With only a handful of practices remaining on the spring schedule, the Montana Grizzlies are looking to perfect their execution on both sides of the ball heading into the team’s second scrimmage of the year, set for Friday at 5 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
In UM’s opening scrimmage last week, the Griz flashed moments of brilliance as the defense scored on a pick-six and the offense posted two touchdowns – one of which became a national sensation as Jerry Louie-McGee front-flipped into the end zone.
But as usual in the first scrimmage of the year, the Griz coaching staff came away from the hit-out with plenty of notes for improvement ahead of this week’s practices, and the team responded.
Montana’s practices on Monday and Wednesday this week were crisp and clinical as the young squad continued to take on the details of the offensive and defensive playbooks.
Heading into Friday’s scrimmage, head coach Bob Stitt is looking for the Griz to show they can apply that progress in a game-like scenario.
“I’d like to see them play Friday night like they’ve been playing in practice. We want to put some pressure on them in those scrimmages. It’s a big stage, and we will have fans here, so we want to see some great execution,” said Stitt.
With the starting linebacker corps sitting out spring drills recovering from injury, Montana’s defense has had a particularly youthful appearance this season, but it hasn’t slowed them down.
Senior defensive end Tucker Schye has, as expected, emerged as one of the unit’s most dominant performers. But while they might not yet be household names, youngsters like Jace Lewis and Vika Fa’atuiese (among others) have shown they have the ability to make an impact when their number is called.
“So far, those young guys have surprised us, quite frankly, as a defensive staff. I expected a lot more missed assignments, that kind of thing,” said second-year defensive coordinator Jason Semore.
“It’s kind of been a blessing because we’ve kept our install this spring very basic. We’re not doing a lot of blitzing, things like that. We’re keeping it basic, but we’re getting really good at the basic stuff, so we’re happy with it so far.”
With Montana’s young defensive stars becoming increasingly comfortable with the system, Semore will look to Friday’s scrimmage as another opportunity focus on the basics, which he says has increased the number of turnovers the defense has produced.
“Good, fundamental, tackling, good block protection, those are the kinds of things we’ll be looking for on Friday,” Semore said.
“We’ve spent a lot of time tackling in the core, tackling out of the core, block protection, things like that. We want to continue to do that, and we want to continue to be effective with takeaways. We’ve had more interceptions this spring than the last three springs combined.”
After Friday’s scrimmage, the Griz will have only two full-pads practices left on the schedule to get in game-ready form before the proverbial lights go on at the annual Spring Game in Butte on April 22.
Montana has been fine tuning the details over the past week, and Stitt wants to make sure that his team is ready to roll when the pressure is on in a road game environment. Last season the Griz struggled on the road at 1-4, with the only win coming against then-ranked No. 3 Northern Iowa.
“I’m really looking forward to the spring game because we’re on the road and we need to learn to play as well on the road as we do at home. There’s going to be a lot of great fans there, and the kids are going to have to perform.”
The 2017 Spring Game presented by Northwestern Mutual is set to kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, at Butte’s historic Naranche Stadium.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children and can be purchased at the Adams Center Box Office, online at GrizTix.com or at the gate on game day.
Proceeds from the spring game support the Grizzly Scholarship Association.
Friday’s scrimmage is free and open to the public.