The Montana defense is hitting its stride and answering a few critics’ questions along the way.
A bigger question: Will Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. find his stride – or even find the field – in Saturday’s crucial Big Sky Conference game at Roos Field?
As the guessing game continues through the week – will the Grizzlies face All-American Adams or backup Jordan West? – coach Mick Delaney has a quick answer:
It doesn’t matter who’s under center for the Eagles, because “they really haven’t changed their game plan” since Adams broke two metatarsals in his right foot on Oct. 4.
“They’re a high-scoring outfit, and we’re not going to stop it, just try to slow it down,” said Delaney, whose defense abjectly failed to do that last year in Missoula; Adams completed 27 of 40 passes for a career-high 457 yards while accounting for six touchdowns in a 42-37 Eastern win.
That defense figured to slide a bit with the graduation of several all-conference performers, including linebackers Brock Coyle and Jordan Tripp, and lineman Alex Bienemann. Instead, the 11th-ranked Grizzlies lead the Big Sky in the stats that matter most: scoring offense (20.3 points a game) and total defense (357 yards).
Last week, against a Sacramento State offense that was averaging 39 points a game, the 11th-ranked Grizzlies kept the Hornets out of the end zone until the final minutes of a dominating 31-13 win.
Lost in the stats is Montana’s outstanding defensive performance in the red zone: opponents have scored on 25 of 32 chances, but nine of those have ended with field goals. In other words, rivals have reached the end zone only half the time after crossing the 20.
“We’ve gotten a lot of four-man pressure – which is nice – and we’ve tackled well,” said Delaney, now in his third year in Missoula.
Much that pressure has been applied by senior defensive end Zack Wagenmann, a home-grown Missoulian who leads the conference with 10 ½ sacks. The 6-foot-3, 255 pound Wagenmann has 31 ½ sacks in his career, one off the school record set by Tim Bush,
“He’s been a tremendous leader … a really good student who leads by example – he’s shown that best players are the hardest workers,” Delaney said.
ISU’s Kramer tells it like it is
It’s been a milestone year for Idaho State, which has won two straight road games after failing to win one for eight years. More important, the Bengals are 4-1 in the conference and 6-3 overall – the six wins are the most for the program since 2003.
“Around here, we start every sentence with ‘the last time we …’” joked Kramer, who has the Bengals in contention for their playoff berth since 1983.
Fans are still skeptical – only 6,155 showed up three weeks ago for a 56-28 win over Southern Utah, and Kramer doesn’t blame them even as the Bengals prepare for Saturday’s showdown with No. 21 Cal Poly.
“Our fans are still wondering: is this going to be a collapse … we’re still light years away from establishing a fan base that can be decisive (in influencing a game), said Kramer, who coached at Eastern from 1994-99.
Eagle defense moves up the charts
For the first time this season, the Eastern Washington defense is above average, statistically speaking.
After a dominating 54-3 win over North Dakota, the Eagles rank fifth out of 13 Big Sky teams in total defense, giving up 424.8 yards a game. It’s the same in scoring defense: 30.0 points a game, tied for fifth with Northern Colorado.
Only two weeks ago, the Eagles were seventh in total defense and ninth in scoring defense.
Eastern sophomore Cooper Kupp caught nine passes for 111 yards and TD last week. Kupp has 33 career TD catches in 24 games. He has 12 100-yard receiving games. … Northern Arizona head coach Jerome Souers will try for his 100th career coaching victory on Saturday when the Lumberjacks play host to UC Davis. Souers, in his 17th season with the Lumberjacks, is 99-91. … NAU junior Jordan Perry completed 23-of-29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns in his first career start, rallying the Lumberjacks from a 22-point deficit for a 29-22 road win over Weber State.
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