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Montana learned lessons from last year's Cal Poly game
Montana coach Robin Pflugrad looks at Montana’s 35-23 win over Cal Poly last season and sees some of the same red flags he saw in the Grizzlies’ 73-2 demolition of Western State.
“I’ve watched it a couple of times, and I think we can come away with some things,” Pflugrad said of the 2009 matchup against the Mustangs. “We didn’t run the ball extremely well, and I think that was true of this past weekend against Western State.”
As a warmup to their game at Cal Poly on Saturday (7:05 p.m. MDT), the No. 1 Grizzlies averaged 3.8 yards per rush in their opener. Pflugrad noted that, “Without some of our longer runs by (Gerald) Kemp, it would’ve been even less than that.”
Kemp had bursts of 20 and 46 yards against the Mountaineers, while Chase Reynolds had a couple nice runs on the way to 40 yards on eight carries.
A year ago Reynolds gained 100 of his 109 yards in the second half against Cal Poly.
“Marc Mariani had two incredible plays,” Pflugrad said of the game, in which Mariani had touchdown receptions covering 85 and 68 yards. “Other than those two plays, we did not really sustain drives until the fourth quarter.”
Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh remembers the game much the same way.
“Last year we played very well for 35 minutes, and the last 25 minutes they flat wore us out,” Walsh said.
Pflugrad can hope for the same again, but he’d like a quicker start offensively. The Griz led Western State 21-0 in a blink, but two touchdowns came via interception returns.
“We don’t know exactly know what we need to get better at in some cases, because of how well the defense played and what great field position Peter (Nguyen) gave us.”
“It was kind of a weird game,” said quarterback Andrew Selle, who threw for two touchdowns. “We score on the third play of the game, and before we step on the field again it’s 21-0. It was kind hard to get into a solid rhythm.
“We’re obviously not always going to be lucky enough to have a couple pick-sixes and to be up 21-0 before we step on the field again.”
Walsh, in his second season at Cal Poly, has some notable four-year “drop-downs” including Matt Singletary and Dominique Johnson.
Singletary, a 250-pound defensive end, began his career at Baylor - the alma mater of his father, 49ers coach and Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary.
Matt Singletary played two seasons at Baylor, including one as a fullback. He requested a move back to defensive end in 2009 and made just two tackles.
Johnson, meanwhile, put up solid numbers at UCLA in 2007-08 (he caught 59 passes as a Bruin) before his transfer.
He traded one highly rated academic institution for another, but with a little different, option-based offense.
“I knew a little bit about it,” said Johnson. “I found out the way things were run up here, with (receiver) Ramses Barden and the way they’ve played the last few years and decided it was good fit for me.”
Johnson more or less picked up where Barden, now with the New York Giants, left off by making 43 catches last fall.
“I’ve had good experiences with players who come from four-year schools,” said Walsh, who started three drop-downs on his 2006 Portland State defensive line, and had another in Adam Heyward. Heyward came to PSU from Colorado State looking for playing time, and is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Johnson, 6-foot-4, has fit in.
“From Day 1 he was comfortable,” said Walsh. “He’s going to graduate after winter quarter, he’s going to catch a lot of balls, we hope, and he’s been a pleasure to be around.”
Johnson sat out Cal Poly’s opener with Humboldt State because of a snafu at UCLA: He played in a game as a freshman, then redshirted and was suspended for two games. That penalty was under appeal when he left UCLA, and was reduced to one game at Cal Poly. He served it last Saturday.
One other thing: None of his 43 catches in 2009 came against Montana. He had a shoulder injury.
“That was the one game I couldn’t play,” he said. “We put up a good fight up there last year. We’re all excited to get back and get a chance to redeem ourselves this year.”
Walsh knows Montana played a lesser opponent last weekend, and that’s what impressed him about the game.
“No. 1, UM is very, very good,” Walsh said. “No. 2, they did what you’re supposed to do. When they play somebody who’s inferior to them, they beat them the way they should beat them.”
Cal Poly, on the other hand, struggled with its Division II opponent, Humboldt State. The Mustangs outscored the Lumberjacks 16-0 in the second half to win, 23-17.
“There isn’t any question we didn’t play with the emotion we wanted them to have coming out in the first game,” Walsh said. “As far looking past that game and at Montana, is it possible? It’s possible. But I give credit to Humboldt State.”
QUICK KICKS: Montana’s Nguyen is second in the Big Sky Conference in punt returns. Tavoy Moore of ISU averaged 26.5 yards on two returns last week against UM-Western, while Nguyen averaged 24.8 yards on six returns against Western State. … Griz DT Tyrone Duncan is the early sack leader in the Big Sky. He’s the only one with two. … UM is ranked fourth in the Sagarin ratings among FCS teams. … Big Sky teams beat up on four RMAC opponents, including Western State, by a total score of 233-12 the first weekend.
By Fritz Neighbor, The Missoulian