The Montana Grizzlies' offense showed great progress between fall scrimmages Nos. 1 and 2 and when head football coach Bob Stitt's team takes the field Thursday for its final tuneup, he hopes to see similar strides.
Few others will get to.
The Grizzlies' third scrimmage at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Thursday afternoon has been closed to the public and media as Montana begins intense preparations for the next set of live snaps it will encounter: Aug. 29's season opener against North Dakota State.
"There are certain sets that you don't want anybody to know," the first-year Griz coach said. "The one thing that we've got is they don't know necessarily what we're doing."
The Grizzlies announced the scrimmage's closure Wednesday afternoon, but Stitt said the outing was to always be shuttered to viewers outside of Montana's Quarterback Club and the coaching staff. Stitt cited internal miscommunication for the mix-up.
Stitt's offense will focus heavily on two components of its game Thursday: ball control and the running attack.
The Griz have averaged less than 2 yards per carry as a team in both scrimmages thus far. Some of that can be attributed to injuries, but a lot of it is situational. Stitt's teams rack up yards rushing in the second half.
And there is no second half to these scrimmages.
"Ya know, (establishing the run) is a little bit more difficult in the scrimmages because you never get to the second half," Stitt said. "You look at where we had been the past few years (at Colorado School of Mines), 160 or 170 yards a game, most of that comes after halftime."
Mines, of course, is Stitt's former program and the one he led for the past 15 years before coming to Montana in December. His offense there was prolific and the coach expects that to translate from the NCAA Division II level to FCS.
They key is strong decision making and avoiding negative plays.
"You don't have to have great plays every down, but you can't have the negative ones," he said. "That's dropped passes, that's sacks and poor decisions by the quarterback.
"We've got a good defense and if we can clean those things up, you've got a chance."
Montana's running back corps has been halved by injuries throughout August. Second-string RB Lorenzo Logwood is recovering from an ankle injury and may still be out Thursday while bruising back Joey Counts (foot) has missed the past week of practice after one carry in last Monday's first scrimmage.
Both backs have a bit more size to them – especially Counts at 215 pounds – than starter John Nguyen and reserves Treshawn Favors and Jeremy Calhoun. Their absence becomes quite obvious near the goal lines where a power back thrives.
Add to that the offensive line's ailments and the run game has all but disappeared. Center Ben Weyer (knee) and reserve tackle McCauley Todd (knee) are both out while starting left tackle John Schmaing is back but has been slowed by a shoulder injury.
Montana's defense has looked strong all fall, especially in its pressure of the quarterback. The Griz have had four and seven official sacks, respectively, in the first two scrimmages and those numbers could be much higher if pursuits of the quarterback were allowed to meet their conclusion.
Defenders are asked to avoid hits on the QB, slowing up to steer clear of major contact and giving the passers time to escape some sack situations.
The D' has been burned on the long plays, though. Montana's four scrimmage touchdowns this fall have come on pass plays of 34, 72, 39 and 35 yards.
"Those plays didn't start right away when we were working in fall camp," Griz senior receiver Jamaal Jones explained, "but because we worked on 'em, they progressed throughout the fall and we were able to make them happen."
For each touchdown strike Stitt can smile -- but only momentarily. The thing about scrimmages is one side's success means the other's failure.
"We're very aggressive on defense, but you can't give that big one up to stop a 5-yard gain," the coach said.
Following Thursday's action, the Grizzlies will meet on the field for practice just four more times before their season opener. The team will practice Monday through Wednesday next week before its game preparation outing next Thursday, another session closed to all eyes outside the program.
It's all to be ready for that Week 1 opponent and the national spotlight. The Grizzlies and Bison will square off next Saturday in a game broadcast across the country, the Division I college football opener and part of ESPN's FCS Kickoff.