On a day when frigid weather seems to be foremost on the minds of all Missoulians, Montana football coach Mick Delaney has a few words of wisdom he’ll reiterate to his troops.
“Like I’ve already told the guys, ‘Don’t get duped into thinking this weather is a big deal,’” he said. “The last Southern team that came up here (for the playoffs) was Appalachian State and they played pretty darn well in a (2009) snowstorm.
“The team before that, Wofford, came up here (for the 2007 playoffs) and beat the Griz.”
Coincidentally, Wofford is located in South Carolina, the same state that’s home to Montana’s second-round FCS playoff foe on Saturday, Coastal Carolina. There’s one big difference though between 2007 and this weekend: Conditions at Washington-Grizzly Stadium are expected to be colder than ever, with the temperature around zero for a 12:05 kickoff.
Add in harsh Hellgate Canyon winds and the feeling on your skin will be minus 15 to minus 30.
“It will be the team that holds onto the ball and plays the hardest the longest,” Delaney said in forecasting Saturday’s outcome. “The weather I don’t think will be a factor in the game. If it is, it is. But it’s not going to win or lose the game for us. I know that.”
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Delaney’s team will take the field with an attitude that defies the weather. The fourth-ranked Griz (10-2) are riding a four-game win streak and are well-rested coming off a bye week.
No. 11-ranked Coastal Carolina (11-2) is not well-rested after a first-round playoff test against Bethune-Cookman last Saturday. Plus the Chanticleers had an exhausting travel day on Thursday and the coldest game time temperature they’ve encountered to date in 2013 is 55 degrees.
You might say CCU, which is located just a stone’s throw from vacation destination Myrtle Beach, S.C., is in survival mode. Or “Rocky” mode, if you will.
“They’ve been to the playoffs 500 times, they’ve won like 35 national championships,” Coastal coach Joe Moglia joked of the Griz. “They have an incredible tradition. This is an incredibly successful program. This is one of the premier success stories in the history of the FCS.”
For Coastal Carolina to stay with Montana, it must find a way to contain the Grizzlies’ offense. If you take away the 70 points allowed to FBS South Carolina two weeks ago, the Chanticleers have been almost as good as Montana on defense, allowing an average of 25.3 points per game.
For Moglia, one key to stopping the Griz is understanding that although they say they want to run the ball, their stats say something a little different.
“There’s no question they want to make you defend the run,” said Moglia, a second-year multi-millionaire skipper who also serves as chairman of the board for TD Ameritrade. “But then if you cheat a little bit to defend the run, they’re going to come back and hurt you passing.
“They average 186 yards on the ground, which is a lot. But they average 257 a game in the air. They’re going to be a real challenge for our defense. There’s no question they’re going to gain yardage on us. They will get the ball in the end zone. Our job is that we really force them to work for that and not give up the big play.”
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Montana struggled to get its running game going in its last outing at Montana State, posting one first down in the first quarter. Things changed midway through the second when quarterback Jordan Johnson loosened up the Cats’ defense on a 15-yard scramble. Then the running game came alive, Johnson completed four passes on a TD drive and his team was off to the races.
“Johnson is a very good athlete who can hurt you with his arms or his legs,” Moglia noted. “And they’ve got a number of guys they can throw to, kind of like us.”
Griz senior offensive tackle and co-captain Dan Kistler Jr. says his team’s formula for success is simple.
“We have to set up the run game, start fast, and then play-action (passing) will be a big thing for us,” he said. “We have to be physical, get after them. I think we’ll be able to do that this week.”
Delaney is taking nothing for granted against Coastal’s defense, which like the Griz has given up considerably more passing yards than rushing yards.
“They’re a four-man front and they don’t take a lot of chances,” Delaney offered. “They’re a quarters team – Cover 8 (corners 8 yards off the ball with a bump-and-run option), a little bit of Cover 3 (zone).
“They don’t bring a lot of pressure, but do at times. What they want to do on defense is just stay real sound, keep the ball in front of them and not give you big chunks. We’ll have to go play well and hang onto the football.”
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Montana’s homefield advantage, at least when it comes to rattling the opposition with noise, won’t be as strong as usual because of the weather. As of Friday afternoon, just over 16,000 tickets had been sold. Washington-Grizzly Stadium holds 25,217.
Still, Griz senior linebacker and co-captain Brock Coyle likes his team’s situation.
“We love playing in front of our fans,” the Bozeman product said. “Griz Nation, we just love it and they love us.
“A lot of us are Montana boys and we’re used to this cold weather, so we’re not going to be affected. I don’t know if I can say the same about Coastal Carolina. We’re excited to go out there and play playoff football. It’s do or die.”
QUICK KICKS: Fans are invited to warm up before the game and at halftime in the Adams Center ... CCU is shooting for its first 12-win season and its first berth in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs ... Montana is shooting for its first playoff win under Delaney and its first postseason victory since 2009 when it played in the FCS title game in Chattanooga (UM vacated two 2011 postseason wins under NCAA sanctions).