Griz fall flat in 30-23 home loss to Idaho, first of the season
(Gogriz.com) Montana's perfect season came to an end Saturday against the rival Idaho Vandals. The visitors controlled the clock and, in turn, the game, winning 30-23 to retake the Little Brown Stein. The loss drops Montana to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Big Sky play.
The Grizzlies struggled to get anything going offensively in a game that saw them possess the ball for under 20 minutes. The Idaho offense utilized long huddles and snapped deep in the play clock all day, keeping the ball in their own hands for over 42 minutes.
"It always starts with the head coach, and obviously, I did not do a good enough job this week," said Head Coach Bobby Hauck. "I don't want to talk away something from a great win by Idaho, who came in here and beat us today, but if we do the things we did today, we aren't going to beat anybody."
Montana's defense was solid in the effort, once again holding the opposing offense under 400 yards. Idaho did most of their damage through the air, passing for 286 yards and a couple of scores. The Grizzlies had two sacks and 13 tackles for loss as they limited the Vandal running attack.
Marcus Welnel put forth a massive effort, finishing with 16 tackles and three tackles for loss. Levi Janacaro (11 tackles, four TFL) and Robby Hauck (10 tackles) also reached double-digit tackle numbers, while Patrick O'Connell had eight tackles, a half sack, and an interception in another great all-around game.
The offense just never found its rhythm. Montana had season lows in yards with 220 and total plays with just 56. The Grizzlies also turned the ball over twice, both of which came during a comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.
Lucas Johnson passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns but was picked off twice and completed only 54 percent of his passes. The running game couldn't get going, as no player had more than four carries. As a team, Montana ran for just 34 yards in the game.
The Vandals, who were receiving top 25 votes already, remained undefeated against FCS competition with the win. They are 4-0 against FCS teams and 3-0 in Big Sky play. One major factor on the day was third-down conversions. Idaho converted eight at a 44 percent rate; Montana just four on 36 percent. It allowed the time of possession to shift to Idaho's favor.
"Every play they were bleeding it down. They were trying to run the ball. Even when they weren't rushing the ball successfully, they were keeping the clock running," Hauck said. "They played better in third down than we did and that's where the game was won and lost. If we get off the field or convert on third down ourselves and can maintain possession, it's a whole different ball game."
Idaho struck first with a field goal, although they had been inside Montana's red zone. O'Connell and Levi Janacaro combined to sack Vandal quarterback Gevani McCoy for a 13-yard loss. It forced a 47-yard field goal, which Idaho made to cap a 12-play, 49-yard drive.
The Grizzlies got their first burst of the game from Malik Flowers, taking an end-around rush 25 yards to set Montana up in Vandal territory. Johnson then found Flowers through the air for another big gain and, more importantly, a first down in the red zone.
Bergen delivered the highlight of the game on the next play. The slot receiver found space up the seam, and Johnson floated a ball to the back of the end zone. At full stretch, Bergen made a one-handed, fingertip grab while sliding down just before the end line. The score gave Montana the lead at the first quarter break 6-3 after Idaho blocked the PAT.
The Vandal offense put together another decent drive and found their way into Grizzly territory on the ensuing drive, but Montana rose to the challenge yet again. They forced Idaho backward and into a missed 53-yard field goal.
Montana's offense stalled out and had to punt from deep inside their own territory. The snap went through the hands of the Grizzly punter, who was taken down in the end zone for a safety. It looked as if the momentum was shifting toward Idaho, who took the ball after the free kick and moved quickly into Griz territory.