While it’s way too early to call it pure genius, it’s hard to argue with the results so far.
Last winter, Montana head football coach Mick Delaney ditched the read option offense in favor of a more traditional pro-set scheme. The second-year skipper also opted for two offensive coordinators instead of one, with Kefense Hynson handling the passing game and Scott Gragg the running attack.
“We just felt that we have a great offensive line that’s very huge and very athletic,” Delaney said of changing to a more run-oriented formation.
“That is my background. It’s what I believe in and what coach (Kefense) Hynson and coach (Scott) Gragg believe in. So our whole offensive staff is on the same page with exactly what we’re doing, pass and run.”
Certainly things appeared in sync on Saturday night at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The 13th-ranked Griz posted a 30-6 victory over then-12th Appalachian State with rare offensive balance –246 yards rushing and 251 passing.
“It’s an unusual situation because I think everybody tries to be balanced unless you’re a team that strictly throws the ball or runs the ball,” Delaney said. “In our situation we rushed the ball 52 times and passed the ball 23 so the numbers were not on balance but the yardage was. That’s what you strive for.”
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It’s not just the balance that bodes well for Montana’s future. Or the fact UM racked up 30 points against an athletic defense and would’ve scored more if not for a fumble inside the ASU 5-yard line and a decision to take a knee inside the 5-yard line late in the game.
The time of possession was also encouraging. Montana often lost that battle with its read option because it was so concerned with going no-huddle to catch the defense off guard.
The Griz possessed the ball almost twice as long as the Mountaineers. Montana’s time of possession was 36 minutes and 39 seconds and App State’s was 23:55.
Then there was Griz junior quarterback Jordan Johnson, who completed his first 12 pass attempts and finished 19 for 23 despite the fact he hadn’t played in 21 months. The Oregon product hit Cam Warren on a deep out pattern on his first attempt and before it was over he completed passes to 10 Grizzlies.
“We live together a couple of us and we got back from the game and we were like, man, 10 different guys had catches,” marveled Warren. “That just shows what Jordy is like as a quarterback. He really doesn’t care who you are; if you’re open he’s going to get you the ball.
“He doesn’t go into a play thinking he’s got one receiver he’s going to throw to. He’s going to take what the defense gives him. He doesn’t care about stats or getting a guy happy. He just wants to win.”
Johnson even managed to look good on one of his incompletions. He threw the ball out of the end zone in the second quarter to avoid a costly loss with his team in the red zone.
“He’s a really smart player and he takes care of the ball and makes excellent decisions,” Delaney said. “It’s just great to see the way he is able to run the offense and run a football team.”
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Depending on personal preference, Gragg’s well-devised run game was just as interesting to watch Saturday. Travon Van showed his knack for gaining extra yardage between the tackles with spins and sharp cuts. He and starter Jordan Canada both finished with more than 100 yards.
Gragg, a former standout NFL lineman with the 49ers, also revealed his creative side. At times he used two fullbacks for blocking purposes, with one going in motion. He did the same thing with tight ends and even pressed a few linemen into duty as blockers that set up off the line of scrimmage, including defensive tackle Alex Bienemann and reserve guard Ben Weyer.
“We use two fullbacks in a little different manner with Jamal Wilson and Gavin Hagfors,” noted Delaney. “They both played very well.
“Jamal has a little more size than Gavin so he is an excellent lead blocker. But Gavin can do that also. You’re not asking one guy to stick his face in there 35-40 times a game. Gavin is a little bit more of a motion guy where Jamal will sit a little bit more in a stance. They both really complement what we’re trying to get done as far as fullbacks.”
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After its emotional win over App State, Delaney says Montana’s bye week comes at a good time. The Griz won’t return to action until next Saturday at North Dakota.
“We’ve been driving so hard physically and mentally since January,” the coach said. “Usually you’d like to have it later in the year but I think we put so much emotion into this opening game for a long time.
“We came out and played well but I think a few days off at the beginning of this week and at the very end of the week are huge right now. That’s what we needed.”
QUICK KICKS: Montana starting tight end Clay Pierson broke a bone in his hand against App State and is wearing a cast. Delaney says his status for the UND game is up in the air. His absence means more playing time for freshman Jordan Harper of Great Falls, who had an 11-yard TD catch last Saturday ... Starting defensive tackle Tonga Takai missed Saturday’s game for a violation of team rules but Delaney says he will be in the lineup against UND ... Junior wide receiver Mitch Saylor has recovered quicker than expected from foot/ankle surgery and he had a catch in Saturday’s game.