Last year, Montana football played their best ball since they won the Big Sky in 2009. Their only regular season losses were at Northern Arizona and at home to eventual Big Sky Champions Eastern Washington. Even though Montana ultimately lost, the Eastern game was especially promising: down 42-17 with under a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Griz scored 20 straight. If they had recovered the final onside kick, they would have had a chance to complete the comeback. “If”s don’t win football games, but it had to be good for Montana’s confidence to know they could score points on this EWU team.
The Griz made it to the playoffs as an eight-seed, but fell in their first game to Coastal Carolina 42-35.
-Danny Kistler OL – First team FCS All-American
-Cam Warren WR – 38 catches, 513 yards, 3 TDs
-Jordan Tripp LB – First team FCS All-American, 100 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 Sacks, 3 INTs
-Anthony Goodwin CB – 41 tackles, 12 passes broken up, 14 pass defenses, 2 INTs
-Bo Tully S – 54 tackles, 3 INTs
What to Watch For
Experience – Starting QB Jordan Johnson will have almost all of his weapons back. An embarrassment of riches in the form of three of his top five receivers and both of his killer one-two punch of running backs. He should get plenty of opportunities with the ball too – the defense only graduated four players from the unit that finished ninth in the country in red zone defense last season.
The Grizzlies had the second best turnover margin in the FCS last season at +1.4/game. They recovered 27 of the 38 fumbles that hit the turf last year, so regression to the mean says they’re due for a few to not roll their way this season, but they weren’t just covering fumbles – only 1.2% of Jordan Johnson’s 388 passes were intercepted last year. No player who threw more passes had a better interception rate. In fact, over the course of his Montana career, Jordan has thrown 751 passes, and only 14 of them have been intercepted – 1.8%.
Eastern Washington is Montana’s biggest hurdle on the way back to Big Sky supremacy, and the 2014 Eagles might be better than the team that won the conference last year. If the Grizzlies want to return to former glory this season, they’ll have to win in Cheney – not an easy thing to do. They’ll have weapons, experience, and defense, but they might need more than that. We’re predicting another playoff berth, but no conference title for the Griz this season.
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