Montana defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak mingled with fans on the turf of Washington-Grizzly Stadium for a good 30 minutes following the Grizzlies’ homecoming win over Portland State on Saturday.

Bathed in the late-afternoon sun of a gorgeous early autumn day, Gregorak looked like a man without a trouble in the world.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Gregorak was proud of his defense’s performance, mind you, but he knows there’s work to be done.

The Griz totally bottled up the Vikings’ ground game. DJ Adams, a senior transfer from Maryland, came into Saturday averaging 123 yards a game. He was held to 79 rather meaningless yards by a Griz defense that was torched just a week ago by Northern Arizona’s Zach Bauman.

With nowhere to go on the ground, the Vikings aired it out 41 times and amassed 396 yards via the pass. In all, PSU had 18 plays that gained more than 10 yards.

“I couldn’t even tell you statistically what just happened,” Gregorak said.

For starters, Portland State ended up with 511 yards of offense.

“I would’ve said that,” the affable Gregorak said with a chuckle. “I would’ve hoped it was less than that. Obviously, we gave up too many yards. I told the defense Sunday night … I don’t like the bend-don’t-break thing. That’s not us. Unfortunately, it has kind of been us.”

To be fair, the defense came up with some big stops and turnovers that kept the Griz comfortably ahead thanks to an offense that was clicking on all cylinders. Twice the Vikings had first-and-goal and were turned back without a point. Four times the Griz came up with turnovers, scoring a touchdown on Jordan Tripp’s fumble recovery in the end zone.

“I was very, very proud of the way we came out and played in the second half,” Gregorak said of a defense that allowed just one touchdown after intermission, that coming on a 71-yard pass play to Victor Dean with the Griz safely ahead 55-20. “There’s a little sour taste in my mouth after the 71-yard touchdown when Josh (Dennard) gets beat over the top. But listen, give (Dean) some credit. He probably shouldn’t be at our level. He’s 6-foot-6 and can run. That being said, they were really attacking our zone coverages in the first half and moving the ball against us.”

Remember, the Griz defense surrendered just 23 points in two wins to start the season. And as disheartening as last week’s loss at Northern Arizona was, 14 of NAU’s 34 points were scored against the Grizzlies’ offense.

“I do believe improvement has been made,” Gregorak said. “Josh (Dennard) has had a lot going on in his life. He lost his uncle last week before the NAU game. Having Matt (Hermanson) not a part of our team last week hurt us and he knows it. No one feels worse about it than him; having him back this week helps.”

One thing that gets Gregorak’s dander up is poor tackling. He’s not happy with what he’s seeing.

“I don’t like it right now, I just don’t,” he said. “I’m sorry, but we tackled very poorly last week. ... We have to become a great tackling team. We work on it all week. There were missed tackles today. I haven’t counted them, but I promise you I will in the morning. We have to become a great tackling team.”

The coaching staff wasn’t deaf to the grumbling among Griz fans after the loss at Northern Arizona. Is this the same Griz team that humbled Appalachian State to start the season?

“When you lose, a lot of people will start doubting what we’re doing and what we’re trying to get done here,” Gregorak said. “We have a really, really good coaching staff. We’re trying everything in our power to get wins. We’re 4-1, 1-1 in the conference and I know it’s a cliché to say, but all of our goals are still in front of us.

“It’s 55-27, it was a good game. You can’t beat it – it’s a beautiful day, it’s homecoming; life is good. Are there a lot of corrections to be made? Absolutely. I know we gave up too many yards. I don’t ever want to be known as a bend-but-don’t-break defense. I think we have the ability to be better than that. We’ll get better next week.”

Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or at sportsdesk@missoulian.com.

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