'Twas the week of the bye …
It's bye week, so Grizzly thoughts turn to …
"He's for real," Montana defensive coordinator Kraig Paulson said Wednesday of Sacramento State's sophomore phenom at running back. "He just doesn't miss a hole. He's dominating our thought process."
Roberts, the leading rusher in Division I-AA, is thinking more of Pocatello, Idaho. He'll be looking for his fourth straight 200-yard game at Idaho State on Saturday night.
Then he can concentrate on the Grizzlies, as they've been dwelling on him and his scout team imitator, freshman Joel Rosenberg of Whitefish.
Montana (4-2 in league, 6-3 overall) needs to contain Roberts and beat the Hornets on Nov. 14 to make a current binge of three straight wins mean anything, and to make the following week's game against Montana State mean as much.
Winning out remains UM's only chance of returning to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
"Obviously we're playing our best football at the right time," head coach Mick Dennehy said. "I think it's been a typical University of Montana team in that regard. We usually have a tendency to grow weekly and play better at the end of the season, rather than play our best early and kind of taper off."
Indeed, UM is 17-2 after Nov. 1 the last three seasons.
Grizzly coaches have shortened practices this week and on Wednesday held their annual "rookie scrimmage," where freshmen got their licks in. They'll practice en masse Thursday before adjourning for the weekend.
"We thought about giving them (today) off but we decided they'd probably take class off, too," Dennehy joked. "It's kind of a typical week, really."
Several players are staying out of contact drills to nurse injuries. Linebacker Rylan Jollymore, out since the second game with a knee injury, may be ready to return to action after the bye.
A couple of coaches will spend time evaluating high school players. The staff is allowed by the NCAA to watch games on nine weekends starting Sept. 1, and can watch a team play only one time.
UM recruiters fanned out to high school and junior college games in Los Angeles and San Diego when the Grizzlies played Cal State Northridge, and to high school games in the Spokane area when they met Eastern Washington.
Special teams coach Craig Dickenson returns to his home town of Great Falls on Friday to watch C.M. Russell and Great Falls High play. Those are the only Class AA teams the Grizzlies haven't scouted.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease is headed for Fort Benton, where the unbeaten Longhorns host Wolf Point in the Class B semifinals on Saturday. Dennehy said the Grizzlies won't be able to see Huntley Project, one of the state's better B teams, in nearby Frenchtown because they've already scouted Frenchtown.
November finds Pease's offense ranked third in Division I-AA in passing with 319.9 yards per game, after finishing first, first and fourth in preceding seasons.
Quarterback Brian Ah Yat is fifth in total offense, though his short appearance against Portland State before he was injured is factored in to his average of 308.8 yards. Throw that game out and he's closer to 350, bad back and all. In 1996, when Ah Yat was Big Sky offensive MVP and runner-up for I-AA's Walter Payton Award, he averaged 335 yards a game.
Junior Jeremy Watkins of Missoula has emerged as the Big Sky's leading receiver with 61 catches. Senior Justin Olsen's nine touchdown catches are second only to Art Williams' 12 for Portland State in the conference.
Paulson's defense, sieve-like in early September, is jelling behind the steady performances of Jollymore's replacement in the middle, sophomore Adam Boomer, and fellow linebacker Marcus Wilson.
"Obviously, the credit goes to the kids," Paulson said. "When we were down, there wasn't anybody pointing fingers. And I think as important as anything is the job Carl (Franks) has done with the special teams. They've been putting people inside the 20, and that's been huge for our defense."
Dennehy said he won't spend a lot of time fretting over other Big Sky games this wee
kend. It would serve the Grizzlies well if Cal State Northridge, which beat UM, were to lose at home to Portland State. After that, there'll be just three teams with fewer than three leagues losses - and Montana and Montana State will be two of them.
Whether that remains the case until the Griz-Cat game in Missoula on Nov. 21 can't be known.
"What it all boils down to is that's such a big game it won't matter anyway," Dennehy said. "Obviously there'll be a lot at stake, but we'll worry about that when the time comes. Sac State is a good football team, it really is. I think it would be a real crucial mistake to begin spending a lot of time worrying about anyone else."