New defensive coordinator Breske says Montana will turn up heat

Montana's new defensive coordinator, Mike Breske, knows what comes first in these parts.

It became abundantly clear during last Saturday's Grizzly football scrimmage at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Roughly 800 fans witnessed a couple of solid hits and three sacks early in the scrimmage. But it wasn't until quarterback Drew Miller connected with tight end Brad Fjeldheim on a 30-yard gain that the crowd made some noise.

"I turned around and heard a roar," Breske said. "I'm going, did I miss something? It had been quiet up until that point. There was definitely a point made there."

"That's fine," said the 42-year-old proud grandfather. "You hang your hat on something and it's definitely our offense. I'm the biggest fan of our offense. To me, the best defense in the world is when your offense is out on the field.

"It's our job to get the ball in the hands of Drew Miller as quickly as possible. People don't buy tickets to watch the defense. I totally understand that."

Good defense may not put fannies in the seats, but lack of defense will send fans into a tizzy.

Montana's defense resembled a roller-coaster the past two seasons under Kraig Paulson. There was the 1998 embarrassment against Southern Utah, when UM allowed 588 rushing yards in a home loss to the Thunderbirds.

There was the playoff debacle of 1998 at Western Illinois, when the Leathernecks strangled the Griz 52-9. And last season, Portland State quarterback Jimmy Blanchard torched UM for 550 passing yards in a 51-48 Vikings' win.

But the Grizzlies of '99 finished first in the Big Sky in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense efficiency. Montana and Northern Arizona were the only two Big Sky Conference teams to surrender less than 400 yards of offense a game.

Eight of last year's starters, including league MVP Vince Huntsberger and middle linebacker Adam Boomer, return next fall.

"We've got good players here," Breske said. "The cupboard is not bare. What we need to do is get the players to learn the new terminology, new techniques, get a cohesiveness and maintain those rankings."

There will be changes, although they'll be hard to notice for the average football fan.

UM will continue to play a base 4-3 defense, but it will be more zone-oriented. The entire defensive coaching staff is emphasizing takeaways.

"At Northern Colorado, we tried to hang our hat on creating turnovers, by stripping the ball and interceptions," Breske said. "We want to make things happen. We don't want to be dictated to. We want to take an offensive approach to defense and try to make things happen."

Finding ways to get consistent pressure on the quarterback remains a top priority. That doesn't necessarily translate into more sacks, it means making the quarterback get rid of the ball sooner. Breske is hoping a new zone-blitz package will result in increased heat.

"We're not talking about an all-out blitz," he said. "We want to mix things up and keep the QB guessing. I'm not a big believer in the three-man rush. When you have a talented person back there you can't afford to give him any more time. You can't play coverage forever."

One type of defense you won't see, Breske says, is the bend-don't-break.

"Oh, I hate that term," he said. "It's not a term I'm going to use. There are going to be times where everything is not three-and-out. Ideally, that would be great. Kids get worn down when you have too many 10-play drives. You lose field position and this is a game of field position."

€ Mike Breske

Age: 42

Family: Mike and his wife, Tami, are the parents of three children: Cari, Adam and Taylor.

Education: Earned a bachelor's degree from South Dakota State in 1981 and his master's degree in physical education from Northern Iowa in 1982.

Previous coaching experience: Graduate assistant at Northern Iowa, 1981-82. Secondary coach at Yankton, S.D., College,1982-83. Defensive coordinator at Wayne State (Neb.), 1983-86. Defensive coordinator at Northern Colorado 1987-99.

Jon Kasper can be reached at 523-5247 or by e-mail at jkasper@missoulian.com.

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