MISSOULA — Oregon coach Mario Cristobal was asked during Monday's press conference about the potential opportunity to play more true freshmen, specifically third-string quarterback Cale Millen, against Montana this Saturday.
The FBS No. 15 Ducks, coming off a 77-6 win over Nevada of the Mountain West, have reason to feel confident they'll post a second straight home blowout against the FCS Montana Grizzlies. But Cristobal was not about to bite on a leading question.
“Well, our focus is on playing them the best we can,” he said. “To me, anytime any game comes around, that’s the only foe. We haven’t discussed, ‘Hey, we got to… .’ I think you know how it is: it’s respect everybody that you play.
“And we’ve got ourselves a heck of a ball club coming in.”
Cristobal spent the early part of his press conference breaking down No. 20-ranked Montana. His evaluation was over 500 words long and complimentary in many aspects, starting with senior quarterback Dalton Sneed, a former FBS player at UNLV.
“All focus is on Montana,” Cristobal said. “A couple of things on them which I think are really important to note:
“No. 1, just starting with their offense, (I) think that their quarterback (Sneed) is really a special player. He’s a runner, he’s a thrower. He’s the heart and soul of their team. Very tough. He’ll throw his body around. There’s no hesitation in his game whatsoever. The ball is out quick and it’s accurate. I think he’s a special player.”
Cristobal then spoke about the Grizzlies’ receivers, which includes second-team All-Big Sky honoree Sammy Akem, re-emerging standout Samori Toure and Jerry Louie-McGee, who's poised to break a school record.
“He’s (Sneed is) complemented by some really special wide receivers,” Cristobal said. “In fact, their slot (Jerry Louie-McGee) I think has the opportunity to break the all-time receptions record this season; he’s on pace to do so. Very explosive at the slot position. They’re very long, athletic and fast outside.”
Cristobal went on to talk more about the X’s and O’s of the offense.
“They do a great job just mixing up what they do from a tempo standpoint,” Cristobal said. “They’ll get in 11 personnel and run some spread, tempo stuff and then jump into 21, 22 personnel, do some more pro-style concepts both in the run game, the pass game, play-action as well, and do a lot of shifts and motions, try to get you off of your scheme and try to catch you one or two gaps short and try to expose you defensively.”
Continuing with the offense, the former Alabama offensive line coach gave love to Montana’s O-line and underappreciated tight ends, specifically Missoula Big Sky grad Colin Bingham.
“Their offensive line, I love watching them play because they play with toughness,” Cristobal said. “I believe overall they have 10 starters back, but 13 guys on their offense have started at least a game or two for them the previous season.
“I don’t think their tight ends get enough credit. I know Colin Bingham, just watching him, 88, watching him a lot just because he’s so physical and he sets the point whether they’re running power, outside zone, inside zone and they use two and three tight ends at a time.
“So, that’s a little bit on their offense. Obviously real explosive offense. They’ve scored a lot of points.”
Cristobal closed with a look at the defense and the uniqueness of defensive coordinator Kent Baer’s scheme.
“Defensively, a very different challenge than we’ve had,” Cristobal said. “I know we faced a three-down front this past week; this one’s a little bit different. They’re in that three-down front probably 70 percent of the time, and then 30 percent of the time they’re in a four-down front.
“They play with three safeties at a time in the game to complement their two corners, so five DBs at a time with three-down linemen and three linebackers. One of those linebackers will move up on the line of scrimmage to present their four-down package as well.”
Cristobal then singled out senior linebacker Dante Olson, a Medford, Oregon, native who finished third in voting for the Buck Buchanan award, given to the top FCS defender, in 2018.
“It all starts with No. 33, Dante Olson,” Cristobal said. “Just a hard-nosed, tough, physical, fast, instinctive football player manning up the middle of that defense right there.
“You’re looking at getting some type of stunt up front, whether it be a (tackle-end), an (end-nose), meaning truly the (defensive) end and the nose (tackle) stunting on first and second down, not third down, on first and second down to present a lot of fit issues for the offense, blocking scheme issues.”
Cristobal then closed by talking about the secondary.
“They communicate extremely well,” he said. “Thought the back end of their defense does a really good job communicating and passing off concepts, matching concepts as well. Just a very different scheme than what we’ve faced, so we’ve got to have a great week of preparation.”