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On a day when the performance of Montana's burgeoning offense churned out much to smile about, head football coach Bob Stitt was in a good mood.

A mood for jokes, even, after watching his football team's second fall scrimmage and its first with starting quarterback Brady Gustafson at the helm.

Wait, he is the starter, right coach?

"What do you think?" quipped a coy Stitt to a chorus to chuckles from those within ear shot.

"Brady we feel really good about. I think he's really grasping it," the coach continued, "and as we go and continue to get him more reps -- you get into a game and he's getting all 90 of them instead of 40 -- he's just gonna continue to get better each week."

Gustafson, a junior QB who saw only five snaps in Monday's scrimmage while the Griz assessed their depth chart, handled six of the Grizzlies' 14 drives Saturday morning under smoky skies at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The QB completed 18 of 29 passes, including a touchdown and -- just as importantly -- marched his team down the field in a consistent manner.

Gustafson took his first-stringers to 11 of the offense's 19 total first downs.

"Getting that first first down of the drive is huge, because then you can get the sixth, seven and eighth play," Stitt said. "Everybody in the stands, everybody on the sideline can see it: the effect of the tempo once you can get to six or seven plays."

Where in Monday's action the offense needed a long spell to warm up, the Griz O' struck quickly Saturday. On the third drive of the morning, Gustafson's second under center, Montana covered 70 yards in just five plays to reach the end zone.

Gustafson was 4 for 4 on the drive, including a 39-yard air-mail delivery to Jamaal Jones down the right sideline. Cornerback Nate Harris was covering Jones like a tailored suit, but a perfect pass left him undefendable.

"Nate had his eyes on the quarterback, kind of lost where I was and Brady said he was gonna throw it up and let me make a play and that's just what I did," said Jones, moments before Harris stopped by Jones's interview for some trash talk.

"I'll be back," he proclaimed, slapping his teammate on the back.

Jones led a slew of 13 receivers with catches, pulling in five for 82 yards. Josh Janssen also had five for 34 yards and Ben Roberts caught four for 37.

"We felt pretty good about ourselves," Gustafson said of the offense. "It's not gonna be perfect and it didn't have to be perfect today, ya know? We just got to keep getting better-better as we approach the game on the 29th."

Montana opens the season in two weeks against four-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State.

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Gustafson's game did have a few flaws.

He threw one interception, cornerback JR Nelson picking off a pass that was well over Jones's head. The receiver couldn't reel in the throw and Nelson scooped it up on the tip.

"I miss playing receiver," said Nelson, who was a running back as well as DB at Glen Wilson High in Hacienda Heights, California. "Anytime the ball's in the air, I try and grab it. It's a blessing when we can finally get the ball and make plays."

Gustafson had another promising drive stopped short by the defense in a goal-line situation. Following his interception, Gustafson marched the offense down to the 2-yard line in 10 plays. After 68 yards, those last 2 proved impassable.

Two John Nguyen runs picked up 1 yard combined before Gustafson couldn't connect with Janssen on two passing attempts. On fourth down, safety Justin Whitted ended the day's longest offensive drive by breaking up a pass in the end zone.

"We work it a little bit each week (on goal-line situations), but we can always get some more reps at that," Gustafson said.

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Backup QBs Chad Chalich and Makena Simis continue to be deadlocked in a fight for the No. 2 position. Chalich completed 8 of 12 passes for 41 yards and Simis was 6 of 10 for 76, 35 of that coming on a TD pass to Ellis Henderson.

It was a bright spot for Henderson, whose day was marred by special teams struggles. Twice he misplayed kicks, fumbling the returns.

Special teams left a mess as a whole as Justin Calhoun also fumbled a punt before hopping on the loose ball. And neither touchdown's extra point was converted: Daniel Sullivan banged the post on the first while Chris Lider pulled his try wide right.

Sullivan did connect from 43 yards for a field goal on a Gustafson drive later, though.

The defensive line again held the running game in check as the backs combined for 36 yards on 30 carries. The line and linebackers were disruptive in the passing attack as well, sacking the quarterback seven times.

Tyrone Holmes accounted for three of those himself.

Montana's final scrimmage is Thursday at 3 p.m. and is open only to media and Quarterback Club members.


NOTES: The offensive line was again without starting center Ben Weyer and left tackle John Schmaing. Weyer, who has been out since last Saturday with a knee injury, was walking without crutches and said he will not require surgery.

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