VERMILLION, S.D. – Conventional wisdom suggests Montana has more to play for Saturday and that will sway the pendulum its way.
But don’t tell that to Griz coach Mick Delaney.
While his 10th-ranked team is fighting for a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, he believes upset-minded South Dakota has an equally powerful source of motivation for their 12:07 p.m. tilt. The Coyotes have a rare opportunity to salute their gregarious head coach by beating his former team in front of what promises to be a large crowd at the DakotaDome.
“They’re out of their conference championship, out of the playoffs with their record,” Delaney said of the Coyotes, “so their World Series, Super Bowl and national championship is this Saturday with (coach) Joe Glenn playing against his old school that he led to a national championship.
“We’ll have to play every bit as well as we possibly can to come out of there with the victory.”
Both teams have had serious issues defending the pass. The one that best addresses the problem will likely come out on top in the nonconference clash.
The Griz (7-2) have allowed opposing quarterbacks to establish school passing records the past two weekends. In one instance Montana managed to win – a 51-48 overtime decision last Saturday at Sacramento State. In the other instance, the Griz suffered a rare home loss to Eastern Washington.
The Coyotes (4-5) haven’t been quite as vulnerable but they did surrender 283 yards and two touchdowns via the pass in last week’s 38-34 loss to ninth-ranked Youngstown State. And considering South Dakota doesn’t have the offensive firepower to match Montana, it may be even more critical the Coyotes come up with a defensive gem against Griz QB Jordan Johnson and standout receivers Ellis Henderson and Jamaal Jones.
“The last two weeks have not been our best efforts,” said Glenn, 5-15 in his second season with the Coyotes. “Youngstown’s quarterbacks and receivers did a great job. We have to shore it up a little bit.
“We’ve got a senior secondary and we’re pretty good at rushing the passer. We did get to Youngstown’s quarterback four times. We have the ability to do a pretty good pass rush with four guys and we have the ability to cover. We just have to do a better job.”
The Griz will want to keep an eye out for South Dakota outside linebacker Tyler Starr. The senior from Little Rock, Iowa, has tallied eight of 27 sacks for the Coyotes and totaled 14 tackles for a loss. He also packs a wallop, with four forced fumbles.
As usual, Montana will try to establish the run with junior Jordan Canada, who ran for a career-high four touchdowns last week. Statistically, South Dakota has been more vulnerable against the run than the pass this season, allowing about 180 yards a game.
“On first down your goal is you’ve got to get 4 or 5 yards so that you stay on schedule, so to speak,” Delaney said. “Now it’s second-and-5 or 4 (yards) and you can do a lot of things. You just have to have a good mixture of run and pass.”
Montana is 1-1 in dome games this season. The Griz steamrolled North Dakota in their second outing but struggled in their Big Sky Conference debut at Northern Arizona in the Walkup Skydome.
“It’s going to be a little louder but nothing like playing in Washington-Grizzly Stadium,” Canada said of the DakotaDome. “We can handle it.
“I know their (Astro) turf is a little bit different and we might have to wear some different cleats. But it’s still football.”
South Dakota sophomore quarterback Kevin Earl, son of former Chicago Bears fullback Robin Earl, led the Coyotes to three straight wins after joining the starting lineup on Oct. 5. He and his team have cooled the past two weeks with losses to Illinois State and Youngstown State, but Earl accounted for 219 yards and three touchdowns (two passing) against the Penguins.
“They beat Northern Iowa, which is always a solid program, and they beat Cal Davis at home,” Delaney said. “Last week they played the No. 9 team in the country right down to the wire. Youngstown scored with 32 seconds left to win. South Dakota is as competitive as any team we’ll play.”
From a personal standpoint, the game is special for Glenn and Griz free safety Matt Hermanson, who hails from nearby Sioux Falls, S.D. Hermanson enjoyed attending South Dakota games as a kid.
“I’ve probably been to five or six of them during my lifetime,” he said. “We played pee-wee football and the championship game would always be in the DakotaDome; same way in high school.
“It’s always been like a dream to play in there. I played in there four years for the championship in high school and I have to go back and try it again.”
Glenn will always have a soft spot for the University of Montana, Missoula and his longtime friend, Delaney.
“I just love the place,” he gushed. “... Montana will want to win this game for every reason we want to win it. This is a really important game for them if they want to position themselves for the playoffs. We’re trying to establish our program, so you just take all that personal stuff out of it really.
“I am a really good friend of Mick’s,” he added. “We go way back to when he coached at Montana State with Sonny Lubick. Now we’re head-to-head again and I respect the heck out of him. He took over that program at a time when they needed his leadership and his personality. He’s done a great job solidifying their program back to where they needed it and going forward. I admire him a lot.”
QUICK KICKS: Saturday marks Montana’s first visit to Vermillion since 1974 ... The Coyotes are 3-1 at home this season and 44-9 at home since the end of the 2003 campaign ... USD freshman wideout Riley Donovan has had three straight 100-yard receiving games ... Starr needs just one sack to tie the school career record of 27 ... USD is taking on an FCS top-15 program for the third time in four weeks ... Listed as questionable for Montana with injuries are key reserves Travon Van (RB), Taylor Walcott (WR) and Mitch Saylor (WR).