One losing streak came to an end last week. Now there's the matter of a three-game losing streak at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The 10th-ranked Montana Grizzlies are a prohibitive favorite at home on Saturday against Division I-AA independent Cal Poly. The Mustangs have never won in Missoula and have failed to score more than 14 points in any of the six previous meetings between the schools. Coach Larry Welsh's team has lost 12 of its last 13 road games.
UM football coach Joe Glenn has been emphasizing all week that his team can't afford a letdown after last Saturday's exhilarating 45-38 victory over Idaho. Glenn and the 2000 Grizzlies certainly don't want to become the first UM team to lose four consecutive home games since Ray Jenkins' crew back in 1963.
"We can't have an emotional letdown," Glenn said. "We've got to get our hearts beating and get into the game with some emotion. It's an emotional and spiritual game. You've got to muster up the spirit and emotion that it takes week in and week out and that's regardless of who you are playing. Championship teams show up and get it done."
If Montana didn't have respect for the Mustangs, they gained it during last season's meeting in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Montana pulled out a 28-14 win, but didn't secure the victory until the final minutes.
Cal Poly's defense limited UM to a season-low 385 yards and pressured quarterback Drew Miller with a variety of different blitzes. Miller was sacked four times by the Mustangs, tying a season high.
"Nine of the 11 kids who played in that game on defense are back," Glenn said. "They had the Griz bottled up. The first 12 times Drew threw the ball, he ended up flat on his back seven of them. That scares me. Their schemes and game plans last year were good enough to win."
"Last year, we didn't really look at them and give them enough credit as we have this week," said UM junior offensive guard Thatcher Szalay. "Cal Poly is one of those teams where you can't do that."
Glenn expects the Mustangs to bring similar heat. Miller, who didn't practice because of an injury in the days leading up to last year's meeting, should be ready this time. Idaho blitzed Miller 37 times and he picked the Vandals apart for a career-high 505 yards and five touchdown passes.
"I kind of felt uncomfortable during the (Cal Poly) game," Miller said. "I'll have a full week of practice under my belt and be a lot more prepared. They have some good athletes and do things that can give offenses fits."
After two down-to-the-wire games, nothing would make Glenn more happy than to finish off this one early and see a solid effort on both sides of the ball as the Grizzlies go into a bye week and prepare for the Big Sky Conference opener on Sept. 30 at Eastern Washington.
"I'm becoming the coach who is good for concessions," Glenn said. "No one will leave our games early. We'll sell every last hot dog and every last box of popcorn."
Several players from both teams could be enjoying popcorn and hot dogs, because they won't be on the field. Defensive end Justin Klein (ankle), defensive tackle Corey Mertes (ribs) and Jacob Yoro (knee) won't play on Saturday for UM. Yoro sustained a season-ending knee injury last week.
Senior Jeremiah Butenschoen will take Mertes' place, and junior Matt Steinau, no stranger to the starting lineup, will step in for Yoro. Senior Justin Brannon, another experienced body, will go for Klein for the second straight week.
Cal Poly has several players listed as out or questionable on its press release, most notably linebacker Joe Martinez, who is out for the season, and defensive lineman Billy Beltz and linebacker Issac Dixon, who are listed as probable.
Montana's defense must be prepared to contain Cal Poly's ground game and get pressure on quarterback Seth Burford, who has the ability to scramble and possesses a strong arm.
"We've got to do a tremendous job against their run game," said UM defensive coordinator Mike Breske. "And we've got to be in position against the play-action pass. They are going to throw deep."
Cal Poly's offenses sputtered early in last week's 38-17 loss to Sacramento State. The Mustangs trailed 30-0 at halftime and managed just two first downs. In the second half, they scored 18 points and put together three impressive scoring drives, all longer than 50 yards.
"I'd like to see us put the complete package together," said UM senior defensive tackle Tyler Martin. "I'm getting tired of getting yelled at. Cal Poly might be getting its confidence back. We need to get out early. You can't let the underdog think they can play with you. If you give them breaks early, you look up with two minutes left in the fourth quarter and they are right on your heels."
Reporter Jon Kasper can be reached at 523-5247 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kickoff: 1:05 p.m., Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Records: Montana is 1-1. The Griz opened the season with a 10-9 loss against Hofstra and topped Idaho 45-38 last week. Cal Poly lost its opener 38-17 to Sacramento State.
Crowd: 18,700 (Estimated)
TV: None. Radio: KGVO 1290 AM.
Forecast: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of rain. Highs in the mid-70s to mid-80s.
Tickets: Sold out.
Parking: Sold out around stadium; free from UC south and in East Broadway lot near Sheehan Majestic (with shuttle bus).
Montana quarterback Drew Miller threw for a career-high 505 yards last week in a 45-38 win over Idaho. Here's a list of the top passing performances in UM history.
|Brian Ah Yat||1996||560||E. Washington|
|Brian Ah Yat||1996||510||N. Arizona|
|Drew Miller||1999||498||Portland State|