Perhaps more so than any other team, the key to stopping the Cal Poly offense begins and ends with the quarterback.
No team on the Montana Grizzlies' schedule places as much in the hands of its QB than the Mustangs -- not even the recently dispatched North Dakota State Bison and future NFL passer Carson Wentz. Cal Poly's Chris Brown is it.
He's the perfect engine for the triple option machine.
"He loves playing the position and carrying the football; he loves running the offense that we run," said Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh, whose team squares off with the Grizzlies at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Brown, a fifth-year senior, was bred for the option attack as a running quarterback since his high school days in California. At each of his stops as a prep -- he played at Orange Lutheran, Narbonne and Dominguez high schools, all just south of Los Angeles -- his teams ran some form of the option.
And at each school Brown learned a little more and a little more.
"I'm happy with what we have and we have an offensive coordinator (Saga Tuitele) and quarterbacks coach (Juston Wood) that's on the same page," said Brown, a Compton, California native. "They come up with the right scheme and we know exactly what we're gonna run."
Brown and the Mustangs looked assured in last season's meeting with the Grizzlies, a 41-21 thwarting in San Luis Obispo, California that saw Poly outscore UM 27-7 after the half. The 'Stangs run-first approach could play an even larger role this year against a revitalized Montana offense that hopes to score in bunches.
"It scares the heck out of me this year because an offense like their's where they grind out the clock and shorten the game does not bode well with an uptempo offense that's trying to get a lot of plays," Montana first-year head coach Bob Stitt said.
But what makes Brown so dangerous is he's not strictly a runner. The Griz witnessed it last year when he also threw for a touchdown in that win, one of 12 on the season.
The quarterback rushed for 1,265 yards to lead the team and also threw for 1,465. His coach expects the latter part of Brown's game to be even better in 2015.
"If you look at this maturation from sophomore year to junior year, it's tremendous," Walsh said. "We're hoping that he makes the jump again, maybe throws the ball a little more accurately all the time."
With Brown at the helm the Mustangs are looking for their first two-game winning streak against the Grizzlies in the all-time series, which Montana leads handily, 15-3.
But over the last decade things aren't so one-sided. After dropping the first 10 meetings between 1969 and 2005, Cal Poly has held its own. The Mustangs' first win over Montana came back in 2005, a road playoff game hardly a month removed from a nonconference Grizzly shelling in Missoula during the regular season.
The Griz won the next three in the series but are just 2-2 against Poly since 2010, the home side taking each of those games.
Brown did not play in Montana's slim victory in 2013, a 21-14 game in Missoula that required overtime. The QB was out as linebacker and future pro Jordan Tripp blocked a field goal in the final minutes to set up a game-tying touchdown that forced OT.
In the extra period the Grizzlies won it on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Johnson to Ellis Henderson.
Brown and his teammates enter Washington-Grizzly Stadium this weekend hoping to avoid that kind of disappointment again. But the close calls of years past don't haunt these Mustangs. Today's a new day, Brown said.
"We can't go off of last year, we've got to go off the team they have this year and go against their defense with the type of attitude that we need to put points on the board," Brown said.