MISSOULA — Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed noticed the defensive back had inside leverage, so he audibled a slant route for wide receiver Mitch Roberts into a speed out route toward the boundary.
After he took the snap, Sneed saw the play unfolding in his favor, got the needed protection from his offensive line and fired a strike to Roberts. The Sentinel grad caught the ball in the front, left corner of the end zone for an 11-yard score, the lone touchdown reception during the Grizzlies’ first spring scrimmage on Friday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Sneed’s pass to Roberts capped an eight-play, 50-yard drive that included him completing a 25-yard pass to Roberts on fourth-and-8 in a situation with the Griz down 5 points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He finished with an unofficial stat line of 8-for-16 passing for 99 yards and one touchdown.
With one year in the system under his belt, Sneed’s ability to better recognize various defensive looks, diagnose defenses as the play unfolds and then come through by making the play is something he’s been working on improving.
“I think Dalton’s doing a good job,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “He’s pretty solid, pretty steady. He hasn’t been too much up and down this spring. It’s been mostly a pretty solid effort by him.
“The best thing for him is to see all the different looks that we’re giving him and refining him and expanding his knowledge of the game and all those different things that (offensive coordinator) Timm (Rosenbach is) working with him on.”
Sneed returns as the incumbent starter with the spot seemingly his to lose in spring and fall camps. It’s his first time in four years as a college starter that he’ll have the same head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after one year starting at UNLV, transferring to Fort Scott Community College for one year and then coming to Montana last season.
After he worked to understand the basics of the system last spring, he ended up completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 2,723 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for a team-best 675 yards to go with six touchdowns. Those numbers were good enough for him to be named the Big Sky Conference’s newcomer of the year and land on the all-conference honorable-mention team.
Now in his second season, Sneed is trying to become a more complete player.
“Instead of trying to understand the system and understand where we’re trying to go with the ball, definitely trying to work on my drops, keep my eyes down field, stepping up in the pocket,” Sneed said. “Because for me, what I’ve been trying to work on is get better at the little things instead of the overall system of it.”
Sneed should benefit by having an offensive line with more experience and depth, although Hauck said Friday the O-Line two-deep is “still a major concern.” The offense also added a transfer on the line and in the backfield while bringing back a loaded group of pass catchers, which Hauck said still needs more consistency.
“As a second-year guy, he’s going to be more confident, he’s going to be in the system longer,” senior linebacker Dante Olson said. “I think this spring he’s been what you can expect. We haven’t played for a while, so everybody’s rusty, right. Routes are rusty, coverages are rusty. But he’s a great quarterback, great player.”
The defense appeared to have a slight edge on the offense in the first scrimmage, but the offense did come through with some timely plays. As for Hauck’s evaluation, it reinforced the notion there’s a need for more reps.
“I thought that the young guys failed,” Hauck said. “I didn’t think that was very good. But the veteran guys looked the part, did some good things. I thought we ran the ball pretty well. That was probably my first thought.”
Montana ran five fourth-and-1 plays with the first-team offense going against the first-team defense. Running back Adam Eastwood converted the first four times, picking up 5, 3, 4 and 2 yards. On the fifth one, senior safety Josh Sandry had a tackle for a 1-yard loss.
Transfer running back Marcus Knight ran for a 3-yard score as he finished with 11 carries for 20 yards and one fumble. Redshirt freshman running back Drew Turner scored on a 2-yard touchdown run and ended up with 18 yards on 10 carries. Turner had a 15-yard run on fourth-and-1 as the second-team offense went against the second-team defense.
Senior cornerback Kobey Eaton had an interception of fourth-string quarterback Wheeler Harris. Junior cornerback Josh Egbo forced Knight to fumble the ball, which sophomore safety Robby Hauck recovered. Senior cornerback Kadeem Hemphill picked off third-string quarterback Garrett Graves.
Olson had five tackles and batted down two passes. Sandry had two pass breakups. Sophomore linebacker Patrick O’Connell and sophomore defensive tackle Eli Alford had two sacks apiece. Senior lineman Jesse Sims had a sack and a quarterback hit.
Backup quarterback Cam Humphrey completed 11 of 14 passes for 93 yards and finished with minus-38 yards rushing on five carries because of sacks. Graves was 1-of-9 passing for 12 yards and was picked off once. He took off the no-contact jersey for 10 plays and had a 17-yard rush in which he ran over Olson, but he also fumbled later. Harris didn’t complete either of his two pass attempts, getting picked off once.
Junior kicker Brandon Purdy made a 48-yard field goal and an extra point. He missed from 43 yards, and junior Gabe Peppenger missed from 39 yards.