MISSOULA — Last week against Northern Iowa, Montana's defense showed promise. The Grizzlies stepped it up even more against Drake.
There were 88 total tackles by the team, 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), five pass breakups, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
The Grizzlies won the turnover battle by a decisive 5-1 margin.
"It's always huge," Montana's head coach Bobby Hauck said of the turnover battle. "Statistics I'm not overly into, but that one I am and that one counts. When you take it away and don't give it away, you've got a chance to win for sure."
The last time the Montana defense recorded seven sacks or more was in UM's wacky win over Northern Arizona last season when Grizzly defenders had eight sacks.
The last time a Montana defensive player had 16 tackles also came in that game when then-senior linebacker Connor Strahm had 16 takedowns. He won the league's defensive player of the week after that performance.
Montana's run game on Saturday was slightly better than it was against Northern Iowa.
The Grizzly rushers went for 117 yards and three rushing scores against Drake. That's compared to the 81 yards Montana had in Week One.
But there's a caveat again. Quarterback Dalton Sneed accounted for more than half of Montana's run game with 65 yards on 13 carries with a touchdown.
Redshirt freshman running back Adam Eastwood had 11 carries for 51 yards with two touchdowns, but one of those was a 37-yard dart. Senior running back Alijah Lee had one carry for 2 yards and sophomore running back Rey Green had one carry for a 1-yard loss.
Drake's most notable score of the day came with just under 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Quarterback Grant Kraemer had thrown two incomplete passes in a row and it was fourth-and-17 from the Montana 49-yard line.
The Bulldogs lined up to punt but instead of booting the ball into the sky, Drake's Will Warner darted into the end zone for a 49-yard score to bring Drake within a touchdown. At that point, Montana led 17-10.
"The fake punt was a good play by them," Hauck said. "Unfortunately we were expecting it. We had a call on where we had one linebacker in the middle and we had another guy who was assigned to go out and play the fake on that side and he didn't do it.
"There's just Exhibit A for being assignment-oriented football and you have to do your 1/11th and if you don't, it breaks down and you give up plays and points. All learning experiences for us. We have to do things right."
The fake punt was the first time Drake went for it on fourth down. The Bulldogs went for it on fourth down twice in the fourth quarter, one attempt was successful (touchdown) and the other was not (sack).
The youth and inexperience for many Montana players has been a recurring storyline since training camp commenced in August.
That rang true yet again for Montana on Saturday in all facets of the game.
"It seems like that's all we've got is young guys. It's going to be week-to-week some young guy making a play or not," Hauck said. "It was good to see those guys get after it. I would anticipate their ability to continue to play faster and better as the season goes on.
"I think they look faster and more explosive off the ball, more dynamic this week than last where they were pretty bright eyed and big eyed. We just gotta keep going but I'm proud of our young guys. There were a lot of them out there."
Two true freshmen saw playing time on Saturday, defensive tackle Eli Alford who had one tackle in the game and true freshman offensive guard Cole Sain. Junior center Cody Meyer went down with an apparent injury in the third quarter, so the offensive line tapped Sain for a good chunk of the game after that.
"Cole Sain's a true freshman. He was playing high school football last year and had to go play guard for us," Hauck said.
Hauck added: "There's some attrition within games and seasons. Guys gotta be ready and it appeared like he was."
Twelve redshirt freshmen made a fair share of plays too.
The redshirt freshmen's contributions:
On offense: Eastwood had two rushing touchdowns, 51 yards rushing and 6 yards receiving. Wide receiver Mitch Roberts had one catch for 6 yards. Tight ends Bryson Deming and Matt Rensvold were targeted once. Offensive lineman Colton Keintz started in his second game at right tackle and offensive lineman Skyler Martin played on the line some as well.
On special teams: wide receiver/kick returner Malik Flowers had two kick returns for 78 yards.
On defense: Safety Robby Hauck tied for second on the team in tackles with six. He also added a half-tackle for loss. Defensive end Braydon Deming racked up four tackles with a half-tackle for loss. Linebacker Marcus Welnel had three tackles. Safety Michael McGinnis had two tackles. Defensive end RJ Nelson had two tackles. Eastwood and Flowers added one tackle apiece.