A Look at the 'Pokes Offense

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Well the first radio show is in the books and our first player guest Buck Buchanan candidate Zack Wagenmann  did an amazing job just as all the athletes do, the itinerary has the Grizzlies jetting their way to Cheyenne Friday and the 2014 University of Montana gridiron season is not just approaching, it's here.

Time for just a glimpse, a taste if you will, of what you can expect Saturday afternoon.

Being the optimistic guy I am, especially about all things Griz, except for the scholarship level I don't have a huge disparity between the Cowboys and Montana.

Of course Wyoming is an FBS school playing in their home opener which they seldom lose - they have won 10 of their last 11 - and Montana I'm sure is considered the underdog but this isn't Tennessee, Iowa, Oregon or Kansas State, past Griz FBS opponents.

Since 2001, Wyoming has hosted 11 FCS opponents, prevailing over all but Cal Poly in 2012 but the matchups at War Memorial Stadium have been anything but walkovers.

Although they dominated Northern Colorado last season (35-7) and Texas State (45-10) the previous year, the five previous games were settled by a total of 21 points.

In two games against Weber State, Wyoming prevailed by a TD and a field goal.

You can expect new head coach Craig Bohl's inaugural team, especially given some of the coaching staff that accompanied him from North Dakota State, to display the same kind of philosophy that was successful in winning an amazing three consecutive FCS championships.

While their offensive line has a single senior and starts two underclassmen, they average just a pound south of 300 and have accompanying stature.

And if you watched NDSU's dominance of Furman in the trenches in the chipper last year, well these guys look like cookie cutters of that group.

The Cowboys will lead on the ground with fullback Drew Van Maanen paving the way for junior running back Shawn Wick who posted a quartet of 100-yard games last year while rushing for 979 yards.

Redshirt senior Colby Kirkegaard starts just his second career game at quarterback and will have senior receivers in Jalen Claiborne and Dominic Rufran, who is on the Fred Biletnikoff watch list as one of the nation's most threatening receivers.

But there's a reason eight of the top 12 players listed in their press info are on defense.

Check out that side of the ball in Friday's edition.

#GRIZvWYO

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Montana's matchup with FBS Wyoming on Saturday is one of the Big Sky's 17 such challenges this season and each of the league's teams has such a game on their schedule.

The Grizzlies are just a couple of days from jumping aboard a charter jet for the 800-mile trip to altitude and a Saturday afternoon meeting with the University of Wyoming.

On just two of 16 meetings last season did a league team pick up a victory over an FBS with Eastern Washington's surprise in Corvallis and Southern Utah beating South Alabama.

One could easily argue, I opine, that such regional teams as Wyoming, Idaho, Utah State and Washington State should be meeting Big Sky Conference teams but many leagues don't allow it. Of course wins over FCS teams don't count toward bowl eligibility and we all know that is the buzzword of the day because of the chance for increased revenue and job security.

Cowboy head coach Craig Bohl is a defensive guy and in winning 43 of North Dakota State's last 45 games including three FCS titles, that stalwart has served him well.

And in returning nine defensive starters and two specialists, the cupboard isn't exactly bare in Laramie.

But while six of the nine top sack masters return to the Mountain West Conference school, let's just say that side of the ball wasn't exactly productive last season.

Opposing teams completed 69 percent of their pass attempts, one of the worst pass defense stats in the country.

Fans are excited though about the Cowboys and the game promises to be a near sellout with no doubt a share on Griz nation making the trip not just from the Treasure State but also Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

One thing that is certain for the Griz is the rushing attack with fullback Jamal Wilson leading the way for seniors Jordan Canada and Travon Van, who also will line up as a dangerous receiver.

There is more than a realistic chance that junior receiver Ellis Henderson won't be a go and that puts the onus on Jamal Jones as the go-to with other receivers, except tight end Mitch Saylor,   with no game experience.

I also would not be surprised to see redshirt freshman Mike Ralston in a twin tight end, fullback look.

Tomorrow we will be looking at a Griz defense that is more than capable of dominating any opponent on the schedule.

A Look at the Big Sky

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Well I always say after a team wins the championship they deserve the No. 1 accolade until it is proven otherwise with a loss but I'm here to tell you Eastern Washington sent a strong message in its opening domination of Sam Houston State to make sure poll voters cast a glance their way when regular season voting begins in a week.

Just a reminder tonight (Tuesday) is the inaugural broadcast of the Mick Delaney Show from the new location at Brooks and Browns in the Holiday inn in downtown Missoula.

It's a lively new format that includes a player segment and of course an opportunity for youngsters - or adults for that matter - to get a picture and an autograph in addition to hearing everything Griz football. The one-hour long affair   gets going at 6 p.m.

And now back to those pesky Eagles, the overwhelming selection to claim another Big Sky Conference crown.

After an intermission tie at 21, Eastern Washington dominated the Sam Houston Bearkats and even tacked on a last minute counter to register a 56-31 victory over their nemesis that had prevailed in three previous meetings.

But of course the Huntsville, Tx. team has had its way with the Big Sky Conference, winning seven straight, six of which came in the playoffs.

Quarterback Vernon Adams exceeded the Century passing mark for the 13th time while tossing a quartet of TDs.

In addition to a 302-yard passing afternoon, he also rushed for 61 yards pushing him over the Century mark in that career category as well.

Just for the record, Adams has thrown for 65 scores (Dave Dickenson is the record holder at 98) in the last 17 games dating back to last season and in running 100 plays tying the school record, the Eagles rang up 624 yards and won their 11th straight home game before a sellout crowd including more than a few interested Montanans

A quick look at the Grizzly two-deep in advance of Saturday's opener at Wyoming especially on the offense features some names Griz Nation fans are not accustomed to hearing.

Sophomores Jackson Thiebes, Ben Weyer and Devon Dietrich join the senior Hines twins while behind Mitch Saylor at tight end are a trio of redshirt freshman.

Maybe as concerning is backups in the trenches where a pair of other sophomores - Clint LaRowe and Todd McCauley are listed.

That is not only as young but also as shallow I can remember a Griz offensive line matching up and how well the newbie young men perform will be a key to Montana's success.

Kickoff 2014

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Along the lines that it seems like just yesterday, here we go. That's right it's game week for Montana football, with the inaugural blog, daily program, coach's show and road trip.

Hi everybody Mick Holien here as the Grizzlies start the countdown for the nearly 800-mile trip to Laramie where they meet the Cowboys for the first time since 1997.

I'm kicking off year 30 of University of Montana play-by-play and can you already tell, I'm excited.

But make no mistake, venturing to War Memorial Stadium, the nation's highest elevated Division 1 facility, promises to be quite an early season barometer of a Grizzly team looking to build on a double-digit win season and their return to the post season after just a one year hiatus.

Wyoming returns 17 starters, nine of them on defense, but sees three-time FCS titlist coach Craig Bohl taking the helm after his amazing run at North Dakota State University.

It promises to be a sellout at Jonah Field where the Cowboys averaged a tad less than 25,000 last season.

The two schools were perennial foes from 1951-1963, with the majority of the matchups contested in Billings. The Cowboys have never lost to Montana in 13 previous meetings.

A member of the Mountain West Conference, Wyoming finished 5-7 last year with one of the victories coming over Northern Colorado (15-7).

But the Cowboys won just 16 league games in Dave Christianson's five-year tenure, bringing about the rift that saw Bohl make the move from the dynasty he headed at NDSU.

Knowing it was a start from scratch, season Bohl has told his 24 seniors they are prime to get this program on track, and will receive rings after the program registers its inaugural league title.

He has brought his pro-style offense so successful in the Dakotas but returns a just a single starter on the offensive line where tackle Jake Jones leads the way with 24 starts.

The remainder of prospective starters in the offensive trenches have just 23 starts among them.

Bookended by the Snowy Range to the west and the Laramie Range to the east, War Memorial Stadium, which features a Field Turf surface, rests at 7,220 feet yet Money Magazine tabbed Laramie as one of the top retirement locations in the country.

In the midst of an 8-4 season in 1997 Montana lost to Wyoming 28-13.

And away we go

 

Let the tourney begin

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There is nothing left for the Montana Grizzlies to do but win because the alternative of course is the completion of the 2013-14 campaign.

It is indeed conference tournament time and in leagues around the country teams are vying to win and move to the next round with the allure of an NCAA berth hanging in the balance.

 

And the Grizzlies know more than their share about tournament action especially in the last two years as they waltzed to the Big Dance.

 

But it is quite a different scenario this season here in Ogden as Montana fell from vying to repeat by claiming a share of the league title won by Weber State all the way to the No 4 seed where Thursday they face No. five seed Portland State.

 

But vital parts of this group have NCAA experience and know the taste of Selection Sunday just three days away and the thrill and excitement of competing on the national stage.

 

But it will be anything but an easy proposition against the Vikings who jumped up and bit league titlist Weber State in the next to last game to enhance their tournament chances to face the Grizzlies for the first time in the tournament.

 

The Viks have won five of their last six games as have the Grizzlies but Portland State is in the midist of a three-game winning streak and riding high.

 

Ironically both teams have claimed a tournament title here at Dee Event Center with Montana claiming the 2010 championship and Portland State winning in 2009.

 

In fact Portland State and Montana have teamed to win five of the last six tournaments.

 

Kareem Jamar is the two-time defending tournament MVP while the Vikings are led in scoring by DaShaun Wiggins, the league's top reserve, who started only 6 games but led PSU in scoring at close to 13 an outing.

 

The Viks won in Portland by a trey in triple OT in a game Montana felt they let get away in regulation while Montana prevailed in single OT by a half dozen

 

PSU head coach Tyler Geving was an assistant when they last won the crown while Wayne tinkle is 9-4 in the tourney with three titles.

 

It promises to be a thriller.

No telling with these two teams playing

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If history is any indication, Thursday night's Big Sky Tournament first-day finale should be a doozy.

 

We are just a day away from the three-day run to determine who will represent the Big Sky Conference in the "Dance."

What is that they say?

You are the champion until someone proves otherwise and while Weber State claimed the regular season crown it is the Grizzlies who are the two-time defending league tournament champions.

And don't think for a minute they are about to surrender the title easily.

But in the opener against Portland State, well since it took four extra five-minute sessions in two overtimes for the two teams to split a pair of games, it promises to be a knuckle buster.

It was a three overtime affair in the Rose City and most recently, on Feb 8, an additional five minute period brought the Grizzlies to a six-point verdict.

So in this win and move-on scenario, look for back-and-forth action with an unpredictable outcome.

Weber State will play the lowest remaining seed which if North Dakota and Northern Arizona hold court would be Montana, if that is, the Griz can dispose of the Vikings.

The last time out, overtime was dominated by Keron DeShields, who scored all but two of Montana's 13 extra-session points and matched Kareem Jamar with 19.

But forward Kyle Richardson got loose for 25 on 10-of-15 from the field and registered a double-double with a dozen, or just about one-third, of the Viking rebounds.

Much like Montana, Portland State plays small-ball with no big force in the low post and while they dominated the Griz on the offensive board last time, for the season rebounding has been a liability.

But while they come off the bench with the big presence of 6 foot 10 Brandon Cataldo, their reserves have been deficient, although backup guard DaShaun Wiggins netted 11 last time around.

The Vikings tend to give up a lot of points and surrender a high shooting percentage both inside and outside the arc making it incumbent for the Grizzlies to take some advantage of second-side opportunities.

Mike Weisner had 16 on six of seven and three for three from trey-land last time and his emergence was key in Montana's five-game winning streak which ended Saturday in Flagstaff.

Let's see if we can get that slipper to fit.

Mick's take on the all-conference team

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There is little doubt that when you win the league you are going to get added recognition from the league's coaches.

Big Sky regular season champ Weber State claimed three of the six league individual awards in voting released Monday.

Swing-guard Davion Berry became the eighth Wildcat player and the first since Damien Lillard to claim the circuit's Most Valuable Player honors.

And while there certainly is an argument for Montana's Kareem Jamar to three-repeat, the senior still reigns as a two-time tournament MVP and that's all still on the table.

And Jamar is just the 22nd player in league history to be accorded first-team honors three times.

Berry scored .4 points more per game than "Ream" but Kareem out-rebounded the senior by more than a carom a game and equaled him with four assists an outing.

But you know it's long been known "to the victor goes the spoils."

The difference is Berry's Wildcats claimed two more victories, the league title and No 1 seed and host spot into the post-season affair.

Jeremy Senglin is the freshman of the year after hitting 40 percent from three and averaging 11.3 points a game and Weber sophomore Joel Bolomboy, who led Weber State to the best defensive stats in the league, was the conference's best defender.

Bolomboy is fifth in the nation in rebounding at just short of 11.

Eastern Washington's Tyler Harvey, North Dakota's Troy Huff, Northern Arizona's Quinton Upshur, the league's newcomer, and Mikh McKinney of Sacramento State rounded out the first team.

Jamar, Huff, Berry and McKinney were unanimous first-squad selections.

But in my opinion the starkest oversight, and no doubt because of the fourth-seed, was the relegation of Jordan Gregory to honorable mention status.

Basically the first squad was made up entirely of guards in a league that certainly was guard laden as Weber's Kyle Tresnak was the only true center honored and he was second team.

But Gregory's contribution certainly deserved more accord than honorable mention which he shared with Keron DeShields.

He stood 10th in scoring, just short of 14 per-game, was second from the free-throw line at 87 percent, shot 44 percent overall and 38 percent from three, was eighth in minutes played and had a 53-38 assist-turnover ratio.

Must deal with the draw

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Inconsistencies that have plagued the Grizzlies often this season proved to be their undoing in the season finale and the resulting defeat to Northern Arizona not only cost them two pairing positions but also put them quite possibly on the champion Weber State side of the tournament bracket.

Here it is on the eve of a bus trip to Ogden, Utah, for the seven-team Big Sky Conference Tournament where Montana will try to three-peat.

But in quite a different scenario this season as Montana enters the tournament on a foreign court and dropping to the number-four seed after seeing a five game winning streak come stumbling to an end in Flagstaff.

The result leaves the Grizzlies to face five-seed Portland State in the first round nightcap and unless there is an upset in one of the first two games if they win would be destined to face the Wildcats in the semi-final round Friday night.

And while the Vikings and Grizzlies have split games they have played an extra 20 minutes against each other since both games were decided in overtime sessions.

While both teams came out slow Saturday afternoon, the Grizzlies trailed by but five points even after connecting on just five field goals.

And in a game Montana never led they scratched and clawed to a tie at 30 with about 16 to play.

But the Lumberjacks went on a 14-3 run and while the Grizzlies cut the lead to one at the halfway mark, they could never get over the hump in losing by 20 and only scoring 47 points.

They suffered their worst shooting game of the season (28.9 percent) and were completely dominated on both boards (40-21) as the Jacks won for the fourth consecutive game.

The Griz bench was outscored 32-9 with no reserve scoring more than three while Kareem Jamar led Montana scoring with 15, the only Montana player in double figures.

NAU snatched 15 offensive rebounds with put-backs and second opportunities contributing to their 50 percent shooting from the field (27-54).

 Guard Quinton Upshur paced three Lumberjacks in double figures as they match Montana's 12-8 league mark but along with North Dakota both have the tie breaker over Montana to claim the two and three seed.

The second time battling Sacramento State

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Last time around the Grizzlies survived a hot shooting Sacramento State team with a torrid offensive performance of their own in recording a 12-point victory.

Montana completes the regular season with road contests at Sacramento and Flagstaff.

Even though they were outboarded and made but five treys, the Grizzlies missed but eight shots in the second stanza in scoring 45 points and claiming an 82-70 victory.

Even though the Hornets shot 54 percent they scored but 27 first-half points and trailed by 10 at the intermission.

The first time around was a game of guard scoring for Montana as Kareem Jamar, Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields combined for 51 points. or 60 percent of the offense  with "Ream" leading the way with 20.

Chris Kemp began his late-season surge with a then-career high 10 to go along with seven rebounds and the Griz as usual took excellent care of the orb with just nine turnovers.

But the Hornets buzz at home, winning 10 of 11 overall and seven of eight conference outings in the always-active Nest.

They shoot 44.5 percent and average almost 70 while giving up the same amount.

Sac State takes good care of the basketball and fill it up from three averaging more than six a game, but they allow opponents more than seven.

They are ball hawkers grabbing almost seven steals an outing.

One forte may be rebounding, not exactly a Griz strength yet ever improving.

The Hornets have been outrebounded in just one a game, while Montana is minus five in that regard.

Picked in the pre-season to finish seventh and eighth by the coaches and media, Sac State has lost two straight to fall into a four-way tie with a 9-9 mark and still battling to get in the tournament so there is a lot on the line this week for the Hornets.

Portland State, Montana State and Eastern Washington are tied with the Hornets for that sixth spot with ISU a game away.

The Bengals certainly could enhance their chances by picking up a W at Eastern especially with league champ Weber State traveling to Portland.

But it may all come down to Saturday when six teams, including Montana, finish up in the afternoon.

One final week to decide this

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Well we're right down to it and even with North Dakota's victory over Northern Colorado Tuesday, there's a whole lot to be determined in this Big Sky Conference race in the last week preceding the seven-team post-season tournament.

The two hottest teams in the circuit, that's right Montana and North Dakota, claimed victories already this week but while UND clinched a tournament spot and either a two or three seed, with 11 wins the Grizzlies are just knocking on the door and not yet assured seeding or even a tournament berth.

With a pair of road games if the Grizzlies were to fall twice and complete the regular season 11-9 a myriad of tie breaking possibilities would exist especially given that Sacramento, Thursday's opponent, has nine wins, and Northern Arizona, the finale is now 10 and 8.

North Dakota and Montana both have four-game winning streaks while Northern Colorado fell for the fourth straight time.

Even Idaho State, with just eight league wins, has an outside chance to get in and unseat teams above them in the standings with closing wins over both Eastern Washington and Portland State, both teams with 9 and 9 marks.

Already with the host spot secure, Weber State also finishes up on the road at Portland State and Eastern, while North Dakota could match the Wildcats with wins as they finish at Southern Utah.

But Weber owns the tie breaker and thus the host position and No. 1 seed.

After being swept by Montana, the Bobcats are fighting for their proverbial life with road games at Northern Arizona and Sacramento and with a 9 and 9 mark looks to at least have to split to have a chance to get in.

Getting to the 20-win pinnacle looks possible for Weber and NAU, now with 16 and with a good road showing Montana can climb the hill with a good tournament performance but it's bleak for anyone else leading one to believe that the tournament champion, as I've written here before, could be facing one of the two so called play-in games.

And that's sure not favorable for the conference and would be a first.

But it is what occurs when the middle of the league is comprised of teams who beat up on each other.

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