Containing Zach Bauman is a little like trying to rope a squirrel.
“He’s one of those guys who can make you miss in a phone booth,” Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp said of Northern Arizona’s standout running back.
“He’s a very explosive runner, so you have to be on top your game, take good angles and make sure you attack and hit and stop him before things get started. We have to make sure where he’s at.”
Bauman, whose 24th-ranked Lumberjacks will entertain the seventh-ranked Griz on Saturday at 7 p.m., ran for a career-high 253 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s 41-31 win at Montana. In three encounters with the Grizzlies, the 5-foot-10 workhorse has averaged 176 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry.
Montana coach Mick Delaney believes Bauman is one of the top two running backs in the Football Championship Subdivision. He considers the senior a bona fide pro prospect, which may have something to do with how well he has performed against the Grizzlies.
“Obviously I feel like I give that team a lot of respect,” Bauman said of Montana. “I get up for bigger games, bigger opponents, and the Griz are always a big opponent so you have to perform your best in big games.”
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The Lumberjacks enter Saturday’s game as the underdog, in part because they’ve labored to put points on the board. Montana (3-0) has piled up 132 to Northern Arizona’s 43.
Because the Jacks (2-1) are breaking in a rookie quarterback in Kyren Poe, defenses are playing a lot of personnel close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. It’s a strategy Bauman has seen time and time again but refuses to use as a crutch.
“I understand they’re going to stack the box,” said the Arizona native, who has totaled 278 yards rushing in three games this season. “They’ve done that pretty much the last two years so you kind of understand and try to be efficient running with that.
“This is my last year. I’ve only got eight more games promised to me so time is limited and I’m going to go hard.”
Bauman has the wherewithal to break through stacked defenses and actually prefers running between the tackles to outside. He also has that unique gift of improvisation a lot of great ones share.
“He’s got great vision, really good speed and he plays a lot bigger than his 5-10, 195-pound weight on the program,” Delaney said. “He stops and goes. Plus he’s a physical guy.
“... Where Bauman hurts you is when he jumps back away from the way the play is going. People get undisciplined and don’t cancel their gaps on the backside and he comes back across the grain. That’s where he hits a lot of his big plays.”
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Humble No. 34 says he’s looking forward to what could be his last battle against the Grizzlies. Because Montana fans travel so well and NAU is promoting the Saturday evening as its “Blue-Out Game on Family Weekend,” the Walkup Skydome could be close to capacity.
That won’t make it any easier for Bauman, who has aspirations of playing in the NFL someday, to run the ball against Montana’s Big Sky Conference-leading defense.
“It’s a relentless defense,” Bauman said. “They’re very disciplined. They don’t make too many, or any mistakes at all.
“They know where they’re supposed to be at and they play until the whistle.”
It’s going take a lot of determination and grit for Bauman to bust through. Fortunately for the senior, he has an ample supply of both to make up for what he lacks in chit-chat.
“He’s a guy who has a lot of heart,” NAU coach Jerome Souers said. “He’s worked very hard since the first day he got here and we’re still working on getting him to say 10 words.
“He’s not quite there yet. He’s just a quiet kid that works very hard. He’s the greatest example of a competitor a guy would want on his football team.”
NOTES: Bauman’s average of 92.7 rushing yards per game ranks third in the Big Sky. He is second among active FCS players in career rushing yards with 3,954. Tim Flanders of Sam Houston State is first with 4,720 ... Bauman’s cousin, Greg Pruitt, played in the NFL from 1973-84 and participated in four Pro Bowls ... Montana’s defense ranks No. 1 in the conference against the run, allowing an average of 104.7 yards per game ... Montana’s No. 1 tight end, senior Clay Pierson of Twin Bridges, is back in practice this week after sitting for two games with a broken hand. Delaney said he should be ready to go Saturday, wearing a splint ... Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson continues to lead the FCS in passing efficiency at 248.3. Jeff Mathews of Cornell is second in that category at 212.3.