Back in spring, when Montana's receiving corps grew to 16, 17, 18 pass catchers, Coach Bob Stitt answered the questions that all but he and his staff wondered. When that number ballooned to 20 by opening day, he answered them again.
There will be plenty of catches to go around, he said. This team will throw it a lot.
Tons of passes, sure, but how could the Grizzlies use that many players at one position? Stitt clarified this week.
"Guys that aren't playing weren't getting it done and the guys that are playing are the ones that we can trust," Stitt said. "... The job of a coach is get the guys that can get 'er done on the field every single week."
Montana's offense appears to have found its horses and the Griz will run them as much as they have to until the others come along. Through two games eight of the 20 wideouts have registered at least one catch, but 83 percent of quarterback Brady Gustafson's passes have gone to five players.
And one of those is a running back, John Nguyen (12 catches, 70 yards).
Stitt did a lot of hunting for the right guys during the offseason, players who could internalize Montana's quick-hitting and quicker thinking pass system and compete. Studs like Jamaal Jones (17, 205) and Ellis Henderson (12, 180) seemed like a given, but the basis of this offense requires any number of assets to step up when needed.
Chase Naccarato went from a primary blocker with no catches in the Grizzlies' win over North Dakota State to catching 10 balls for 81 yards against Cal Poly.
"I think everyone's pretty much bought in to what their role is on the team," said Naccarato, the starter in the slot, the Z receiver.
"North Dakota State was great," he continued. "The outside guys made a lot of great plays and it was my job to open them up for that particular game. I was completely fine with that. It was nice to have a turn against Cal Poly but obviously I would rather take the win against North Dakota State than have a great game and lose to Cal Poly."
Redshirt freshman Reese Carlson has also emerged as a big target with seven catches for 80 yards, none more crucial than on fourth-and-10 during UM's game-winning drive against the Bison.
Not all expected parties have fared as well.
Josh Janssen, who started six games as a redshirt freshman a year ago and caught 16 passes for 266 yards and three scores, has yet to see the field. Neither has highly regarded transfer Tyler Lucas, a former Penn State athlete.
"Really spring ball and fall camp is the tryout," Stitt said. If you don't get it done in those situations, then it's tough to stick a young man that didn't get it done into a game like North Dakota State or Cal Poly when it really matters."
Griz vs. Liberty only available online
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ESPN has exercised its option to take over broadcasting of Montana's football game this Saturday at Liberty, thanks to the network's contract for home games with the Big South Conference.
That means the game will no longer be available on local television channels through Cowles Montana Media as planned. Griz fans can still catch the action online through ESPN3 at watchespn.com or through ESPN's pay-per-view college sports service ESPN College Extra.
The online streaming service ESPN3 will come at no additional cost with an affiliated internet or video subscription. For most people in Montana, that means Charter Spectrum. The online service is open to nearly 100 million households nationwide and can be accessed on smartphones and tablets as well as streamed on TVs through Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku and Xbox.
For DIRECTV customers or those with Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS and Bright House Networks, ESPN College Extra can be set up for viewing.
Fans in Missoula will still have radio access through KGVO 101.5 FM and 1290 AM. Go to gogriz.com for radio availability in your area or to catch a livestream.
The Missoulian will be in Lynchburg, Virginia, this week for the game and provide coverage via Twitter for those without streaming access. Follow reporter AJ Mazzoini at @ajmazzolini and @missoulian for live updates.
Big Sky product, Griz WR Graham retires
Citing multiple serious injuries, former Missoula Big Sky standout and Grizzly wide receiver Nico Graham announced his retirement from football this week on his Facebook page.
"I just wanted to publicly thank everyone who has supported me in my football career through high school and on to college," wrote Graham, a redshirt sophomore. "Sadly I have recently made the decision to no longer play football due to injuries."
Graham required back surgery last year because of injuries sustained on the field and had not played yet this season because of a shoulder issue. That too needed surgery, a procedure that the Missoula native underwent Tuesday afternoon.
"To this day I experience some issues with my back," Graham continued. "... It was a very tough decision but I know I needed to make it to better my future health."
Graham saw action in one game last season but did not catch a pass. He has already been removed from Montana's online roster.
He said he will continue his education at Montana.
Graham is the third Grizzly receiver to leave under such circumstances since last winter. Taylor Walcott retired because of ankle injuries and Marq Rogers gave up football to pursue basketball after lengthy health setbacks as well. Rogers signed with NAIA Spring Arbor (Michigan) University in May, though he does not currently appear on the Cougars' online roster.