On the evening of Sept. 10, Montana's starting quarterback sat a thousand miles from home dejected and battered from 60 minutes of big hits and poor play against Northern Iowa.
"... Hopefully the narrative every week isn't 'Griz defense bails out offense,'" Brady Gustafson said at the post-game press conference after a 20-14 victory in which UM's offense was absent for the second half.
Though only a month ago, it feels like well over a year has passed. In the three games since, the Griz are averaging 51 points and more than 500 yards of offense. Efficient and surgical, Montana has put on three straight offensive shows. Two of which went down as blowout victories.
"It seems like we're getting better every week or we're certainly trending that way," said Gustafson, who after throwing for just 118 yards at UNI has 1,084 with 10 touchdowns since. "We just have to keep it up now. Every week is a new challenge."
Little has changed for the Griz (4-1) in terms of what the team is running. Montana is still pushing the tempo in its no huddle offense and still throwing the ball with high regularity. The Grizzlies are simply doing it better recently.
Efficiency has been key, quarterbacks coach Andrew Selle said.
"We've had quite a bit of continuity and from Day 1 of fall camp, just been getting tons and tons of reps of the same things and really getting a grasp on it," he said. "Doing the same stuff and just executing it. Partially it's from Brady's standpoint and being more efficient."
That means longer drives for scores. The Griz converted third downs at a 50-percent clip (25-50) in that stretch -- UM is 42 percent (34-81) for the year -- and avoid negative plays. After giving up five sacks in the first two games, UM's offensive line has limited defenses to four in the past three.
The national FCS offensive rankings are now littered with Montana appearances. The Griz hold the No. 6 scoring offense at 42.4 points per game and the No. 15 offense in terms of yardage at a 454.2 average.
The passing attack deserves the most credit, where Montana is No. 7 with 322.8 yards per game. The bulk of that is Gustafson, a 6-foot-7 senior from Billings who now has 1,555 yards passing to go with 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He is completing 65.9 percent (137-208) of his passes.
Stretches of 16 and 17 consecutive completions against Cal Poly and Mississippi Valley State have helped that percentage climb.
But there's been sustained success. It started in UM's tight 42-41 loss to Cal Poly, then carried over to a 43-20 win against Southern Utah before last week's 67-7 throttling of MVSU.
"If you continue to have success then you get more confident as an offensive team," Griz head coach Bob Stitt said. "We're a quarterback-driven offense and our quarterbacks are doing very well.
"... It's starting to get fun, but it starts over every week. You've got to keep the pressure on yourself to prepare in a way to be successful."
The next round of preparation has already begun for Saturday's opponent, Sacramento State.
This week's receivers
With redshirt freshman Z receiver Jerry Louie-McGee out, junior James Homan will again start in his place. That frees up opening-day starter Keenan Curran to regain his position on the outside.
Homan was slowed by a banged-up shoulder to start the year but overtook Curran at the X receiver position and posted a 100-yard game with a touchdown in hist first start two weeks back. He moved inside to Z last week and both players impressed. Homan had six catches and a TD while Curran caught two balls, both for scores.
"Keenan didn't get a lot of playing time (against Southern Utah) and I'm sure he was disappointed in that," Stitt said. "Now we've got to move James to Z so Keenan got another chance and look how he responded. I was really proud of him."
Homan's duties have shifted in his temporary position change, but he's just happy to be on the field, he said, after having just one catch for 4 yards in the first two weeks.
"On the outside you can get one catch for 50 yards. On the inside you've kind of got to work for it," he said comparing the WR types. "You get a little pass and you have to make the stuff happen."
Redshirt freshman Justin Calhoun and junior Josh Horner are expected to start at Montana's other two receiver spots.
Kicking it up a notch
The only area in which the Griz have struggled to score recently is in the kicking game. After being perfect in the first two games, UM has missed four PATs and two field goals since.
The Griz had two PATs go awry last week alone.
Stitt said Tim Semenza is still the team's guy and the appearance of fellow redshirt freshman Brandon Purdy at the end of the MVSU game was purely for the latter's benefit because of the blowout. After Semenza missed his second PAT, Purdy came on to kick one late. He also added a 38-yard field goal.
"Brandon needed to get some kicks late in the game and we wanted to get him some confidence in case we ever needed him," Stitt said. "(Semenza) is gonna be fine. He's a very good kicker and he's very competitive."
Semenza has made 8 of 9 field goals and is 22 of 26 on PATs.