Griz Preview

The Sioux head out to Missoula this Saturday for a 1 pm CST kickoff to take on perennial FCS powerhouse Montana in what is the first of many matchups between the future Big Sky rivals.  Montana just announced today that they will be staying in the Big Sky for the forseeable future, which is a major relief to the conference.  Sioux fans are now guaranteed the pleasure of watching the Griz in the Alerus Center every other year.

Sioux Defense vs. Montana Offense

With the departure of Head Coach Bobby Hauck in the offseason, the Griz changed up their offensive philosophy.  For the past number of years they were a power running, pro-style offense who would wear you down as the game went on and they were very good at it.  This year, under new Head Coach Robin Pflugrad, the Griz went to a spread look with 3-4 WR’s at all times.  They are about a 65-35 pass/run ratio this season.  The stats indicate this as they are averaging 247 yds/game through the air and 121 yds/game on the ground.

#18 QB Justin Roper leads the way with a 18-8 td/int ratio and is averaging 171 yds/game passing.  He has filled in for Andrew Selle who was hurt earlier in the year.  #34 Chase Reynolds is their stud running back who is poised to break many Montana and Big Sky rushing records in the next two games.  He has had a down year due to the scheme change but is still a very dangerous weapon out of the backfield.  This is indicated by the fact he is their leading receiver with 35 catches for 296 yds and 4 TD’s.   The Sioux need to be aware of Reynolds receiving the ball via screen or swing pass.

#3 Antwon Moutra and #16 Jabin Sambrano are their main big play receivers with near identical numbers on the year.  They have 32 and 31 catches, respectively, for 488 and 474 yards.  They are both averaging 15 yds/catch and have 8 TD’s between them.  Anyone who has watched the Sioux play this year know these guys will pose a major problem for their defense.  UND’s pass D has been extremely inconsistent this season with many blatant blown coverages.  Some of this can be chalked up to youth but there is only youth at one corner position.  The other 3 defensive backs are Senior, Senior, and Junior.

Pass rush is going to be a major key to this game.  The Sioux are going to need to blitz and blitz often to get some pressure on Roper.  They have shown the ability to make it to the QB but bringing him down has been another issue.  Obviously, the downfall with blitzing is you leave your defensive backs with less help but you can’t have it both ways.  We aren’t worried about their run game since they don’t seem to be.  This move to the spread/shotgun look has made Reynolds a pretty easy target to defend when running the ball.  Our biggest worries are the vertical passing game of the Griz.  They love to go long and that is UND’s Achilles heel.  If the long pass isn’t there then Roper will check down to Reynolds meaning the UND LB’s need to be ready to react up and tackle.  They can check down all game if they want, the long passes are going to be the difference in this game.

Sioux Offense vs Montana Defense

Montana is a base 4-3 defense with 2-high looks primarily in the secondary. They are giving up about 150 yards/game on the ground, so UND has some potential to run the ball, which will be huge in this environment.  On the other hand, they only give up that much through the air per game, and are ranked 11th in the country in pass defense.  Having said all that, they have still given up some points this year and are averaging almost 23 points per game against.

This Montana defense is talented and has speed.  Junior cornerback #2 Trumaine Johnson is 6-3, 200 pounds.  You don’t often see 6-3 corners like that at this level.  The UND receivers will have their hands full with that group in the secondary.  All 4 d-backs can and will make plays.  In the front seven, junior MLB Caleb McSurdy is the leader and playmaker.

Offensively, the Sioux will probably have both QB’s playing throughout the game as they both bring something different to the table.  Since Brent Goska is more experienced at the position, we expect him to start the game and get the offense in a groove.  Marcus Hendrickson will no doubt still play as well.  After the 1st quarter or so, we expect that Coach Breitbach will go with whoever has the hotter hand into the 2nd half.  Look for UND to try run the ball early to get comfortable with the offense and their surroundings.  Some playaction passes off of that will help loosen up the Montana defense.

Greg Hardin absolutely has to have a big game in order for the offense to be successful.  If he does, it will open up the running game for Murray and Sutton between the tackles.  RJ McGill’s emergence in the offense last week will hopefully help take some of the pressure off Hardin.  McGill needs to assert himself and build off what he did last week – play with confidence.  This kid is no longer a freshman.  On the offensive line, there are some injury concerns right now.  Senior right tackle Keith Queoff was banged up last week and our best guess is that he is questionable for Saturday’s game.  Caleb Gillson and Connor McKendry will need to step up big if called upon.  Queoff is a leader and one of the more talented players on the UND o-line.  Also look for Montana native Brandon Quesenberry to be in the game sporadically.

Special Teams

This could be the most crucial component of the game on Saturday.  If UND can win the field position battle, it could reap huge benefits.  Also, will Zeb Miller be able to make some kicks and get some points on the board in a hostile environment?  Will the return game be able to do what it did against UC-Davis?  We know Coach Kotelnicki will have these groups prepared.  But, if UND gets beat in this category, it could be a long day.

Prediction

Even though Montana is down this year they are still one of, if not the best program in the country.  The scheme adjustments on offense and defense have taken time to implement.  With the Sioux being down to their backup QB’s and being young at many positions it is going to take a monumental effort to pull of an upset at Missoula.  We hope they obviously win, but our guess is:

Montana 34

North Dakota 17

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2 Responses to Griz Preview

  1. Matt says:

    nice analysis. Good to read a scouting report by someone that knows the game, not the way a journalist writes it for the masses.

  2. justin says:

    Solid review of the Grizzlies. Looking forward to the start of a great rivalry in the Big Sky.
    Go Griz!

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