One benefit of a bye week is it affords the Montana football team an opportunity to nitpick.
Or to put it another way, it’s a chance for the fourth-ranked Grizzlies to make something good better with some serious reflection.
Certainly the Maroon and Silver are headed in the right direction, taking a four-game win steak into their FCS home playoff opener on Dec. 7 at noon. Montana (10-2) will play the winner of Saturday’s Bethune-Cookman (10-2) at Coastal Carolina (10-2) game in Conway, S.C.
In the meantime, there’s work to be done. Griz captain Danny Kistler Jr. sees room for improvement on the offensive side.
“I think we need to start a lot faster when we play these better teams,” the senior offensive tackle said. “We need to start a lot faster.
“I think that’s going to come. It’s just a matter of all 11 players executing on every play. If you watch film, it’s always just like one person not doing his job.”
Montana’s slow start put it in a 7-0 hole last Saturday at Montana State. The Griz managed one first down and 11 total yards on 16 offensive plays in the first quarter.
“We took a while to get going, but that happens,” Montana coach Mick Delaney said. “A lot of movement by them. A little bit different types of pressure than we’d seen. Not a lot but enough that it takes a little while to get adjusted to.
“We had some penalties where we shot ourselves in the foot. Any time you get up against a good defensive football team the speed of the game – it usually takes a while to catch up. I think that happened.”
Montana caught up midway through the second period and outscored the Bobcats 28-7 in the final 32 minutes. Key to the 28-14 outcome was the play of the Griz defense, which held the Cats to one offensive score, that coming late in the game.
“It was about as good of defensive football game as I’ve ever been involved with,” Delaney said. “To shut down an offense who had been very prolific ...
“They kind of had been stumbling a little bit but our defense just stymied them. We tackled really well, we covered well, we rushed the passer with four really well. ... Our linebackers ran, they made tackles from sideline to sideline, and our secondary covered and tackled really well.”
Delaney’s biggest concern this week has been special teams.
“We melt down,” he said. “That’s unacceptable and won’t happen again.
“I was very frustrated with that aspect of it because we’ve been so good on special teams throughout the year. To have a punt blocked and a field goal blocked and a punt run back for a touchdown is totally unacceptable. We’ll get that fixed.”
Delaney’s theme for Montana’s bye week has been “rest, rest, rest.” His squad and staff took off for Thanksgiving on Wednesday afternoon and won’t be back on campus until Sunday night.
“I know when I was teaching in high school in the old days, I’d say at the end of the school year, ‘You kids, you think you’re anxious to get out of here, I know you won’t beat me out that door,’” Delaney joked.
Asked if he has done much studying of Montana’s potential foes, the veteran skipper put things in perspective.
“You never want to waste time,” he offered. “By completely looking at both teams it would be a waste of valuable time.
“Both our offense and defense have taken a good look at both teams. But just general stuff, fronts and coverages.”
After watching Saturday’s Bethune-Cookman/Coastal Carolina game, the Griz coaching staff will formulate a game plan. The fact they won’t have to deal with a long travel day like their opponent will be a nice benefit.
One area the Griz are feeling especially good about heading into next week is defense. Montana has allowed one TD in its last 10 quarters and has shown marked improvement stopping the pass.
“With the playoffs looming ahead, we re-dedicated ourselves, re-focused ourselves,” defensive end Zack Wagenmann said. “We’re doing quite a few things well.
“ ... Rushing the passer, we haven’t amassed a ton of sacks but we’re getting to the quarterback, making him move his feet.”
One similarity for Coastal Carolina and Bethune-Cookman is their effectiveness running the football. Both have rushed for over 800 yards more than Montana, which bodes well in frigid conditions at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“We like to say we pride ourselves in stopping the run,” Wagenmann offered. “We’ve been able to do that.”
Quick kicks: Montana’s first playoff game will be shown on ESPN3, a video streaming service. Viewers can watch games on an iPhone, iPad, tablet, Android, computer and through video gaming devices. For more information, log on to: espn.go.com/watchespn/about ... The Bethune-Cookman at Coastal Carolina game starts at 11 a.m. MST. To track it via live stats, log on to goccusports.com ... Coastal Carolina is 6-0 at home.
Bill Speltz can be reached at 523-5255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.