot of personnel changes due to injuries in the first two weeks of preseason camp. He was without his two most experienced offensive tackles and four veteran wide receivers heading into the Grizzlies’ second scrimmage.

Yet despite all that – and keeping in mind he’s often forced to scramble against the formidable Griz defensive front – Johnson completed 12 of 16 passes for 133 yards and the morning’s only touchdown. Afterwards he even had nice things to say about those trying to track him down.

“Who we get to go against is only going to make us better,” the co-captain said. “I mean, best defensive line probably in the nation at our level.

“In real life (defensive pressure) is going to happen. In real games that happens all the time. To have to get out of the pocket and move a little bit I think would help anybody at quarterback.”

Johnson’s best throw of the day was a 35-yard strike to redshirt freshman Josh Janssen, who made a picture-perfect over-the-shoulder snag.

“That was a great catch,” opined the QB. “We were backed up, kind of needed it to get out of the hole. He went up and made a really, really good play.”

The only TD of the day was a thing of beauty. Johnson bought extra time floating in the pocket before lofting the ball to sophomore Ryan Burke in the back of the end zone.

“Jordy’s a playmaker,” Burke said. “He turns a broken play into something successful.

“They sent pressure and he just made a good play out of it and it was a pretty easy catch. Jordy is unique because more than his physical attributes, he’s always calm, always the same demeanor. We had a couple penalties today and he didn’t change one bit.”

For all of Johnson’s success with completions – mostly on short patterns – Montana’s defense came away from the scrimmage feeling very good. Zack Wagenmann had two touch sacks and Trevor Rehm one. Nate Harris and Connor Strahm each had an interception and newcomer Tyrel Garner had the hit of the day from his spot at cornerback, breaking up a pass with a bone-jarring strike.

“I really thought our defense played well,” Montana coach Mick Delaney said. “They tackled very well, I think for the most part they flew around, got to the football, got a couple turnovers, a fumble in the red zone coming out and the interceptions. I think we’re making a lot of progress.

“Then you know, it’s easy to get real frustrated with the offense. But when you step back and see they’re going with young guys with no experience yet, they’ve got their hands full. We’ve got to be patient and we’re getting better with our offensive line.”

A pair of sophomore tackles played with the No. 1 offense – Jackson Thiebes and Devon Dietrich. The Griz are more experienced inside with brothers Logan and Jordan Hines at center and left guard and Ben Weyer at right guard. Together they were respectable on Saturday, although the run game is a work in progress.

“I’m happy with the way we’re competing, we’re fighting,” UM co-offensive coordinator Scott Gragg said of the offensive line. “We don’t back down from a challenge. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made.

“We’ve got to come a lot farther than we are now. I don’t know that I’ll ever not say that. But the way these guys compete, it’s a great group to work with.”

The Griz defense was especially hard on starting running back Jordan Canada. He finished with zero net yards on five carries.

“Not saying that there was a lot of glaring things from the last scrimmage that really bugged me, but I got the defense together before the scrimmage and said, ‘Guys, I can count on one hand basically five plays that really irked us that could have got us beat in a game last scrimmage,’” defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak said. “I think we corrected those things. Overall I was very happy with the day.”

Montana’s two most productive running backs were John Nguyen, who will back up Canada in the season opener, and true freshman Lorenzo Logwood. Nguyen sparked the run game against the No. 1 defense with 6- and 4-yard carries and added a 28-yard reception. Logwood finished with a team-high 26 rushing yards on seven carries.

The unsettling part of Montana’s preseason camp is the long injury list. On Saturday starting wide receiver Chase Naccarato went down with an ankle injury and freshman running back Nate Hanser of Broadview suffered a knee injury.

There is no timetable for the return of offensive tackles Trevor Poole (back) and John Schmaing (appendicitis). Wideout Jamaal Jones is sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Jones should return before long. But Montana’s most dangerous playmaker, wide receiver/kick returner Ellis Henderson, is out indefinitely.

“He’s had a bacterial infection in his stomach and it’s just raising havoc with him,” Delaney said. “You know he’s lost weight and everything. The doctors are on top of it but it’s not seeming to get a whole lot better right now. It’s probably a week-by-week thing now.”

Montana will hold its final scrimmage on Thursday. The Griz will make their season debut nine days later at Wyoming.

Quick kicks: Delaney reported Saturday that place-kicker Chris Lider had a “real good week.” He was moved up to No. 1 on the depth chart for Saturday’s scrimmage ... Justin Whitted sat out Saturday’s scrimmage with a minor clavicle injury but he should be back in practice this week. He is No. 1 on the depth chart at strong safety ... Redshirt freshman LB Zach Vis is out with a knee injury. Defensive tackle Bo Harris and cornerback Chris Parker are nursing hamstring injuries.

Scrimmage stats

Scoring play: Ryan Burke 8 pass from Jordan Johnson

Passing: Jordan Johnson 12-16, 133 yards; Brady Gustafson 2-4, 9 yards; Shay Smithwick-Hann 0-2; Makena Simis 2-3, 17 yards.

Rushing: Lorenzo Logwood 7-26; John Nguyen 7-13; Treshawn Favors 5-12; Nate Hanser 3-6; Jordan Canada 5-0.

Receiving: Josh Janssen 2-44; John Nguyen 1-28; Kevin Berland 3-25; Ryan Burke 3-20; Mitch Saylor 3-17; Jamal Wilson 1-9; Josh Horner 1-7; Nico Graham 1-5; Mike Ralston 1-4.

Place-kicking: Chris Lider one missed PAT, 3-3 field goals (37, 40, 42); Harrison Greenberg 4-4 (37, 37, 40, 42); Daniel Sullivan 1-2 (40 yes, 42 no).

Defensive highlights: Eric Johnson recovers Logwood fumble; Trevor Rehm sack; Connor Lebsock fumble recovery; Zach Peevey tackle for loss; Zack Wagenmann sack; Connor Strahm interception, tackle for loss; Tyrel Garner jarring pass breakup; Nate Harris interception.

Punts: Stephen Shaw 3 (42, 44, 37; Lider 1 (40).

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