Montana safety Josh Sandry celebrates after an interception versus Valparaiso (MTN Sports photo).

MISSOULA – The Montana Grizzlies had the No. 1-rated defense in the Big Sky Conference a season ago, but coordinator Jason Semore knew his team needed to do one thing much better this year. Montana gave up way too many deep pass completions for big gains.

So UM decided to become more varied in its approach. Instead of playing almost exclusively man-to-man coverage in the secondary, the Griz are throwing in a lot more zone.

A few miscommunication issues led to some downfield passing success by Valparaiso, but Washington never hit a deep connection even in a blowout win.

The safeties probably benefit the most from the adjustment. Josh Sandry has two interceptions in two games. Sandry and Justin Strong led the team in tackles last week, largely because they can keep their eyes on the backfield instead of their man.

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“You can kind of see everything,” said Sandry about his new responsibilities. “You can see what the quarterback is doing, if he’s going to hand the ball off or if he’s going to throw. We kind of made it a point of emphasis to limit things in the back end, give up no deep balls, stuff like that. I think we played really good against one of the top teams in the country.”

“Everybody gets to play a lot freer. That’s why you see Sandry get a lot more interceptions,” added Strong, who is currently playing with a cast on his left hand. “So it’s going to work out a lot for us this year. Especially getting to the Big Sky competition now, there’s going to be a lot of vertical shots. So pretty much we’re getting ready every week from now on to take away the vertical shots.

Strong, Sandry and the secondary get one more tune-up before Big Sky Conference play. They’ll host Savannah State at 1 p.m. Saturday.


  1. How did the safeties do against Washington? Let’s get real, Grizzly are a #6 Big Sky conference team. I disagree on the assessment of the backfield against Vala Spiro. They connected deep, and the free safety was no where to be seen. They would have one had they had more accurate passing.