griz v so utah 019

Montana true freshman running back Junior Bergen tries to break a tackle by Southern Utah's Jayden Clark in the Grizzlies' 20-19 win on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula. This Saturday, the Griz will face an improving Northern Colorado team that has its most wins since 2016.

MISSOULA — In a weird scheduling quirk, Montana and Northern Colorado have played two of the same teams over the previous three weeks.

The Bears scored more points and allowed fewer points than UM against then-No. 15 Sacramento State in a 27-24 loss Saturday. The Griz lost to the Hornets in Missoula, 28-21.

UNC’s offense scored more points and its defense gave up fewer points than UM in a 17-9 road win over Southern Utah on Oct. 23. The Griz pulled out a 20-19 win over the Thunderbirds in Missoula, with seven of those 20 points coming from their defense.

While UM is fighting through injuries to keep its playoff hopes alive, the Bears seemed to have found their footing in recent weeks even with their postseason hopes dashed. With a 3-6 record, they have their most wins since they won six in 2016, and a win over the Griz might make their season.

“We’re ready to go for Northern Colorado, who’s a good team,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said. “In my opinion, they’ve played very well lately. They appear to be healthy and getting healthier. They’ve reworked their team through the transfer portal. And they’ve got a good-looking team.”

It was seemingly going to take some time for first-year head coach Ed McCaffrey to turn around the program in his first college job and just his third year as a coach. Add in the fact that the Bears have 36 transfers on their roster, and it was going to take some time to start gelling.

UNC has also played a brutal schedule, losing to Colorado and four ranked teams in Montana State, Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Sacramento State. Its other loss came to a 2-6 Lamar team, 17-10, on Sept. 18.

“Offense, they’re doing some good things,” Hauck said. “They have good skill players. Defense, lots of pressure, man coverage. They’ve got a heavy package on offense. It’s going to take some work this week. They’re providing a heavy prep for us this week.”

UNC has won with its defense, scoring 17 points in victories over SUU and Northern Arizona. The Bears toughed out a 17-10 win over NAU, UM’s opponent next week, one week after the Lumberjacks upset FBS Arizona. Their other win was a 45-13 victory over Houston Baptist on Sept. 11.

The UNC defense has allowed 33 points across the past two games after giving up 135 in the three games before that. The Bears have the Big Sky leader in tackles for loss in David Hoage, who has 19 TFLs.

Like Southern Utah, Hauck has seen UNC try to limit possessions in an attempt to win low-scoring games. The Griz tried to counteract that by going with a hurry-up offense Saturday and looked good on their lone touchdown drive when they went with tempo.

“I mentioned after the game last week that we thought it would be another game where they try to shorten the game, so that lends itself to some of that,” Hauck said of their defensive success. “They’re certainly not trying to get 100 plays on offense. So, that helps. But their defense has played well for sure. They’re good.”

The Bears outscored Big Sky co-leader Sacramento State 17-10 in the second half after being down 17-7 at the half to nearly pull off the upset. Quarterback Dylan McCaffrey’s 232 passing yards were his most since he had 236 in the season opener at Colorado.

UNC has also gone to some 14 personnel packages with four tight ends, one running back and zero wide receivers, Hauck noted. It’s something UM hasn’t seen much, if at all, this year.

“I thought their defense played well throughout,” he said of the Sac State game. “I thought they were more consistent on offense, probably executed a little bit better.”

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

Load comments