The maroon veins running through the Walkup Skydome bleachers felt it when Montana fell behind 45-20 in the third quarter. Certain sects began thinking it even before halftime when the deficit was only 14 points.
For Griz head coach Bob Stitt, though, the worries were there hours before as his team ran through warm-ups for its Big Sky Conference clash with Northern Arizona.
"We just didn't come out with any type of fire and that's been a problem for a while," Stitt said of Saturday's 45-34 loss, "and it's gonna be a problem until we find a way to get excited about playing football rather than just playing in front of a big (home) crowd.
"... We were in trouble the second we stepped out of the locker room."
The talk in the locker room this week – the one beneath the Adams Center and Washington-Grizzly Stadium rather than its Flagstaff counterpart – is finding a way to avoid a similar road letdown. After failing the NAU test, there's a heck of a midterm staring the Griz down this week in Big Sky pacesetter Eastern Washington.
The Grizzlies' second straight road trip takes them to Cheney, Washington on Saturday with Montana (5-2, 2-2 in Big Sky) in a far less desirable spot in the league race than a week ago. UM, now ranked 16th, is tied for sixth in the standings with four weeks to play, stuck behind three conference unbeatens and a pair of schools that have already knocked off the Griz.
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Eastern Washington continues to be in a class of its own this season. QB Gage Gubrud is a stat machine and has overtaken WR Cooper Kupp as the team's most dangerous offensive threat. Yeah, you read that right. Gubrud threw for a school-record 520 yards in a 41-17 win over Montana State last week and now has six of the program's top 11 single-game totals in history. Oh and he's only made seven career starts!
It's been a while since Cal Poly beat a decent team, but the Mustangs' early season success keeps them up here as long as they don't loose again. Cal Poly is the league's third-best scoring offense (35 ppg) despite just hanging on to beat a bad UC Davis team 21-16 last week. Keep an eye on the 'Stangs.
North Dakota keeps doing what it needs to do, beating middling to bad teams in Big Sky play. The Fighting Hawks have won six straight games since an 0-2 start. Only two came against teams with winning records -- a double-OT win vs. South Dakota and a one-score victory over Cal Poly -- and the latter occurred with the Mustangs' best player, FB Joe Protheroe, on the sideline.
Northern Arizona isn't a bad team, but Saturday's 45-34 defeat to the Lumberjacks is definitely a bad loss for Montana. The Griz were so busy beating up on bad opponents -- 0-8 Mississippi Valley State, 1-7 Sacramento State -- that it's like they forgot how to play decent teams. Montana is still likely a playoff team but the window is close to slamming shut on the Griz in terms of a Big Sky championship.
Weber State is on its own roll with five straight wins. The best test of those was last week when the Wildcats outscored Southern Utah 23-0 in the fourth quarter to escape with a 37-36 road win. Weber has a strong pass defense but the Cats aren't that close to the top of the Big Sky in really any other statistical category.
The Lumberjacks have made themselves relevant suddenly with three straight wins in the Big Sky. Taking out Montana last week, a game that was never really in question, throws the middle of the Big Sky up in the air and all but takes the Griz out of the running for the league title.
Northern Colorado has a winning record despite a truly terrible defense. The Bears are allowing 479 yards per game, about 300 of that through the air. NoCo is beating the bad teams of the Big Sky, but for the first time in a while Northern Colorado isn't one of those itself. So that's a plus.
Southern Utah had a chance to redeem itself in the Big Sky standings last week -- and shuffle the top of the league as well -- but couldn't close the deal against Weber State. The defending conference champion T-birds are likely eliminated from playoff contention with the 37-36 loss, their third in the past four weeks.
Here's where the rankings start to get muddled. The bottom four have little to separate each other from one another, but the Vikings get the bump to No. 9 over Idaho State because of a dominant head-to-head win in the teams' matchup this season. That said, PSU is allowing the most points in the league at 38.1 ppg.
Davis is playing about its best football of the season right now. The Aggies knocked off upstart Northern Colorado two weeks ago then came five points from doing the same to Cal Poly on the road. It's been defense that has plagued Davis this year -- a Big Sky second-worst 37.5 points allowed per game -- and that'll be put to the test this week against Portland State, a very good run team.
Idaho State has just one win in the past six weeks, and that came against this ranking's last-place team Sacramento State. The Bengals average just 21.6 points per game and a league-worst 346.9 yards per game. And it's not the defense is the saving grace in another forgettable season in Pocatello.
The Bobcats showed some life in the first half against top dog Eastern Washington, though that may have been an Eagles' trademark slow start more than anything. After leading 17-14 near the start of the second quarter, the Cats were outscored 27-0 the rest of the way and allowed 596 total yards. The losing streak is up to five in a row now in Bozeman.
Sacramento State's weary defense is allowing 502 yards of total offense per game this season. That ranks 120th of 122 FCS schools in the nation. Enough said.
It's a self-dug hole, not unlike the shovelfuls Montana heaped on itself this past Saturday. It started on the first play when NAU quarterback Blake Kemp threw over the top of a cover 4 zone defense – one in which safeties and cornerbacks drop back and split the field into four coverage quadrants – for a 74-yard touchdown.
Even when Montana made a stride in the right direction, something would pull the Griz down again. A personal foul offset a nice punt. A fumble followed a defensive stop. A blown coverage succeeded a nice pass breakup.
"We weren't very mentally strong and it showed in the way we played, but also how we reacted to the adversity," Stitt continued. "... It was continual. That's mental weakness and that was the entire football game. It's a team issue."
And very unlike Montana's play earlier this season, where frustrations dissipated instead of boiling over into foolish penalties. UM had a season-high 12 flags for 107 yards.
"... The team is more important than us and our personal battle and it wasn't that way on Saturday," Stitt said.
The second half of Montana's two-game terror will pose many of the same challenges that the Griz faced last week. Like Northern Arizona, Eastern (6-1, 4-0) features a passing offense ranked in the top 10 in the nation and like the Lumberjacks, the third-ranked Eagles execute at a rate that can leave defenses gassed and maddened.
Discipline is the key, linebacker James Banks said, and that has to start from the opening kickoff.
"Nothing (wrong) scheme-wise here or there. Like coach Stitt said, we just came out flat," Banks said. "Having that big first play (last week) even set us father back and really put us in some adversity. It's really hard to overcome a situation like that."
So how does a team boost its energy to an appropriate level? It shouldn't be hard for a game like Saturday's. Montana and EWU have enjoyed a rivalry that challenges the Grizzlies' duels with the Bobcats in recent years.
The teams have split their last 12 matchups over the past decade, though Eastern has had the lion's share of success in the most recent years. The Griz snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eagles with last season's 57-16 blowout.
Montana has not won in Cheney since the "inferno" red turf went in back in 2010.
The Griz are ready to put last week behind them and move on to this Saturday, even if that means a tough opponent like Eastern. The Eagles, like Weber State at 4-0, are just off the pace of league-leader North Dakota (5-0).
"I'm excited about playing again, to get back on the football field because it's so hard after a disappointing performance," Stitt said. "You've got to wait a whole week to be able to get back out there"