With the exception of one forgettable night in Flagstaff, Ariz., the Montana offense has been close to unstoppable.
In fact, even when the unit wasn’t clicking at Northern Arizona two weeks ago, you could argue it stopped itself with three crucial fumbles.
Armed with the most efficient quarterback in the Football Championship Subdivision and an imposing offensive line, the 11th-ranked Grizzlies will invade UC Davis on Saturday for a crucial Big Sky Conference game.
Statistically speaking, it doesn’t seem likely the Aggies’ four-cylinder offense can score with the eight-cylinder Grizzlies. Montana (1-1 conference, 4-1 overall) averages 40.6 points and 484.8 yards per game. Davis (2-0, 2-4) averages 14.2 points and 318.8 yards per game.
“You look at their offense and they have three tailbacks that are capable of scoring from anywhere on the field,” UC Davis first-year coach Ron Gould said of Travon Van, Jordan Canada and Joey Counts.
“They have a quarterback (Jordan Johnson) that’s very dynamic. They do a little read option with him. The guy gets out of the pocket and he can hurt you with his athleticism.”
You might argue Gould is buttering up Montana so his Aggies can devour them on Saturday. On the other hand, he may actually be impressed by a scoring machine the likes of which his team hasn’t seen all season.
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Montana has been especially good early in its games, scoring 75 first-quarter points. Continuing that trend would be highly beneficial this weekend because it would help defuse Davis’ homecoming crowd.
“We’d like to be able to establish our run,” Montana coach Mick Delaney said. “Then your play-action pass and those type of things become very effective.
“I think our offensive line is very good. You know we’ll be tested again this week as we were at Northern Arizona with guys that just play really solid, physical defense. They will pressure a little but they’re going to play hard and get off the blocks. We’ve got to be able to block their front seven and run the football.”
The Griz ran the ball better than they have all season in a 55-27 win over Portland State last week, piling up 378 yards. That performance came on the heels of their most anemic rushing game against Northern Arizona.
“Compared to NAU we were really verbal this past week, not missing assignments,” Montana left guard Trevor Poole said of the UM offensive front. “The more we talk the better we are.
“Having good technique, having each other’s back, having Kjelby in the middle ...,” Poole added, referring to senior center Kjelby Oiland, who has been in and out of the lineup with a hamstring injury. “He’s our quarterback of the line.”
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Montana’s consistency on offense has everything to do with Johnson. The junior’s passing accuracy (66 for 110, no interceptions) is unparalleled in the Big Sky.
“No. 1 he’s such an intelligent young man as far as football goes,” related Delaney. “He really understands coverages and protections and pressure, blitzes, etc.
“Up to this point he’s done a great job of making the right decision. He’s not going to force the ball in somewhere if there’s a chance of getting it picked off. When it’s not there he’s probably a better runner than most people think.”
Johnson didn’t run the ball much in Saturday’s win over Portland State. But when he did, he was extremely effective.
All three of his attempts came in the first quarter. They were good for 32 total yards, helping his team build a 21-13 lead. His elusiveness made him a tough target to pin down as the Vikings failed to record a sack all afternoon.
This week Johnson and the Griz offense will be put to the test by a defense that has had uncanny success on third down. The Aggies lead the league in that department, allowing just 27 first downs on 90 third-down attempts.
“They seem to be forcing a lot of teams into third-and-long,” noted Delaney. “Any time you get an offense in those yardage situations you ought to win a good percentage of them.
“We’ve got to be productive on first down.”
QUICK KICKS: Saturday’s game has been switched from Max Media to Root Sports Northwest due to a conflict with the Major League Baseball playoffs on Max Media's Fox affiliates. Max Media will still produce the coverage but it will be available on Root channels (in Missoula that includes Charter channels 60 and 560, DirecTV channel 687 and DISH channel 426) ... Davis ranks second in the Big Sky in pass defense, allowing 192.2 yards per game on average ... Southern Utah was 1 for 4 in the red zone against Davis last week in a 21-3 win by the Aggies. Prior to Saturday, SUU was 19 for 20 in the red zone.