FRISCO, Texas — Football coaches will tell you that games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. Championship games especially.
If Montana is to knock off favored defending champion South Dakota State in the FCS title game here Sunday afternoon, it probably will be no different.
One member of the Grizzlies’ defensive coaching staff, analyst Tim Hauck, sees it that way. Even if the Jackrabbits were 12½-point favorites entering championship week.
“Here’s the deal: I don’t think it’s a terrible matchup for us,” Hauck told MTN Sports. “If we can be more physical than they are — because they pride themselves on the same things we pride ourselves on — I think we’ve got a good chance of winning this football game.
“They are big, they’re physical and they’re aggressive. That’s what we pride ourselves on being, a physical and aggressive football team. We’ll see who can match what in this football game.”
If Montana pulls the upset, Hauck will have had a big hand in it. As a first-year defensive analyst for the Griz and the younger brother of head coach Bobby Hauck, he brings a level of defensive expertise rarely seen in that type of role. Not many analysts on a given coaching staff have a Super Bowl ring.
After starring as a safety at Montana from 1987-89, Tim Hauck played 13 seasons in the NFL, then coached for 15 more years including 10 at the highest level. Hauck was the Eagles' safeties coach when they beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
Back with the Griz for the first time since a stint coaching the secondary from 2004-07, officially Hauck’s job is to scout opponents and help scheme up game plans for Montana’s defense week by week. It’s not really a sexy title, but it’s a job Hauck takes a ton of pride in — helping his alma mater reach the pinnacle of FCS competition for the first time in 14 years.
“It’s been fun for me,” Hauck said. “I work with a bunch of good guys. I think we’ve done a nice job putting good game plans together.”
Ronnie Bradford is in his first season as Montana’s defensive coordinator. Like Hauck, Bradford spent time in the NFL, and he and Hauck played together with the Broncos in 1995.
Bradford and the defensive staff have built a unit that thrives on blitz pressure and survives on single coverage on the back end. Hauck helps design the scheme for game day.
Bobby Hauck said his brother’s impact with the Grizzlies is best seen in his ability to draw up specifics in the secondary.
“Some of the coverage things he’s added, unless you’re a football coach you might not notice some of the things we’re doing,” Bobby Hauck said. “But some of the coverage things that we’ve done and enhanced this year I would attribute to him. He’s been really beneficial to us. Now we’ve been playing great defense around here for quite a while, but he’s really had an impact on the back end.”
Neither Hauck brother would divulge any particulars with respect to scheme, but it’s obvious Montana’s secondary has shown amazing ability despite the fact that their cornerbacks find themselves on an island in several instances during a given game. Such is the life of a blitz-heavy unit that has eight QB sacks so far in the playoffs.
The Griz defense has picked off 16 passes this year, which ranks in a tie for fourth in the FCS. Leading the way is cornerback Trevin Gradney of Billings West, whose five interceptions are tied for third-most nationally. Corbin Walker, TraJon Cotton, Jaxon Lee and Braxton Hill have two apiece.
Of UM’s secondary, Tim Hauck said: “They do a really nice job. They don’t blink. When we call pressure or when we’re in zone, they’re going to do their dangdest to play the coverage we’re in. They don’t question it, they go out and execute it, and they fight their tails off every single snap.
“We don’t always put them in the best position coverage-wise, but maybe that’s the best position for our defense, the fact that we’re going to have to get pressure and get after a quarterback. I’ve just been extremely happy with the way those guys react to situations. They do what they’re taught to do. I think the fact that they play hard is a factor that’s helped us win a lot of games.”
No. 2-seeded Montana (13-1) has won 10 in a row, but now comes the biggest game of them all — Sunday’s championship tilt with top-seeded South Dakota State (14-0), which brings a 28-game winning streak into the game.
Tim Hauck says UM’s ability to play more physical and aggressive than SDSU will be a key factor, but the Grizzlies’ defensive game plan will be about much more than just brute force. Montana must do something to contain star running back Isaiah Davis and not give veteran quarterback Mark Gronowski time to sit back in the pocket and distribute the ball.
If that happens, and if the secondary can continue to hold up, the defense will have done its part.
One thing we do know is that Tim Hauck is that enjoying a football renaissance with his alma mater as the Griz keep on winning.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “This is something we’ve really been pointing towards for a long time, and it’s taken a while to grow it and get it where we want it. It’s fun to be around. It really is. The excitement of the fans in this city and the state and everything that goes with it has been flat-out amazing.
“And it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s no credit to me. I give the credit to our team and our other coaches. I’m just along for the ride.”