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QB says Griz goals still attainable
Besides being the most efficient passer in the Big Sky Conference, Jordan Johnson is also a bit of a historian.
At least he is when it comes to his Montana football team. The Grizzlies’ surprising setback at Northern Arizona Saturday had a familiar feel for the junior signal caller.
“It really reminded me of two years ago at Sacramento State,” he said of a night in which far too little went right. “The same type of feeling.
“It hurts to lose but the bottom line is everything we want to achieve we still can. We just have to get that in our minds.”
In case you’ve forgotten, Montana used its 2011 loss at Sac State as fuel for a fire, responding with a nine-game win streak. That propelled the Griz into the FCS playoff semifinal round.
This year’s 10th-ranked Grizzlies have a long way to go before they can talk playoffs, but they’ll try to take a big step in the right direction Saturday when they play host to high-powered Portland State at 1:35 p.m. The Vikings may not have a ranking or a recent string of wins over Montana the way Northern Arizona does, but they’re dangerous.
They boast the most lethal offense in the Big Sky, averaging 41 points and 587 yards per contest. Sophomore quarterback Kieran McDonagh ranks ahead of Johnson with 266.2 yards passing per game. Running back DJ Adams, a Maryland transfer, has been even better than Northern Arizona’s Zach Bauman, averaging 123.4 rushing yards per game with seven touchdowns.
“They’re in the pistol constantly, so their scheme is to run the ball first and pass second,” Montana coach Mick Delaney said. “They do a nice job of it.
“They’ve run the ball against everybody they’ve played. (Against) Cal, that game (on Sept. 7) they were up 30-27 I think late in the fourth quarter or right close to there and ended up losing. Last week against Cal Poly they put up 34, so they’re capable of putting up big numbers.”
Portland State (0-1 conference, 3-2 overall) is on par with Montana (0-1, 3-1) in that neither squad has beaten a team with a winning record. Two of the Vikings’ wins have come over NCAA Division II opponents.
After losing handily at Northern Arizona, 34-16, Montana has reviewed a lot of film in the early part of this week. The goal is to learn from the experience so it does not happen again.
Some of the numbers were disturbing from Montana’s point of view: Johnson was sacked five times by Northern Arizona’s nimble defense after being sacked just once in the first three contests. Montana coughed up fumbles three times in the first 31 minutes, with two going for touchdowns. And the Griz finished with just 55 yards rushing.
“As an offensive lineman and one of the seniors, it sucks to see that happen, how horrible we played,” Montana senior guard William Poehls said. “There’s things we need to work on.
“They were quick and relatively athletic. Probably some of the more athletic and quick defensive interior guys we’ve gone against so far. Maybe it threw some of us off just how quick they are. I thought they were underrated-ly quick.”
Montana’s defense, which still ranks No. 1 in the Big Sky allowing an average of 17.8 points per game, surrendered 416 yards to Northern Arizona and rookie quarterback Kyren Poe. There were some positives – NAU was 5 for 14 on third down conversion attempts and didn’t score a TD in the final three periods – but the game was still a wake-up call.
“Tackling for sure stands out in my mind,” Grizzly defensive end Tyrone Holmes said. “We have to be more sure-tackling this week. Then we have to come out ready to play and can’t allow someone to punch us first.”
Delaney had a positive message for his troops to start homecoming week.
“We’re the same group of guys – coaches and players – that got on the plane Friday morning sitting seventh in the country at 3-0,” he said. “Nothing has changed from that direction. We got back to work Sunday night and took a good hard look at the film. Every guy evaluated himself and saw the areas we needed to try to clean up.”
The Griz can’t afford many more slip-ups if they expect to reach their goal of a conference championship.
“I said at the beginning I thought the team that won it would have two losses and that could still very well be the case,” Delaney said. “There’s by no stretch any easy football in front of us.
“Everything is going to be a dogfight from here on out. Every team we play that’s left on the schedule is playing very good football. A bunch of us still have to play each other. We’ll see what happens.”
NOTES: Montana has won its last seven meetings with Portland State … The Vikings have not won at Washington-Grizzly Stadium since 1987 … The Griz lead their series with Portland State, 27-11 … Despite its three fumbles Saturday, Montana is still plus-4 in turnover margin, which ranks third in the Big Sky. Portland State ranks ninth in the league in that department at minus-4 … The game will air on ROOT Sports (in Missoula that includes Charter channels 60 and 560, DirecTV channel 687 and DISH channel 426).