It’s time to find out how real the 2016 Grizzlies are. The first of two vital road games comes against the pre-season conference favorite, NAU. While the Lumberjacks haven’t had the season they expected so far they’ve won two in a row and reports are they’re getting healthier. They had our number the last time we played in Flagstaff and always give the Griz everything they can. NAU’s defense is in the top third of the conference too, this game will be a major challenge.
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Northern Arizona Lumberjacks 3-4
13-44 loss @ Arizona State – It was 10-6 ASU into the 3rd quarter in this game. ASU made it 13-6 and then 20-6 just as the 3rd ended. In the 4th they put it away scoring 24 more points. NAU had virtually no running game but did pass for 370 yards.
20-34 loss @ Western Illinois – NAU was looking good early, going up fast 13-3. Then WIU rattled off 24 unanswered points going up 27-13 as the 3rd quarter was almost over. NAU scored to get within 7 but WIU answered to put the game away. NAU’s defense was torched, 200 rushing / 340 passing. WIU also had almost 37:00 of TOP.
73-3 win vs NM Highlands – NAU books these guys a lot. Emmanuel Butler caught 5 TD passes and NAU ran for almost 400 yards in the game.
35-50 loss vs Eastern Washington – It was looking like a dogfight with EWU re-gaining the lead 22-21 with a field goal at the half. However in the 2nd half EWU out-scored NAU 28 to 14 and put the game away. It was still a 1-score game when Case Cookus went out with a shoulder injury in the 3rd. EWU ran for 150 and passed for 400 while NAU passed for 322 themselves. Once subbed in for Cookus, NAU’s backup QB Kemp tossed two costly picks.
18-21 loss @ Northern Colorado – Maybe reeling from the EWU loss and the loss of Cookus the Lumberjacks played a flat game and lost @ UNC. The Bears had a 21-10 lead at the half and from there NAU didn’t get into the endzone until about 2:00 left in the game. NAU lost 3 fumbles and had 2 turnovers on downs. NAU actually had almost 500 yards of offense, their costly turnovers are what did them in.
20-14 win @ Montana State – NAU had a 20-0 lead but had to hang on to win the game, despite 4 bad MSU turnovers. The Cats had just about 280 yards while NAU had about 200 rushing and 200 passing in the game.
52-7 win vs Idaho State – NAU showed more signs of getting things rolling with Kemp at QB, passing for nearly 400 yards in the game as they wrecked the Bengals. NAU continued their ball-hawking ways, forcing 4 more turnovers
Pass YPG: Montana 341 ypg – NAU 311 ypg
Rush YPG: Montana 147 ypg – NAU 180 ypg
Total YPG: Montana 488 ypg – NAU 491 ypg
Offense PPG: Montana 46.7 ppg – NAU 33 ppg
Defense PPG: Montana 20.2 ppg – NAU 24.2 ppg
Turnover Margin: Montana +/- 0 – NAU +5
TOP: Montana 30:00 – NAU 29:42
Offense Red Zone TD%: Montana 73% – NAU 47%
Defense Red Zone TD%: Montana 50% – NAU 73%
Offense 3rd down %: Montana 45% – NAU 40%
Defense 3rd down %: Montana 27% – NAU 38%
Total Plays per game: Montana 79 – NAU 76
Total statistical advantage Montana 9 to NAU 3. Interesting… maybe the first time I’ve seen Montana have a TOP advantage. Obviously in this game the team that performs better in the red zone will have a huge advantage.
Players to Watch
#8 Emmanuel Butler, WR – The 2nd best WR in the Big Sky behind only Cooper Kupp. Butler has 565 yards and 8 TDs this season so far. He’s got the size to be an NFL WR as well, 6-4 and 220 pounds.
#10 Blake Kemp, QB – Obviously we’re assuming that Cookus doesn’t return for this game (reports are Kemp is still 1st string QB but Cookus is improving). Kemp is a senior transfer QB, at 6-1, 205 he’s got 6 TDs and 3 INTs this season. He’s averaging about 173 a game, but that’s a little deceiving, he’s a good passer. Had 300+ against ISU just last week. He’s also a runner, has about 100 yards this season so far.
#3 Elijah Marks, WR – Marks missed the ISU game, not sure his status for this weekend. If he’s back that’s a MAJOR boost to the passing game. Marks has 570 yards (that’s 5 MORE than Butler) with 1 less game too. He’s got 5 TDs this season. He’s also one of the better kick returners in the Big Sky with a 23.5 YPR average.
#22 Joe Logan, RB – Logan doesn’t get nearly as many touches as NAU’s other back but he’s averaging 8.3 ypc and has 457 yards on just 55 touches, 4 TDs on the ground as well. He’s hauled in a few passes too. This guy is their home-run hitting running back. In recent games he’s far out-touching than their other main back.
#13 Kendyl Taylor, RB – Taylor has 110 carries this season but just about as many yards as Logan with 424 and just 1 TD. Taylor is also 3rd on the team in receptions, with 23 – for 185 yards and 1 TD.
#90 Siupeli Anau, DL – The 6-3, 260 d lineman has 10 TFLs, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 blocked kick. This guy has to be accounted for at all times by the Grizzly O-line.
#11 Jake Casteel, LB – a 5-11, 200 lb linebacker Casteel leads the NAU defense with 48 tackle and 2 TFLs. True to NAU’s defensive style they have a lot of linebackers that share similar stats.
#44 Jake Thomas, LB – A bigger backer at 6-1, 235, he’s 2nd on the team in stops with 42. He’s got 3 TFLS, 1 int, and 1 forced fumble.
#32 Andrew Gose, CB – A 5-11, 160 corner Gose leads the team in PBU’s with 7. He’s also got 1 iNT. And he’s actually 4th best in tackles with 34.
Keys to a Grizzly Victory
– Keep the Red Zone efficiency rolling. The Griz on offense and defense are exceptional once in the RZ, while NAU is the opposite. These stats suggest both teams will get their yards inbetween the 20s, but who performs best once into the RZ could win the day.
– Win the turnover margin. This NAU defense has been a damn challenging thing for many Griz teams. We saw the Griz have issues with a similar-ish defense in SFU and UNI as well. NAU loves to force turnovers and has a very healthy turnover margin, especially due to forced fumbles. The Griz HAVE to take care of the ball.
– No missed PATs. It’s ok to miss a few in blowout wins, leaving a few points off the board in this game could come back to haunt the Griz.
– Keep the balanced attack going and control the pace of the game. There’s times Stitt wants to go fast and there’s other times he wants to dominate the LOS and have Calhoun grind the opponent down. Keep that moving and let the ground game help the passing game out. NAU’s aggressive defense needs to stay off-balanced.
– Keep Brady from getting wrecked. The SFU and UNI games he got beat up a little too much and it really seemed to mess with the passing game. Each week it seems there’s costly sacks on him too. The O-line is facing off against a very good individual D-lineman and overall a good front-7.
– Live in confusion. The Grizzly offense seems to be adding more and more each week. They have to make scouting them a real pain in the ass. Continuing to expand and execute this offense will help keep NAU off-balance. SUU got to the point where they didn’t know what to do – we need a repeat of that this week.
– Have the safeties come ready for their biggest challenge yet. Cookus or Kemp this is the most talented offense we’ll have seen. The safeties are going to need to give help to the corners as needed, watch NAU’s big time running back Logan, and be the last line of defense when the NAU QB gets outside of the pocket. NAU I’d bet is going to try to get these guys out of position to try to open up deep throws in 1-on-1 coverage against the corners. Need to prevent that from happening much, if at all.
Games in Flagstaff are never fun or relaxing for a Griz fan. There’s the team adjustment to the altitude, the usually wild setting in their dome when Montana is there. And the unknown now of Cookus and/or Marks returning. NAU loves to keep those injuries real close to the vest.
Some fans are suggesting this game should be easy because of how NAU’s played surprisingly poor out the gate, compared to their pre-season rankings. Others think it’ll be easy especially if Cookus is out. However this team is very well balanced and pretty well run, with real talent on both sides of the ball. This game is huge for the Griz to keep rolling, and huge for NAU as it’ll get them back to .500 ball and keep them in the very faint hunt for a playoff at-large berth.
This one should go down to the wire. Riding off the confidence of some huge wins I’ll say the Griz start a little slow but finish strong, winning 48-38.
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