Saturday in Tennessee: Vols won’t take Griz lightly

2011-09-01T23:45:00Z 2011-09-02T07:18:37Z Saturday in Tennessee: Vols won’t take Griz lightlyBy FRITZ NEIGHBOR of the Missoulian
September 01, 2011 11:45 pm  • 

The Montana Grizzlies have Derek Dooley's attention.

"You're looking at the winningest program in the last decade, in Division I," the Tennessee Volunteers' second-year coach said this week. "They've won about 15 out of 17 conference championships. It's a program we have a lot of respect for."

The Volunteers of the Southeastern Conference host the Griz, ranked No. 12 in the Football Championship Subdivision, Saturday at 4 p.m. MDT.

"It's a prideful program, they have a lot of good football players and you can't do that much if you don't," Dooley said of the Grizzlies, who are coming off a 7-4 season. "When you watch the film, it's no secret why they've had so much success."

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson echoed his coach and referenced a certain 2007 game that made national headlines.

"This team has a lot of potential to beat us, just like Appalachian State beat Michigan," Jackson said. "This is a very respectable team. If anybody takes this team lightly, they're dead wrong."

Jackson said the Griz can look forward to being treated like the big boys in the SEC.

"We're going to go out there ready to play like they're Alabama," he said.

Jackson doesn't need sound bites to attract attention.

"He's just an incredible player and he's got great size," UM coach Robin Pflugrad said of the 6-foot-5, 270-pounder. "We don't have anybody like that on our defensive line. In one game (against Memphis, last season) he intercepted a bubble screen - which we run - and the running back was right by him and he beat the running back to the end zone."

Jackson was actually dragged down after a 44-yard return, but you get the idea.

"We don't want him to have the football, is the point," Pflugrad said.

Tennessee has a Montana connection of sorts in linebackers coach Peter Sirmon, whose brother David played linebacker on the Grizzlies' 1995 FCS title team.

"I've been to Missoula a bunch of times," Sirmon said Wednesday. "I was a senior in high school (in '95) so I saw a lot of games."

He was also recruited by the Griz but went to Oregon, where he starred ahead of a 7-year NFL career, all with the Tennessee Titans. The Washington native settled in Nashville, and is now near home after stints at Central Washington and Oregon as an assistant.

His Ducks' teammate, Justin Wilcox, is Tennessee's defensive coordinator and helped Sirmon land in Knoxville first as a graduate assistant and then as linebackers' coach.

"That's how this worked out," Sirmon.

In 2008 Sirmon was on the sidelines of Washington-Grizzly Stadium with Central Washington, which lost to the Griz 38-35 on Brody McKnight's 42-yard field goal.

"That was a clutch field goal at the end," he said. "It was obviously a great environment to play a football game, and we tried to give them everything we had and just fell a little bit short."

The forecast calls for a high of 98 degrees in Knoxville on Saturday. It won't be much cooler than that at kickoff, which is at 6 p.m. Eastern time.

"I think we have to play a lot of players in this particular game, and probably the early part of the season," Pflugrad said. "Not only because of not knowing exactly where we are at a few spots, but for the ability to stay fresh.

"That (depth) will be a key issue in the state of Tennessee, with the humidity, the crowd and the excitement."

QUICK KICKS: Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter sported a red non-contact jersey Wednesday, though Dooley said it was precautionary. ... Vols' special teams coach Eric Russell quarterbacked at Spokane Falls Community College and graduated from Idaho. ... The Griz are ranked No. 12 in The Sports Network FCS Top 25, but aren't in Craig Haley's initial playoff bracket. Montana State, Sacramento State and defending champion Eastern Washington are.


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