Loss to Montana State a wake-up call for Montana

November 20, 2016 GMT

MISSOULA — Something was missing for the Montana football team Saturday.

That’s hard for me to write. Nine years ago when I arrived in Missoula, the first thing I told former Griz coach Bobby Hauck is I do not take cheap shots.

That’s not going to change when it comes to the intricate details of why Montana suffered its most soul-crushing home loss in years on Saturday. It’s a mistake for me to critique all the decisions made by second-year coach Bob Stitt because I’m not privy to inside information.

But whether I’m watching girls’ soccer, beer league softball or tennis, I know what wavering focus looks like. The Maroon & Silver fell in and out of a funk all afternoon Saturday.

Listening to Stitt talk about a 24-17 loss to arch-rival Montana State reminded me of former Bobcats football coach Rob Ash in his post-game press conferences. I admired that guy for what he accomplished but always felt he failed to instill in his players the importance of winning the Treasure State’s biggest game.

It takes speed, strength and unrelenting desire, to be sure. But it also requires a little bit of what I call Clint Eastwood nasty.

“When things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean.” From the 1976 movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales.

I have no doubt Stitt and his staff did all they could to prepare their troops for Montana State. It’s just that college football is more than physical preparation and work in the film room. It helps to have a little chip on your shoulder.

Repeat after me: Montana State (4-7) should never come to Missoula and run over Montana (6-5) for 368 rushing yards. Not in a million years.

What I saw in the Grizzly defense Saturday was that some of the guys — particularly the older ones who remember what it’s like to play alongside local legends like Jordan Tripp and Zack Wagenmann — played their fannies off. Some of the others, not so much.

Moreover, the Grizzly coaching staff was out-witted. Bobcats skipper Jeff Choate hinted at one of Montana’s defensive flaws afterwards.

“They have a tendency to play in a lot of two-point stances,” he said of the front line. “Pad level is one of the most important fundamentals of football.

“I don’t care how good you are, if you’re going to play in a two-point you’re not going to have great pad level. We were able to hit a lot of our quarterback runs in those situations.”

I’m going to miss seeing some of the Grizzly seniors out on the field next season. Passionate warriors like Caleb Kidder, Zach Peevey, Ryan Johnson and Joey Counts. It’s a shame for them things ended this way.

Even now it’s hard to fathom the Grizzly offense coming out of the locker room after halftime — staring at a 14-7 deficit — and looking so flat. The old Grizzlies would have been gnawing through their chinstraps to get on the field and score. These Grizzlies, who had trouble all season staying engaged in road games, came out passive and went 3-and-out.

This is not meant to be a Dean Martin Roast of Stitt or his 2016 team. Don Rickles did not contribute to this column, nor did Lisa Lampanelli (for you younger folks who watch Comedy Central).

This is more a call to action. Maybe next year you fly in Brock Coyle or Tripp or perhaps Cole Bergquist or Colin Dow and have them address the Grizzlies before they walk on field for the 2017 game. Maybe you show a clip from Saturday of MSU running back Chad Newell jabbing at Griz fans from one end of the stadium to the other with a homemade sign that read “State Champs.”

Maybe you get a reliable running game before heading to Bozeman. You know, the kind you used to use every year to run over the Cats.

Last, but not least, maybe you remind yourselves the Bobcats are going to come on the field with an attitude. The same one that served them so well Saturday.

“This is what I came here to do, beat the Griz,” Newell boasted. “We got that done.”

Anyone’s blood boiling yet?