The bye week came at an unusual time (Week 2) for the Griz. But as coach Mick Delaney says, it is what it is. Delaney told me Tuesday morning that his team spent the majority of its off-week getting refreshed mentally as opposed to physically.
Perhaps the coaches wanted the team to keep fresh in their minds what happened last year at North Dakota, and envision what they have to do to reverse that outcome when they head back to Grand Forks this week.
An aberration? Probably. Montana struggled mightily last year in its game at UND, surrendering 704 yards including Big Sky Conference records of 660 passing yards by QB Braden Hanson and 333 receiving yards by WR Greg Hardin. I'm betting that won't happen this time around.
As we saw against Appalachian State, the Grizzlies seem much more put together defensively this year. A stout defensive line (which returns 315-pound tackle Tonga Takai this week) sets the tone at the point of attack, backed by the best linebacker trio in the Big Sky Conference -- Jordan Tripp, Brock Coyle and John Kanongata'a.
Even after a solid performance in the 30-6 thumping of Appalachian State, the spotlight is still on UM's defensive secondary. There's no doubt the DBs are looking for retribution after what happened last year at North Dakota.
Despite usiging two redshirt freshman QBs (Ryan Bartels and Joe Mollberg) UND's passing game is still prolific. Hardin leads the FCS in receiving yards per game with a 185.0-yard average, and Blair Townsend, Kenny Golladay and Jameer Jackson are also tough to handle. The 6-3, 240-pound Jackson is a nice pro prospect.
It's up to UM's secondary to perform, for sure. But for me, Montana's ability to run the football and control time of possession -- just like it did against Appalachian State -- is the key to victory. If you can keep UND's offense off the field, it goes a long way. Look for RBs Jordan Canada and Travon Van to get plenty of carries in UM's new methodical, clock-eating offense. As Delaney says, the best defense is a ball-control offense. Let's see how it plays out.
In the meantime, here are three select quotes I gleaned from Delaney about UM's return to Grand Forks:
ON LAST YEAR'S GAME ...
“We went there a year ago and had 700 yards put on our defense. We embarrassed ourselves. We caught up offensively and had the lead, but we couldn’t get a couple key first downs to preserve the win. Obviously it’s been a sore spot with (defensive coordinator Ty) Gregorak and the defensive coaches. They’ve lost a lot of sleep since that game. They’re going to prepare extra hard this week, and with a chip on their shoulder.”
ON UND RECEIVER GREG HARDIN ...
“He has tremendous speed and quickness. He takes one step and he’s already going full speed. I would imagine he’s a 4.35 guy, somewhere in that area. You’ve got to prepare extra hard to play a guy like that. He’s very fast, quick and he's stronger than he looks.”
ON PRESSURING THE QBs ...
“They throw the ball so quickly that it’s tough to get pressure on the quarterback. They let their receivers work one-on-one in space. We’ve got to be excellent tacklers and find a way to get pressure in some way, shape or form. One key is that our red zone offense has to be better. We were down there three times (against Appalachian State) and came away without points. But we’ve worked hard to get that cleaned up. This is a really focused group that comes to work ever single day with purpose. We know how to work and how to be focused.”