MISSOULA – Non-conference play doubles as the preseason for college football. Now, as the Big Sky Conference schedule kicks off, fans have a decent idea what to expect from each team.
The Montana Grizzlies have shown they can dominate, but they also have plenty of room to improve. It depends on who has the ball.
The Grizzly defense has seven new starters. Some are playing their first games at the college level, others just changed positions, and they might be the best unit in the Big Sky.
Through the first three weeks, Montana’s defense ranks second overall in the league and is No. 1 by a mile at stopping the run, giving up only 75 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry. Coordinator Kent Baer has created an aggressive unit in a short time.
“We all play hard,” said senior safety Reid Miller. “We all play hard for each other. It’s a fun defense to play in. It’s organized chaos, that’s the best way I can explain it.”
Meanwhile, head coach Bobby Hauck and offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach want to keep the offense balanced. But that hasn’t been easy.
Dalton Sneed has played well at quarterback, but UM ranks No. 11 in the Big Sky in rushing. The running backs have combined to gain just 2.9 yards per carry. A young, inexperienced offensive line shoulders the burden to get the ground game going.
“I think that the offensive line is just consecutively getting better,” said Sneed. “They’re getting better each week. Cy Sirmon got his first start at guard last week. He hasn’t played offensive line since high school, and he did a terrific job. So we’re only going to get better up front.”
Montana will be challenged to work out the kinks in the conference opener. Sacramento State also suits up a stout defense that has given up a league-low 20 points per game. The Grizzlies and Hornets kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday.