First look: South Dakota State 47, Bobcats 40

First look: South Dakota State 47, Bobcats 40

BOZEMAN — Quarterback Dakota Prukop returned to Montana State's lineup after missing the previous two games with a knee injury for a first-round playoff game against South Dakota State at Bobcat Stadium.

The teams played through near blizzard conditions, especially as the flakes really started coming down in the second half. In the end, a hobbled Prukop wasn’t enough to rescue the Cats from another inconsistent defensive effort, and SDSU, behind the running of Zach Zenner, won 47-40.

Here is a quick look at some of the highlights:

KEY MOMENT: The Bobcats had just taken a 26-24 lead after a methodical touchdown drive to open the third quarter. But Zenner made it short lived. On the ensuing possession, the All-American running back burst through a hole and sped down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown run to put the Jackrabbits back in the lead. Zenner outran MSU safety Khari Garcia, who by no means is slow. It was Zenner’s third touchdown of the day, which made the score 31-26. The Bobcats then turned the ball over on downs, and the Jacks were in control.

IT WAS OVER WHEN ... South Dakota State QB Austin Sumner hit Connor Landberg at the back pylon of the end zone from 10 yards out with 10:04 remaining. Sumner, who was solid all day, made a big-time throw to Jason Schneider for 21 yards on third down two plays earlier to keep the drive going. The Jackrabbits went for two points and failed, but their lead was up to 37-26, and the Bobcats were in a big hole.

November 29, 2014 5:22 pmLoading…
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Cats and Griz at a glance

Cats and Griz at a glance

A closer look at Saturday’s first-round playoff matchups for Montana and Montana State:

Griz at a glance

Who: San Diego (9-2) at No. 12 Montana (8-4)

When: 2 p.m., Washington-Grizzly Stadium, Missoula

TV/Radio: ESPN GamePlan (pay-per-view) / KBLG (910 AM)

November 28, 2014 2:45 pmLoading…
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A closer look at South Dakota State RB Zach Zenner

A closer look at South Dakota State RB Zach Zenner

ZZ TOP: South Dakota State running back Zack Zenner has rushed for more than 6,000 yards in his illustrious career.

The 17th-ranked Bobcats got a tough draw for the first round of the FCS playoffs in No. 14 South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits, like Montana State, are 8-4, but they come into Saturday's game having won three straight.

Their quaterback, Austin Sumner, is back from an early-season injury and the offense is putting up some pretty big numbers. Sumner has thrown for 1,246 yards and 12 touchdowns since returning on Nov. 1.

But SDSU's engine -- the man who makes everything go -- is senior running back Zach Zenner

Zenner eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and right now has 1,634 yards through 12 games this season. Zenner's career rushing total (so far) is at 6,163 yards. He is the Missouri Valley Football Conference's all-time leading ground gainer.

Clearly, the key to MSU's success on Saturday is to contain Zenner. If he gets going, that will only open things up more for Sumner and the Jackrabbits' passing game. So Zenner should be the Bobcats' top priority on defense.

November 24, 2014 8:00 pmLoading…
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First look: Griz 34, Cats 7

First look: Griz 34, Cats 7

UNDER PRESSURE: The Grizzlies were all over Bobcats quarterback Jake Bleskin on Saturday.

Montana dominated Montana State in the 114th meeting between the long time rivals in front of a record 26,352 fans at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Final score: Griz 34, Cats 7. The Bobcats turned the ball over seven times and the Grizzlies took advantage in a big way.

Here is a quick recap, plus a summary of what it means for UM, MSU and the rest of the Big Sky Conference:

KEY MOMENT: Trailing by 10 points in the first quarter, the Bobcats were on the march. They had the ball inside UM's 10 and were in position to cut into the deficit. But on third down, Jake Bleskin underthrew a well-designed screen pass to Tiai Salanoa and it was intercepted by 300-pound defensive tackle Tonga Takai. It was a devastating turnover for MSU, but was huge for the Griz, who went on to increase their lead when QB Jordan Johnson hit Jordan Canda with a short touchdown pass a few plays later. The drive included a scramble touch-pass on third down from Johnson to Jamaal Jones, and later a 43-yard zone read burst by Johnson well into Bobcat territory. Everything seemed to turn with Takai's interception.

IT WAS OVER WHEN ... Jake Bleskin threw his fourth interception of the first half. Bleskin was flushed to his right and tried to force a pass into Mitchell Herbert, but cornerback Joshua Dennard was right on top of it and snared the ball. The Grizzlies took over and eventually scored on a short Jordan Johnson rollout pass to Mitch Saylor. That made the score 27-0 with 3:05 remaining before halftime. That touchdown was a backbreaker, and another MSU mistake caused it. Chad Newell, one of the best special teams players in the Big Sky, had a personal-foul roughing penalty on Montana punter Chris Lider that gave Montana an automatic first down and, eventually, a four-possession lead.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: Jordan Johnson. Wasn't he supposed to be hobbled with a left ankle injury? Johnson played his best game of the season in his final Cat-Griz start, throwing for 313 yards, rushing for 80 more and protecting the football for the majority of the game. Johnson looked like the player he was in both 2011 and 2013. The surprise may have been the ease with which he did it. Johnson was in a walking boot on Tuesday and gimped around at practice later in the week. But he looked totally healthy, and the Bobcats didn't have much of an answer. Johnson left the game late to a standing ovation.

November 22, 2014 6:12 pm Related

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Cat-Griz '14: Confidence cuts both ways for Bleskin, Bobcats

Cat-Griz '14: Confidence cuts both ways for Bleskin, Bobcats

BLESKIN'S TIME: With Dakota Prukop still reeling from a knee injury, backup quarterback Jake Bleskin leads the Bobcats into Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday.

The Bobcats aren’t ruling out the possibility that Dakota Prukop will play quarterback on Saturday in the 114th meeting between MSU and archrival Montana. But on Wednesday coach Rob Ash doubled down on his contention that Prukop’s sprained knee won’t be in good enough shape by kickoff, and that backup Jake Bleskin will start.

And the Cats are perfectly content with that scenario.

Bleskin is gearing up for his fourth career start. He was a surprise starter last week against Idaho State, and threw for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a pivotal 44-39 victory. Prukop injured his knee early in the fourth quarter against Portland State the week prior on a 13-yard touchdown and hasn’t been able to go since.

“Dakota is still rehabbing very hard and we’re keeping that option open, but Jake is getting the majority of the work,” Ash said. “We have to be very careful with Dakota. He’s improving each day but we just have to wait and see. Right now, Jake is still in that seat.”

Bleskin’s situation is unique in part because he was, more or less, the projected starter and heir to DeNarius McGhee in the run-up to this season. But Prukop surpassed him in fall camp because of his elusiveness and his improved passing skills.

November 19, 2014 7:26 pmLoading…
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Cat-Griz '14: Making every point count

Cat-Griz '14: Making every point count

POINT OF EMPHASIS: History suggests Montana State's offense will be held under 30 points against Montana on Saturday. If so, the Grizzlies could walk away with the Great Divide Trophy again.

For whatever reason, points have come at a premium for Montana State in recent years against archrival Montana.

The Bobcats have a prolific, school-record-setting offense this season. Will it translate to points on Saturday? Truth is, the Cats have had prolific offenses before, but they’ve seemed to tighten up in games against the Griz.

It may have something to do with a carousel of offensive coordinators, but in seven Cat-Griz games in the Rob Ash era, MSU has never scored more than 21 points. The Bobcats had one of the nation’s best offenses in both 2011 and 2012, but combined to score just 26 points against the Grizzlies in those two seasons.

Conversely, the Grizzlies have had years where they’ve rolled up big points against the Bobcats: 41 in 2007, 35 in 2008, 33 in 2009 and 36 in 2011 (although that win was later vacated). But it’s been years since MSU truly laid one on the Griz.

In fact, the Cats haven’t scored 30 points against Montana since 1995 — a 42-33 loss. MSU reached the 40-point plateau versus UM only once since 1978, a 41-18 victory in 1985.

November 18, 2014 8:00 pmLoading…
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First look: Bobcats 44, Idaho State 39

First look: Bobcats 44, Idaho State 39

BIG PLAYS, BIG WIN: Eryon Barnett's interception of a bobbled pass in the third quarter helped turned Montana State's defensive fortunes in the second half.

Mike Kramer and Idaho State came into Bobcat Stadium as the hottest team in the Big Sky Conference. But Montana State walked out with a huge, momentum-building victory.

Here is an early recap:

KEY MOMENT: Jake Bleskin, who was subbing for the injured Dakota Prukop, was just intercepted for the second time in the red zone by Idaho State linebacker Mitch Beckstead. So what happened? The Bobcats' defense got its second takeaway of the game a few plays later when Cole Moore forced a fumble by Xavier Finney, which Rob Marshall fell on. Bleskin and the Cats then scored the go-ahead points with a 24-yard swing pass out of the backfield to a wide open Gunnar Brekke. That put MSU ahead for the first time, 37-30, with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.

IT WAS OVER WHEN ... Taylor Sheridan sacked Bengals QB Justin Arias with roughly 5:30 to play. MSU hadn't laid a hand on Arias all day, and he was able to throw for more than 340 yards and three touchdowns as a result. But on a third-down play with the Bengals back up against the shadow of their own goal line, Sheridan got a strip-sack on Arias. ISU recovered but was forced to punt, and the Cats were able to milk the clock even more. By the time the Bengals got the ball back (after Tyler Kuder blocked a Luke Daly field goal), they just didn't have enough time. Arias' Hail Mary pass fell incomplete at the gun.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: MSU's Jake Bleskin. What a performance. Yeah, he threw a couple interceptions, but he otherwise handled the Bobcats' intricate offense with precision in the absence of Prukop, who sat out with a knee injury. Bleskin managed an offense that was committed to running the ball -- and keeping Arias and the Bengals on the sideline. Not sure if Prukop will be back next week to play against Montana, but if not Bleskin is more than just a fill-in. Bleskin has proven he can win -- and win big games -- as the starter.

November 15, 2014 4:48 pmLoading…
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Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

A look at the Week 12 matchups for the Bobcats and Grizzlies, plus three other games of note in the Big Sky Conference:

No. 16 Montana (6-4, 4-2) at Southern Utah (2-8, 2-4), 1 p.m. After last week’s loss at Eastern Washington, the Grizzlies need to win to stay in the hunt for the playoffs. Montana is 1-4 so far this season on the road. This game will feature two of the best defensive ends in the FCS: UM’s Zack Wagenmann leads the Big Sky with 10½ sacks and is second with 14½ tackles for loss. SUU’s James Cowser tops the league with 21½ TFLs and is No. 2 with 9½ sacks.

Idaho State (7-3, 5-1) at No. 12 Montana State (7-3, 5-1), 1:30 p.m. It’s the game of the week in the Big Sky. The winner will be alive and well in the race for the conference title; the loser will be on the outside looking in. The game pits two of the country’s top QBs head-to-head. MSU’s Dakota Prukop ranks second in the FCS in pass efficiency, and has rushed for 932 yards and accounted for 30 TDs. ISU’s Justin Arias is No. 1 in passing yards (3,384) and TD passes (32).

No. 22 Northern Arizona (7-3, 5-1) at North Dakota (3-7, 1-5): Northern Arizona has lived on the edge all season: Each of its eight games against FCS opponents has been decided by seven or fewer points. The Lumberjacks’ average margin of victory in FCS games is less than four points. A victory will keep NAU on pace to capture the Big Sky’s automatic berth to the FCS playoffs. The Lumberjacks already own key wins against Cal Poly and Eastern Washington.

UC Davis (1-8, 0-6) at Cal Poly (6-4, 5-2): A two-point loss last week at Idaho State set Cal Poly back. The Mustangs had won their previous five games to vault to the top of the standings. This game is known as “The Battle for the Golden Horseshoe.” The teams first met in 1939, and UC Davis owns a 19-18-2 edge in the all-time series. Cal Poly LB Nick Dzubnar, a Buchanan Award candidate, has 142 tackles this season. He needs four more to break the school’s career record.

November 11, 2014 4:10 pmLoading…
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First look: Bobcats 29, Portland State 22

First look: Bobcats 29, Portland State 22

AN IMPORTANT WIN: Dakota Prukop and the Bobcats remained in the thick of the Big Sky Conference race by beating Portland State on Saturday.

Games are magnified in November, and the Bobcats needed every bit of their 29-22 victory over Portland State on Saturday. With the win, MSU is alive and well in the Big Sky Conference title race.

But it wasn’t easy, and the Vikings never went away. Here’s a quick recap:

KEY MOMENT: The Bobcats’ offense was shut out in the third quarter, but they upped the tempo at the start of the fourth, racing 85 yards in just six plays resulting in a 13-yard touchdown run by QB Dakota Prukop with 13:16 to go. The big play was a 30-yard shovel pass to Chad Newell that kept the drive alive on third down. MSU’s three previous drives went for naught, but they found some magic on this one (WR Jayshawn Gates even had a 32-yard run on a sweep play). It put the Bobcats up by two touchdowns and provided some much-needed breathing room.

IT WAS OVER WHEN ... Jonathan Gonzales missed a 56-yard field goal with 10:30 left in the fourth quarter. Gonzales, who’d made two field goals earlier in the game and hit a 53-yarder previously during the season, was looking to cut into the Cats’ lead. It was a gamble by Vikings coach Nigel Burton that didn’t pay off. Gonzales kick was wide left, which snapped his streak of eight consecutive makes. The Vikings got the ball back on the ensuing drive when Anthony Knight fumbled, but their next drive stalled out on fourth down, and MSU was able to milk more time off the clock.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: This goes to Bobcats RB Gunnar Brekke. Shawn Johnson’s hamstring injury threw a wrench in MSU’s offensive weaponry, but Brekke came up with some big plays. He finished with 92 rushing yards, 17 receiving yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. Brekke was injured when he was tackled after fielding and returning the opening kickoff, but he came back on the second snap of the game and ran down the sideline for a 71-yard touchdown. Brekke knew he would get a few more turns on offense and he made the most of it.

November 08, 2014 5:11 pmLoading…
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Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

A look at the Week 11 matchups for the Bobcats and Grizzlies, plus three other games of note in the Big Sky Conference:

No. 11 Montana (6-3, 4-1) at No. 5 Eastern Washington (8-2, 5-1) 1 p.m. This is one of two make-or-break games this week between one-loss teams. The Griz will try to win in Cheney, Wash., for the first time since 2008; Eastern hasn’t lost a regular-season home game since 2011. The question is whether EWU star QB Vernon Adams will play. Adams has missed the past four games with a broken foot, but will be a game-time decision according to coach Beau Baldwin.

Portland State (3-6, 2-3) at No. 15 Montana State (6-3, 4-1), 2 p.m. The Bobcats came up short last week at Cal Poly, and saw their aspirations to run the table in the Big Sky shot down. MSU will be without RB Shawn Johnson, who has a hamstring injury. PSU’s Pistol-pass hybrid offense uses a lot of weapons, spearheaded by QB Kieran McDonagh and RB Shaq Richard. Defensively the Vikings have struggled against the pass, which MSU QB Dakota Prukop might exploit.

No. 21 Cal Poly (6-3, 4-1) at Idaho State (6-3, 4-1): The second pivotal Big Sky game this week, Cal Poly looks to win its sixth in a row. But with four straight wins, Mike Kramer’s Bengals are hot too. It’s a matchup between two of the best quarterbacks in the conference: One, Cal Poly’s Chris Brown, is the best running signal-caller in the league. The other, Idaho State’s Justin Arias, is its best passer. Points could come in bunches, and whoever wins will be sitting pretty.

UC Davis (1-7, 0-5) at No. 25 Northern Arizona (6-3, 4-1): Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz., has become one of the more difficult places to play for opponents. NAU has won eight straight regular-season home games, and is a decided favorite to stretch that streak to nine. The Lumberjacks succeed by committee: Three different QBs have started and won games. Coach Jerome Souers is one victory from becoming just the second coach in league history to reach 100.

November 04, 2014 3:30 pmLoading…
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In largest-ever donation to athletics, UM receives $7M for new facility

In largest-ever donation to athletics, UM receives $7M for new facility

MISSOULA  — The University of Montana has announced a $7 million donation toward a planned $14 million project to build new football locker rooms and a weight training facility against the southwest side of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

The school announced Friday the donation comes from Kyle and Kevin Washington on behalf of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, started by their parents. The new facility will be called the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center.

The school said it was the largest-ever donation to its athletics department. The school plans to match it with another $7 million from private sources. The project would have to be approved by the state Board of Regents.

The 46,000-square-foot facility would include a 7,000-square foot football locker room and a 17,000-square-foot weight room on two levels, open to all of the university's 15 athletic teams.

Dennis Washington donated $1 million toward the construction of Washington-Grizzly Stadium, which opened in 1986.

October 31, 2014 2:30 pmLoading…

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

A look at the Week 10 matchups for the Bobcats and Grizzlies, plus three other games of note in the Big Sky Conference:

Sacramento State (1-3, 4-4) at No. 12 Montana (3-1, 5-3), noon: The Grizzlies need a bounce-back after losing last week at Cal Poly, and Sacramento State has never won a game in Missoula. The Hornets, though, have a powerful offense led by quarterback Garrett Safron, so Montana’s defense will be tested again. These teams played an OT thriller last year in Sacramento, which UM won 51-48 when Jordan Johnson hit Ellis Henderson with a 25-yard TD pass.

No. 8 Montana State (4-0, 6-2) at Cal Poly (4-1, 5-3), 7 p.m. November wasn’t kind to the Bobcats last season, and they open the stretch run this year with their toughest road matchup to date versus Cal Poly. QB Chris Brown is the catalyst of Cal Poly’s explosive triple option, which looks to attack MSU’s inconsistency on defense. Dakota Prukop and the Bobcats may have to score 40-plus points again to pull out their third victory of the year in California.

North Dakota (1-3, 3-5) at No. 6 Eastern Washington (4-1, 7-2): It’s homecoming, and EWU gets a chance to rebound from an upset loss at Northern Arizona, which snapped a 14-game conference winning streak. With or without QB Vernon Adams, the Eagles are the best late-season team in the Big Sky: They’ve won their past 16 regular season games in November, and since 2004 have lost just three regular season games in the penultimate month of the year.

Northern Arizona (3-1, 5-3) at Weber State (0-4, 0-8): Creeping toward the Top 25, The Lumberjacks are riding high after stunning Eastern Washington 28-27 on a TD pass by backup QB Jordan Perry in the final seconds. NAU has lived on the edge all season -- each of its six games against FCS teams has been decided by seven points or less. The Wildcats have won four in a row versus NAU, but this is a good chance for the Lumberjacks to take another step.

October 28, 2014 5:15 pmLoading…
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Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

A closer look at the Grizzlies' Week 8 matchup against Cal Poly, plus four other games of note in the Big Sky Conference. Just five games are on the league docket this week. The Bobcats and Sacramento State are idle:

No. 7 Montana (5-2, 3-0) at Cal Poly (4-3, 3-1), 7 p.m. Montana’s rushing defense has been solid all year, but it will be tested by option QB Chris Brown and Cal Poly’s stable of ball carries, who collectively average nearly 340 yards per game, tops in the nation. Montana QB Jordan Johnson is coming off a 280-yard, two-TD effort in last week’s 42-28 victory over UC Davis. The Grizzlies have lost to the Mustangs only twice in 17 meetings.

No. 2 Eastern Washington (7-1, 4-0) at Northern Arizona (4-3, 2-1): The ROOT Sports game of the week features an Eastern Washington team that will be without star QB Vernon Adams, who remains out with a broken foot. So Jordan West looks to run his record to 3-0 as Adams' backup. The Eagles have won five in a row and seven of eight against the Lumberjacks, and have won 16 consecutive games against Big Sky opponents since 2012.

Idaho State (4-3, 2-1) at Northern Colorado (2-5, 1-3): Will Idaho State continue its climb? The Bengals got a few monkeys off their back with a blowout win over Southern Utah last week, and now look to snap a 48-game road losing streak against a UNC defense that ranks third in the FCS in interceptions. ISU QB Justin Arias is on fire, and the Bengalsare No. 2 nationally in total offense with an average of 569.7 yards per game.

Portland State (2-5, 1-2) at Weber State (0-7, 0-3): Last week against Montana State, Weber State QB Jadrian Clark came off the bench in the second half in relief of Billy Green and threw for 142 yards. Portland State averages better than 200 yards rushing each time out, and freshman Steven Long had 253 yards on 16 carries in a loss last week to Northern Arizona. Combined, the Wildcats and Vikings are minus-18 in turnover margin.

October 22, 2014 4:30 pmLoading…
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First look: Bobcats 23, Weber State 13

First look: Bobcats 23, Weber State 13

CLOSER THAN EXPECTED: Winless Weber State gave Prukop, Roderick and Montana State a test, but the Bobcats prevailed to move to 6-2 overall and 4-0 in the Big Sky Conference.

Weber State has been in a lot of games; they just haven't won any. Montana State was on upset alert for much of the day on Saturday, but held off the Wildcats for a 23-13 victory at Bobcat Stadium. 

In their previous two games, the Cats' offense put up a combined 136 points and 1,356 yards. But Weber State did a solid job of limiting MSU quarterback Dakota Prukop and his ability to run.

The Wildcats came in with an 0-6 record, so it wasn't crazy to expect a blowout. But coach Rob Ash knew better, and this was a hard-fought win. If not for a fatal error by Weber's Shaydon Kehano on a late punt, the Cats might have been in real trouble.

Here are some highlights:

KEY MOMENT: It's a play the Bobcats ran several times. Prukop would keep the ball in the zone read, but would have running back Shawn Johnson as an outlet to pitch the ball on the outside. Weber State did a nice job stringing Prukop out for much of the game, so on their opening drive of the third quarter, Prukop pitched to Johnson with the Wildcats swarming and he sprinted 63 yards for a touchdown. That extended the Cats' lead to 14-3.

October 18, 2014 6:23 pmLoading…
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Prukop and the Payton: Who has the edge?

Prukop and the Payton: Who has the edge?

WALTER WORTHY? Bobcats' quarterback Dakota Prukop has more than earned his spot amid the Walter Payton Award chatter.

In his previous two games, Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop has put up a combined 997 yards and 14 touchdowns. Unbelievable numbers. As a result, Prukop was added to The Sports Network’s Walter Payton Award Watch List, which tracks the top contenders for offensive player of the year in the FCS each season.

Prukop’s addition to the list was only a matter of time. Entering the Bobcats’ matchup with Weber State this Saturday, Prukop’s stats (and national ranks among his fellow QBs) go like this:

Passing yards: 1,859 (8th)

Passing TDs: 17 (7th)

Pass efficiency: 185.9 (2nd)

October 15, 2014 9:00 pmLoading…
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Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

A look at the Week 8 matchups for the Bobcats and Grizzlies, plus three other games of note in the Big Sky Conference:

UC Davis (1-5, 0-3) at No. 7 Montana (4-2, 2-0), 12 p.m. The Griz are coming off a bye, and Jordan Johnson will start at quarterback after injuring his ankle against North Dakota. That’s good news for Montana. Zack Wagenmann and the rest of the Grizzlies’ front seven are out to make life tough on young QB Ben Scott.

Weber State (0-6, 0-2) at No. 9 Montana State (5-2, 3-0), 3:30 p.m. MSU’s offense is on fire. Will the onslaught continue against the winless Wildcats? QB Dakota Prukop was recently added to the Walter Payton Award Watch List -- for good reason. With 28 total TDs, the sophomore has taken the Big Sky by storm.

Northern Colorado (2-4, 1-2) at No. 2 Eastern Washington (6-1, 3-0): Backup QB Jordan West threw for 4 TDs in place of injured star Vernon Adams in a win over Southern Utah last week. The Eagles have won 14 straight regular-season games. The Bears, plus-12 in turnovers, want to pull off a monster upset.

Northern Arizona (3-3, 1-1) at Portland State (2-4, 1-1): NAU wants to bounce back from its loss to Northern Colorado on Oct. 4. Chase Cartwright is taking over at QB for Kyren Poe. Portland State is in dire need of a victory: The Vikings have won just once in their past four games. This is the ROOT Sports Game of the Week.

October 15, 2014 12:00 pmLoading…
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The Cats, the Griz, and shifting offensive philosophies

The Cats, the Griz, and shifting offensive philosophies

VERSATILITY: Jordan Johnson was as a dangerous spread/read option quarterback early in his Griz career (like in this photo from his sophomore season) but has become a savvy pro-style/pocket passer under coach Mick Delaney.

For decades, a basic principle of football -- offensively speaking -- was to establish the run to set up the pass, control the ball, move the chains, win the time of possession and keep your defense off the field. It was a formula for victory, and a pretty good one.

That’s not to say the college game was inundated with pro-style offenses. Much of the philosophy there revolved around the option game: A quarterback taking a snap from under center out of the “I” formation and either handing off to a fullback up the middle or faking and running left or right with a trailing tailback to which he can pitch the ball if he so chooses. Think Nebraska under Tom Osborne. Or even the old veer offense used by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy and now Georgia Tech. That's old school.

Then the 2000s arrived and Rich Rodriquez, Urban Meyer and Oregon happened. And option football was revolutionized.

Now the goal of many offenses is to play at a breakneck pace, to crush your opponent by running as many plays and scoring as many points as you can for as long as you can. To flat-out demoralize them. The spread option, which in many cases is predicated on a zone read running scheme that gives the quarterback the choice to hand off or keep the ball out of the shotgun based on the direction a defensive end or linebacker takes, is a huge part of that, and has been the rage at the college level for over a decade now.

Montana State, with offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey and dual-threat quarterback Dakota Prukop, are employing this brand of the spread and are running it with great success right now. Montana, under former coach Robin Pflugrad, utilized the same offense and ran teams ragged in 2011 with QB Jordan Johnson in the shotgun.

October 08, 2014 8:45 pmLoading…
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Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

Big Sky Football: Five games to watch

A look at the Bobcats’ Week 7 matchup, plus four other games of note in the Big Sky Conference. The Grizzlies are idle this week:

No. 11 Montana State (2-0, 4-2) at UC Davis (0-2, 1-4), 5 p.m. After the Sacramento State debacle, the Bobcats’ defense needs to bounce back in a big way, and this is the chance to do it. UC Davis has struggled to score points and ranks second-to-last in total offense.

No. 2 Eastern Washington (2-0, 5-1) at Southern Utah (1-1, 1-5): The Thunderbirds were the last Big Sky team to beat the Eagles. How will Eastern Washington’s offense function without injured quarterback Vernon Adams? Backup QB Jordan West will be making his first start.

Sacramento State (0-2, 3-3) at Northern Colorado (1-1, 2-3): Fifty-six points and nearly 700 yards of offense weren't enough for Sac State to beat Montana State. QB Garrett Safron will need to be extra careful with the ball in this one: UNC leads the FCS with 13 interceptions.

Cal Poly (1-1, 2-3) at Weber State (0-1, 0-5): The reason to tune in here is to see how many rushing yards Cal Poly can pile up. The Mustangs rank No. 1 in the nation (335.6 yards per game), and Weber State has struggled to limit teams on the ground.

October 07, 2014 3:36 pmLoading…
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Third-downs will be magnified for Bobcats at Sac State

Third-downs will be magnified for Bobcats at Sac State

MOVE THOSE STICKS: Running back Shawn Johnson and the Bobcats look to rekindle their third-down magic against Sacramento State.

Third down. It's the play on which every drive hinges. Montana State has been pretty up-and-down in these situations: Through five games the Bobcats have converted roughly 39 percent of their third-down plays, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky Conference.

Against Eastern Washington, the Cats were on fire on third down (10 for 16) and they went on to score 51 points and nearly upset the No. 2-ranked team in the country. Unfortunately for MSU, the Eagles were one point better.

Last week in a 29-18 victory over North Dakota, MSU regressed, going 3 for 13. It was a game in which UND's defense stymied the Cats' running game and the numbers told the tale. 

The Bobcats will probably need to regain their third-down touch this week on the road at Sacramento State, a formidable foe with a solid offense (led by QB Garrett Safron) that can put up points in bushels. Trouble is, the Hornets' defense has been the best in the league so far at limiting conversions on third downs.

Bobcats coach Rob Ash recognizes the need for success on third down, especially this week, saying:

October 02, 2014 2:15 pmLoading…
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Cat-Griz Insider Blog

The Cat-Griz Insider blog is the one-stop spot on the Web for all the news and opinions pertaining to Montana Grizzly and Montana State Bobcat athletics. Comments are open!

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Greg Rachac

Sportswriter for The Billings Gazette covering Montana and Montana State athletics in addition to various high school sports.

Slim Kimmel

Online sports editor for The Billings Gazette.

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