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Montana Preview: Offense

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Sean Davis

The Griz return eight starters from a 2016 offense that averaged 482 yards per game. A quick look at their performance last week in their 45-23 win over Valparaiso includes 538 yards of total offense, with 399 of those coming through the air. Here’s a summary of what Husky fans can expect to see from Montana’s offense on September 9th.

Offensive scheme:

Airrrrrrr raiddddddd - Head coach Bob Stitt runs an offensive system that is renowned as one of the best finesse spread offenses in the country. What makes it dangerous is Stitt’s ingenuity and clever play calling lead to an especially explosive offense. Not unlike our friends (bitter enemies) on the Palouse, this fast-paced offense is pass-first, pass-often and ideally never run... but sometimes run. Stitt takes the spread to a new level, with splits that are wider than most you will see. This is of course, all in an effort to spread defenders so wide that zone coverage becomes very difficult to execute. However, if a defense widens out too much and pulls defenders from the box, Stitt will attack with zone runs. Screens will happen. Trick plays are certainly in the cards. Stitt is a creative mind who should be comended for the offensive shows that his teams put on. This should be great practice for the Huskies' young secondary and a fun matchup to watch.

Quarterback:

Last week against Valparaiso, Reese Phillips (6’2”, 212 lbs.) had a very productive first start of his college career. The redshirt senior who transferred from Kentucky and was the Griz’s backup in 2016 threw for 381 yards, completing 27-38 passes including four touchdowns. Not much is known about Phillips due to the lack of available game film. Watching some film from last week, Phillips appears to be an accurate pocket passer who makes few mental mistakes. That said, he did manage to throw one pick and fumbled once in last week’s game. Phillips won the starting QB job over a handful of younger QB options, none of whom brought the same level of experience within Stitt’s system to the table. Reportedly, that was deciding factor in Phillips winning the job.

Running backs:

One of the beautiful things about an effective passing game is its ability to open up the run game. See Jeremy Calhoun (6’0”, 203 lbs.), Montana’s second-leading scorer last season who had 20 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns last week. Calhoun is the workhorse of the Montana running game, but due to the rapid pace of their offense, several other RBs will see the field against the Dawgs. Junior Alijah Lee (5’6”, 197 lbs.), a former Coug, had 9 touches last week for 26 yards. Also keep an eye out for senior Treshawn Favors (5’9”, 194 lbs.) who had three carries last week but could see an increase in playing time moving forward.

Wide receivers/Tight ends:

Montana has six returning receivers from 2016 who totaled 211 catches for 2,475 yards, or nearly 70% of Montana’s passing offense last season. Their top returning wideout is sophomore Jerry “Mr. Electricity” Louie-McGee. He was the team’s leading receiver last season and plays the “Z”, or inside receiver position for the Griz. More recently, he had 9 receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s game against Valparaiso. Junior Keenan Curran (6’2”, 203 lbs.) had a team-high 10 receiving touchdowns and was third on the team with 40 catches and 601 receiving yards in 2016. Perhaps most notably, he led the team with a 15 yards-per-catch average. He’ll likely be the main outside receiving threat that the Huskies face and had a touchdown catch last week.

The next most notable returning receiver is sophomore Justin Calhoun (5’10”, 174 lbs.). Calhoun had a breakout freshman campaign where he amassed 42 catches for 625 yards, good enough for the second-most receiving yards on the team. With such a pass-heavy attack, there will likely be a bunch of wideouts that see playing time in this game, but two other names to keep an eye on include Kobey Eaton (6’3”, 180 lbs.) and Lamarriel Taylor (6’2”, 198 lbs.). There’s enough talent here that there are even several redshirt freshmen receivers I’d like to talk about... but it’s Montana so I’m done with this position group now.

Montana uses “H” backs, which is a hybrid tight end/fullback position. They have two returning seniors at the position, including former QB Makena Simis (6’2”, 235 lbs.) and their most seasoned returning pass-catcher, Josh Horner (6’5”, 232 lbs.).

Offensive line:

I’m going to be honest on this one, I can’t tell you how good Montana’s offensive line is. I really can’t tell you much about it at all. Little has been written about them and there’s only so much you can take away from one game’s worth of highlights. People at Montana seem to be optimistic about it, so take that for what it’s worth. They’re returning three starters from last season. As far as FCS linemen go, they’re far from undersized at 6’7” 301 lbs., 6’4” 300 lbs. and 6’5” 324. By the way, those dimensions are for right tackle David Reese, center Cooper Sprunk and left guard Angel Villanueva. Big bodies don’t make good athletes, but the size certainly doesn’t hurt. For what it’s worth, they managed to keep Phillips clean last week, but Valparaiso’s D is nothing to write home about.

If you’re dying to know more about Montana’s offense, here are their highlights against Valparaiso:

I just wrote 800 words about the Montana Grizzlies' offense. I need a beer. Can’t wait for next Saturday.

Go Dawgs.