The Montana Grizzlies are suffering through their most difficult season in two decades. And while mistakes and costly turnovers seem to keep haunting the Griz, the opponents don’t get any easier either.
On Saturday, the Griz (1-3, 3-4) will attempt to win their second Big Sky Conference game of the season when they go on the road to face a high-powered North Dakota team in Grand Forks.
Montana is coming off a shocking 30-20 home loss to Southern Utah in which the Grizzlies led 17-3 at halftime but surrendered a 20yard gain on an obvious fake punt, then the game-winning field goal with just two minutes left in the fourth quarter. In the second half against the Thunderbirds, Montana gained just 97 yards of offense and scored three points – a trend which has badgered the Griz all season long.
“That’s one of the things we’re struggling with, is the third and fourth quarter,” said UM coach Mick Delaney said Tuesday. “And not as much third as the fourth. It’s been a trademark of Grizzly football, the fourth quarter. We’ve had a couple where we’ve had a turnover or two, or something has happened on the defensive side, or last week on special teams.”
Montana is also struggling this season with opposing team’s passing games and that’s exactly what UND does best. North Dakota is the second-highest scoring team in the Big Sky, averaging 37 points per game, while the passing attack averages 270. The Griz are surrendering over 260 yards passing per game this season.
UND employs a two-quarterback system with North Carolina transfer Braden Hansen as the pocket passer, and Marcus Hendrickson as the dual-threat QB. UND also has a bevy of talented wideouts with speed and size.
On the other hand, Montana is hoping its huge offensive line and it’s running game can offset UND’s passing attack. Dan Moore will likely miss a third straight game with a high ankle sprain, but the Griz are still sixth in the FCS in rushing at over 250 yards per outing. Senior Peter Nuygen is currently fourth in the big Sky in rushing, and sophomore Jordan Canada looks to be fully recovered from a hamstring injury now. Freshman QB Trent McKinney is third on the Griz in rushing and has scored a team-high seven touchdowns on the ground.
But for Montana, which has all but been eliminated from the Big Sky title race eight seven games into the season, to right the ship against UND, it’s going to take a complete effort, something the Griz haven’t seen much of this season. Except for in wins against Liberty and Big Sky bottom-dwellar Northern Colorado, UM has been drastically out-scored in the second half, and is -3 in turnover margin.
Saturday’s game between Montana and UND kicks off at 1:30 p.m. at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. The game can be seen locally on Root Sports Northwest. The fifth-ranked Montana State Bobcats have a bye this week.