A group of Grizzlies swarm towards running back John Nguyen during Saturday's scrimmage - MTN Sports photo

MISSOULA – The days of summer are growing shorter, which means football season is right around the corner. During Montana’s second fall scrimmage Saturday morning, many expected the Grizzly offense to purr with quarterback Brady Gustafson taking majority of the snaps.

Gustafson completed 15 of his 24 passes, including two touchdowns–a 28-yard strike to Lane Hovey, and a 32-yard lob that ended in freshman Jerry Louie-McGee’s arms. While Gustafson played well, the Billings native and the rest of the offense could barely find open space between the defense.

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The defense piled up five sacks on Montana quarterbacks, in addition to forcing three turnovers. Out of the 94 offensive plays, the defensive unit allowed just three passing touchdowns. They also kept drives short, allowing six third-down conversions in 22 tries, and held the rushing offense to just 3 yards per rush.

“Really excited about the way our defense is playing,” said head coach Bob Stitt. “The thing that we’ve done as a defense is eliminate our mental errors. You see the results, but the way they’re doing it is huge. They’re really executing what [defensive coordinator Jason] Semore wants them to do.”

“They’re so good and it’s like we’re beating our head against the wall trying to do anything against them,” said Gustafson. “But they’re gonna be great this season. I can’t wait to watch them and I think they’re only making us better for it.”

“I think we did a good job keeping up with their tempo,” said Griz linebacker Connor Strahm. “They got their run game going a little bit so once they get that going, it’s kind of hard to get up and do the same play over and over. I think we handled that pretty well.”

While head coach Bob Stitt expressed the importance of keeping his team motivated and focused at this point of the season, that doesn’t seem to be a problem. The Griz are fully prepared for another game, just as long as the opposing jersey doesn’t say “Montana Grizzlies” on it.

“I can’t wait to go against someone else other than our offense,” Strahm said while laughing. “They get us in shape obviously, but I can’t wait to go against someone else in a different jersey.”

“First thought: Can’t wait to play somebody other than our defense,” Gustafson said in agreement. “I’m very excited for two weeks from now. I’m sure they’re tired of playing us too but I mean really I think this football team is headed in the right direction and I think offensively and defensively we’re just excited to get to the first game.”

For some, two weeks is not that long to wait. But the Griz do have one more scrimmage to prepare for their season opener. The offense will get a chance to get back at the defense this Thursday at 3 p.m.

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