MISSOULA — This was cause for concern.
Whether you're coach Bobby Hauck or the kid sitting up in the nosebleeds in Section 221, the Montana football team's home performance was troublesome for 2½ quarters Saturday.
What was supposed to be a piece of cake against non-scholarship Drake turned out to be a genuine tussle. That was until a costly turnover by the Bulldogs late in the third quarter opened the door for a blowout, with the 14th-ranked Grizzlies scoring 14 points in 22 seconds.
Montana came away with a 48-16 win. But suddenly the Grizzlies' first road game at Western Illinois next Saturday looks like a much steeper hill to climb.
You don't have to be Bill Belichick to deduce the inexperienced Griz offensive line is a work in progress. The loss of junior center Cody Meyer to a shoulder injury in the third quarter makes the situation even more vexing.
Give Hauck credit for this: He knew all along what he was inheriting on his offensive front and went out and landed an elusive transfer quarterback in Dalton Sneed. It's a darn good thing Houdini Sneed was under center Saturday, because an immobile pocket passer probably would have exited the game on a stretcher.
Sneed threw for 278 yards, ran for a game-high 65 and engineered a critical touchdown drive with his team clinging to a 17-10 lead late in the third quarter. Just as important, he walked away relatively healthy. Knock on wood for that because even he, with his uncommon sleight of foot, couldn't avoid a handful of scary hits that no doubt had Griz fans holding their breath.
The nice guy in me wants to leave this one go, chalk it up as another valuable learning experience for a team that no doubt had trouble getting up after last weekend's win over then-13th-ranked Northern Iowa. The optimist in me believes Montana's run game will improve when senior Jeremy Calhoun rejoins the team, hopefully for next weekend's game.
But holy smokes. Drake looked like the better team in the first quarter Saturday, piling up 80 yards to the Grizzlies' 44. Shockingly — at least to this veteran scribe — a Hauck-led Montana team passed the ball on 11 of its first 12 plays from scrimmage.
Was that just the Grizzlies doing the same thing they did last week so that Western Illinois wouldn't have any revelatory game film to review? Was it out of necessity and desperation?
To his credit, Hauck didn't sugar coat things. He used the word "circus" to describe his team's 10 penalties for 88 yards, including one in the first half that negated a pass interception.
On the topic of Sneed, Hauck suggested his team needs to get the redshirt junior some help. He knows better than anyone the Griz have things to fix.
But all things considered, it's nice to be 2-0 when you're a work in progress. Nice to know you've got a tough-minded winner at quarterback and an emerging star on defense in linebacker Dante Olson, who piled up a whopping 16 tackles against Drake.
While we're at it, let's keep in mind Hauck was determined to get reps for his second-team defenders Saturday and he stuck to the plan. That will pay dividends down the road.
The Grizzlies aren't perfect, but their record is still perfect. Until that changes, let's show some faith.