Now we're just three days away from the 108th Brawl. Yesterday we sized up the offenses, today we'll have a look at the defenses. Remember to check back tomorrow for the special teams/coaching analysis and then again on Saturday for our game day picks.
On to the D:
FRONT -- When defensive end Dane Fletcher was lost for the season, the Bobcats took a huge hit. DE Dylan Kinkelaar is back in the lineup after missing half the year with an ankle sprain, and fill-ins Brad Smith and Dustin O'Connell have done admirably in relief. Tackle Chris Kolone has also been in and out of the lineup. Despite the injuries, the Bobcats have given up an average of just 85.4 yards per game on the ground to Montana's 109.0. They've also gotten 34 sacks, second most in the league. Montana has 27 team sacks. Jace Palmer and Mike Stadnyk can rush the passer on the outside for the Griz while Jesse Carlson and Craig Mettler stuff the run. Without Kroy Biermann, now with the Atlanta Falcons, the Grizzlies have not been as good pressuring the quarterback this year, and that was expected. Mettler has been in and out of the lineup but returned last week. Austin Mullins has filled in well on this inside. EDGE: EVEN.
LINEBACKERS -- At the beginning of the season the Grizzlies faced the task of replacing three starting linebackers. They passed the test with flying colors. Shawn Lebsock, Brandon Fisher and Tyler Corwin have more than done their job in the middle tier of Montana's D. They each rank among the team's top five tacklers and have accounted for four takeaways. The Grizzlies may have a stronger linerbacker core, but the Bobcats' bunch is faster. The group of Bobby Daly, Jeff Price and Chase Gazzerro seemingly get to everything. The trio is 1-2-3 on the team in tackles and has combined for 23.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks and has accounted for seven turnovers. One note: Daly's hip pointer injury, which he suffered against Northern Colorado, flared up last week. Daly will play on Saturday but will not be at 100 percent. EDGE: MONTANA STATE.
SECONDARY -- Montana State safety Kevin Retoriano has a knack for scoring touchdowns. He's taken two interceptions to the house this year and also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for another. He returned a pick for a TD last year, as well. Griz safety Colt Anderson, meanwhile, is probably the best all-around safety in the Big Sky. Anderson leads the Griz with 79 tackles and has a couple picks of his own, and is the hardest hitter on either team. Opposite Anderson is Shann Schillinger, who has really come into his own this season. The Bobcats' other safety is rotated by Jordan Craney, Ramon Lewis and Isaiah Taito. The cornerback position is a little more clouded, especially for the Griz. Montana has gotten by with newbies Andrew Swink and converted receiver Trumaine Johnson. Johnson has three INTs this year. However, both guys could miss the game due to injuries. Montana State got a boost from transfer Cory Nicol, who has picked off four passes. Arnold Briggs is also solid in covereage. EDGE: EVEN.
THE SKINNY -- Statistically the Bobcats have been better than the Grizzlies defensively, but their injury problems throw a big wrinkle into how we see them performing on Saturday. Obviously, a healthy Dane Fletcher and a 100 percent Bobby Daly would go a long way for MSU. But they'll have to make do. There is another factor you cannot discount: One intangible the Grizzlies will have on working for them on Saturday is the incredible crowd noise that is sure to rattle MSU's offense. It's something you cannot prepare for, and MSU's young quarterback, Mark Desin, will have to rise above it. That's no small feat. OVERALL EDGE: EVEN.