Perhaps one overlooked factor to the Grizzlies' hot start has been their ability to take command early in games. Montana has been very good at capitalizing on drives in the first quarter, having outscored opponents 89-34 combined in the opening 15 minutes.
It's a fact that's not lost on coach Mick Delaney. Aside from his team's ability to protect the football, win time of possession and play strong defense in the red zone (and stay healthy), the Grizzlies' early-game success has played a huge role. Here's what Delaney said about it Tuesday morning:
• “The biggest key is the game plan. The coaches have done such a good job in preparation for each game. We’ve been able to start games with a defined plan, and then stay with that plan from the work we do from Sunday through Friday prior to the games. The thing that’s so gratifying is that the players have gone out and are executing that plan. We’ve played well early, which is great.”
The following chart breaks down UM's first-quarter success on offense through six games:
|Opponent||1Q drives||1Q points||Final score|
|App State||2||0||W, 30-6|
|N. Dakota||3||21||W, 55-17|
|Portland St.||5||28||W, 55-27|
|UC Davis||5||14||W, 42-7|
Add it all up, and No. 10-ranked Montana has scored points on 15 of 25 first quarter drives. That's a 60 percent success rate. And that number would be even higher had it not been for a couple miscues, including a fumble in the red zone early against Appalachian State, and Ben Worst's two missed field goals in the opening quarter last week at UC Davis.
The Grizzlies' 89 first-quarter points are easily the most in the Big Sky Conference. Montana State ranks second with 71. After that, there's a huge drop-off.
Montana has proven it is tough in the second, third and fourth quarters too. But much of it has to do with its ability to jump on opponents right from the start. It will be paramount again this week when the Griz welcome Cal Poly, a team Delaney says is "the best football team we'll have played to date. There's no doubt about that."