EUGENE, Ore. — Montana sophomore Michael McGinnis could’ve given up with the game out of reach.
The Griz safety and Sidney native instead raced down the right sideline and made a touchdown-saving tackle in the closing minutes of his team's 35-3 loss to then-15th-ranked Oregon on Saturday night at Autzen Stadium.
McGinnis’ effort on the play capped what had been a better-than-expected defensive performance from the Griz (2-1) going up against an offense coming off a 77-point outing and being led by a quarterback who was projected to be the top NFL draft pick last year.
“I thought we played hard,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “We gave up too much. We gave up a 60-yard run there at the end because our freshmen can’t do their assignments right.
"But for the most part, when our non-freshmen were in, we were pretty assignment-conscious, and we were real good in the run game. I thought we covered them fairly well. They had some guys (that) made some plays.”
Coming into the game, the Griz were expected to have their hands full with Oregon’s over-sized offensive line. Their defensive line, a young group that’s growing, matched up with Oregon's physicality well enough for the Griz to not give up obscene numbers on the ground.
Montana allowed 247 rushing yards on 38 carries. Take out that 63-yard run on which McGinnis made the tackle of Sean Dollars, and those numbers would be 184 yards on 37 carries, an average of 4.9 per carry. Only two Oregon runs went for more than 11 yards, and Dollars' run was the lone Oregon play to go for more than 23 yards.
“I think all five of (the offensive linemen) potentially are NFL players,” Hauck said. “Several of them have high draft choice grades already. I know that talking to some of the NFL guys. So, they’re good.
“I was afraid they would knock us off the ball, and they did not do that. We probably made progress with all those young D-linemen we played today.”
The Griz didn’t sack Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who threw for 316 yards and five touchdowns, but they did get three tackles for loss. Redshirt freshman defensive end Milton Mamula, redshirt sophomore linebacker Marcus Welnel and redshirt freshman safety Nash Fouch each had a TFL.
“I had high regard for him before the game,” Hauck said of Herbert, “and I just think he’s a smooth operator.”
In a costly missed sack, the 6-foot-6, 237-pound Herbert shook off 6-3, 285-pound defensive end Alex Gubner in the closing seconds of the first half, rolled to his right and threw a touchdown pass on the run to the corner of the end zone for a 21-0 lead.
“He’s obviously one of the best players in the country for a reason,” said Montana linebacker and Oregon native Dante Olson, who tallied a game-high 14 tackles. “He played well tonight. We didn’t get him down when we needed to.”
Money downs, money quarters
While the Ducks piled up 560 yards, the Grizzlies’ defense made some key stops. Montana forced a turnover on downs three times in 12 drives and made Oregon punt three other times.
The Griz held Oregon to 6 of 13 on third downs and 1 of 4 on fourth downs.
“We stressed third down, fourth downs and got it done sometimes, didn’t get it done other times,” Olson said. “They got the ball on the perimeter a little bit. Just got to be better tacklers and be able to make plays when we need to make them.”
The Griz gave up a fourth-quarter score for the first time in three games when Herbert threw his fifth touchdown pass.
With 14 second-half points allowed to the Ducks, the Griz have given up just 21 points in the second halves of games, an average of seven points. They gave up 16.5 per game last season while playing only FCS competition.
Montana is outscoring teams 62-21 in the second half and 21-7 in the fourth quarter after being outscored 134-72 in the fourth quarter last year.
'Never gave up'
Montana did hurt itself with penalties, getting called for seven for 79 yards. Four of Oregon’s five scoring drives included a 15-yard penalty on Montana.
“They got the one wheel route in the red zone where we busted coverage. That was too bad,” Hauck said. “They got assisted by a couple of, a key late hit that was close, which I don’t have any problem with, either side of it, the call or the hit. And the pass interference call was give-and-take there on the first drive. We kind of had them stopped. So, um, I don’t know. We played OK.”
In the end, Hauck measured success on if UM won or lost. While he would consider it a loss, the defensive performance showed promise for a team that starts to play Big Sky Conference teams in two weeks.
“Well, we need to get better,” Hauck said. “We lost. We came here to win. We didn’t do it.”
Olson echoed Hauck and said there will be lessons to be learned once the film review begins.
“We never gave in, never gave up, and (I’m) proud of the guys for that,” Olson said. “There’s going to be a lot to learn from on the film, and (I’m) looking forward to getting back after it next week.”