Montana started this season as one of the hottest teams in the FCS. With Bobby Hauck returning as head coach and Dalton Sneed taking the reigns at quarterback, the Grizzlies were off to a 4-1 start with a season-opening win against No. 13 Northern Iowa. The lone loss came at Western Illinois where they gave up two touchdowns in the last six minutes to lose 31-27. Other than that, Montana was rolling.
Then Saturday happened.
The Griz are still sitting fine at 4-2. But this team needs to regroup and rebound. And it needs to right now.
This is a program that's seen hot starts cool off the previous two years and cost Montana a chance at the playoffs. And this program doesn't watch the playoffs from home for two straight seasons.
Look what happened in 2016 and 2017.
|First 7 Games
|Last 4 Games
Fast starts are nothing new for the Griz. But finishing seasons has been a struggle. Both 2016 and 2017 ended with painful one-possession losses to heated rival Montana State, which ultimately put the final nail in their playoff coffin.
Hauck is tasked with changing that culture around. There's a big psychological difference between "we're one of the hottest teams in the FCS right now" and "oh no, this better not be happening again."
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So this is a turning point in the season. The next two games are against playoff-caliber teams with a trip to North Dakota and hosting UC Davis. Then it's at Southern Utah and Idaho, two winnable games, but nothing comes easy on the road. And the regular season ends with a home bout against Montana State, who also is aiming for the postseason.
It's gut-check time for the Griz. A rebuilding year was expected as Hauck transforms the roster and style of play to his liking. But the 4-1 start brought bigger playoff expectations from the fan base. This team needs to get momentum back on its side after being on the wrong end of the biggest upset this season.
It's a matter of if the Griz fall back to previous year's habits, or a better winning culture has been established in the locker room.