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Inspiration can take many forms for Griz
Chase Reynolds may be gone and the University of Montana’s quarterbacks may have less than 40 Division I passes among them, but the feeling is still there.
They may have lost two starting safeties - one was all-Big Sky Conference and the other just good enough to get drafted into the NFL - but the Grizzlies are still to be feared.
Encouragement can take many forms. Griz fans may like the way the defense has gotten deeper. Or they may use Mike Breske as a barometer.
Breske yelled a lot following his 2010 return as defensive coordinator under first-year head coach Robin Pflugrad. This year, with newfound depth to go with some great talent, if anything he’s yelling more.
At least that was the case Tuesday. And the defense played well.
The Grizzlies have been predicted to finish third in the Big Sky, which is the lowest prediction by the league’s media and coaches since 1992. The Griz finished tied for third that year.
The coaches picked the Griz to finish fourth in 1991 and they ended up tied for second with Weber State. A 7-4 record kept them out of the playoffs, however, just as it did in 2010.
Of course everything that happened after ‘92 is well-documented: 17 straight postseason berths, seven title game appearances and two national titles.
So what changed? A new coach came in and installed a new offense, but that shouldn’t have made the difference. Pflugrad’s offense isn’t really new, since the high-tempo look was coming into vogue while he was at Oregon.
Northern Colorado, under new coach Earnest Collins, is among many programs going to the spread offense. The Bears can even add a little more altitude to it than the Griz.
“That’s part of it - playing fast to tire out the opponent,” Pflugrad said. “A lot of teams have gone that way. In the national championship at the BCS level, you saw two very similar teams, in Auburn and Oregon, running that type of offense.
“When that happens with all the media attention, you’ll see it kind of filter down.”
The rub is finding the parts to run it. The Grizzlies struggled mightily to get first downs at times last season, and turnovers helped them finish last in the league in time of possession.
Eastern Washington averaged a mundane 28 minutes, 4 seconds of possession a game. That was a little over two minutes more than the Griz - in terms of first downs, maybe one or two a game - but good enough to win the Division I Football Championship.
It doesn’t make the Sept. 24 trip to Sac State any less scary, but it’s doable.
“You look around there’s so much parity,” Pflugrad said on the eve of fall drills. “I think it’s the best league at our level in the country. You look and we’ve played for the national championship the last three years - someone from our conference. To me that’s saying quite a bit.”
In 2008-09 the Big Sky representative was the Griz. Fans can take encouragement in that, and the way UM assistant Bob Beers’ eyes light up when he talks about his guards, and that MSU was picked third in both preseason polls in 2010.
The Cats then won the Big Sky.
“Last year I think we were picked to win it,” Pflugrad noted. “We’re not preparing any different than we did last year or probably any year before.”
Fritz Neighbor, Missoulian