It’s time for your weekly scouting report brought to you by BWahlberg on the eGriz forums!

Time for conference play to get started, and up first is Sacramento State, a team last year that went 7-4 and missed the playoffs, but did see their coach, Jody Sears, win Big Sky coach of the year. It seems to me that Sac appears to really build itself on finding incredibly talented individual players that sometimes has shown some issue though playing together as a total team. There’s a lot of interesting cross-overs with some players and coaches on both of these teams and this game is setting up to be a very big one for both the Griz and the Hornets.

Additionally it’s going to be a pretty big day in general. Dave Dickenson will be presented his college football hall of fame award, he’ll be in attendance, and the Griz will be in throwback uniforms. Should be quite the event!

Sacramento State Hornets, 2-1

55-7 win vs St Francis of Illinois: Hosting the NAIA school it went about as one would expect. Sac ran for 230, passed for 400, and held SFU to just 300 total yards of offense. Looks like Sac pulled most of it’s starters before the half.

14-28 loss @ San Diego State: On the road where Bobby used to coach Sac put up one hell of a fight. SDSU opened up a 10 point lead into the 2nd quarter but Sac answered with a TD, making it 10-7, then SDSU tacked on a fieldgoal to make it 13-7 at the half. Mid-way through the 3rd Sac connects on a 68 yard long TD pass and suddenly they’re in the lead, 14-13. From there SDSU locked it in, they did throw a pick on their next series but Sac was really only given 1 more first down on their final 4 possessions while SDSU got in the endzone twice in the 4th quarter (once converting a 2-point conversion). Sac’s numbers weren’t great considering how close the game was for a while, just 53 rushing yards and 181 passing yards and just 4 of 12 on 3rd down. Sac didn’t turn the ball over and did force 2 SDSU turnovers. SDSU had 160 rushing and 270 passing.

28-25 win vs Northern Colorado: Sac continually found themselves chasing UNC through the first 3 quarters of the game. Down 7-0, but tying it, down 14-7 and tying that, and then down 17-14 in the 3rd quarter. It wasn’t until the 4th quarter that Sac got things rolling where they ripped off a 41 yard rush for the go-ahead TD, and then on the following UNC possession Sacked and forced a fumble on their QB, and scored again 5 players later all on Elijah Dotson rushes. Suddenly it’s 28-14 in just about 4:00 of clock time. UNC didn’t go away without a fight, marching down the field on a series of passes to score and get a 2-point conversion to make it 28-25. UNC failed to recover the on-sides though, they did hold Sac to a punt with just 27 seconds left in the game but fumbled the punt return and Sac kneeled out the clock. Sac ran for almost 200 and passed for 240, while UNC had about 320 passing but just 120 on the ground. Lots of lost fumbles in this game, Sac lost 2 while UNC lost 3. Sac’s turnovers were especially costly as one was lost at midfield but another was lost on the UNC 2 yard line.

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General Stats

Passing yards per game Sac (262 for UM vs 275 for Sac)
Rushing yards per game Sac (110 rush ypg for UM vs 157 rush ypg for Sac)
Total offense Sac (373 for the Griz vs 433 for SAC)
Passing yards allowed per game Sac (261 ypg allowed by SAC vs 270 ypg allowed for UM)
Rushing yards allowed per game Montana (75 ypg allowed vs 130 ypg allowed)
Total defense Montana (346 ypg allowed by UM vs 391 ypg allowed by UNI)

4 for Sac St and 2 for Montana

Offense points scored Montana (33.7 vs 32.3)
Defense points allowed Sac (20 vs 23.3)
Turnover margin Sac – UM is +2 while Sac is +3
Fieldgoal % Montana – 100% for Montana / 66.6% for Sac
Punt Returns Montana (10.4 YPR vs 6.5 YPR)
Kick Returns Montana (31.6 for UM vs 15.2 for Sac)
T.O.P. Montana (30:07 for UM vs 25:00 for Sac)
Red Zone defense (touchdowns) Sac (UM 71% / SAC 58% )
Red Zone offense (touchdowns) Sac (69% SAC / 53% UM)
3rd down offense Sac (36% for UM / 41% for Sac)
3rd down defense Montana (UM 37% / SAC 46%)

5 more for Sac and 6 for Montana. Total goes 9 for Sac and 8 for Montana.

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Players to Watch:

#5 Kevin Thompson, QB: Thompson has an interesting back-story. He was originally a UNLV recruit and was on the team in 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile Griz QB Dalton Sneed redshirted at UNLV in 2015 himself. Thompson set a Sac record for QB efficiency last year and when he finally took over the starting role lead the team in many stats including passing and rushing. He’s a lot like Sneed when you compare the two statistically. He’s 6-2, 205, and this year is averaging about 215 per game passing and just about 20 yards per game rushing. However last year he was averaging 99 yards per game rushing and 222 per game passing. He lead the team last year in rushing TDs with 8. Lots of seminaries in both him and Sneed in terms of what they bring to the team.

#33 Elijah Dotson, RB: Possibly on reason why Thompson’s rushing stats this year aren’t as great is that Dotson has really emerged as the feature back in this offense. He’s 6 feet tall, 190 pounds, and has 203 yards and 2 TDs on the season, he’s also a bit of a pass catching threat too.

#13 Jaelin Ratliff, WR: This dude needs to be accounted for at all times. He’s Sac’s (near) home-run threat WR. A smaller guy at 5-11, 175, he’s leading the team with 217 yards this season but oddly no TDs yet (hence me saying he a near-HR threat). He’s averaging almost 25 yards per reception. Last year he averaged 26.5 yards per catch. He leads the team in catches and yards (217) this season.

#7 Andre Lindsey, WR: To counter-act the smaller Ratliff, Lindsey is a big 6-3, 200 pound WR who finished 2nd team all conference last year with 750 yards and 7 TDs. This season he’s got 142 yards and 1 TD so far.

#99 George Obinna, DE: Probably the best DE in the Big Sky, 6-3, 240 pounds. He was hurt and missed the first two games but played last week and recorded just 2 stops. I assume the goal is to have him fully ready for the Griz. The dude had 12.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks last year.

#57 Elijah Chambers, DE: Much like how the Griz have seen Dante Olson rise up while Buss works his way back, Chambers has done the same for Sac while Obinna gets back on the field. He’s got a Big Sky best 4.5 sacks, 5 TFLs to go with it, and 1 fumble recovery.

#2 Mister Harriel, S: A 6-1, 200 pound safety Harriel is the ball-hawk of the secondary that last season was one of the Big Sky’s best. So far this year statistically it’s not looked as good, but Harriel already has 2 picks and 4 PBUs to go with 15 tackles on the season. Harriel was also named to the 1st team all-Big Sky this summer.

#8 Caelan Barnes, S: A rotating player last year at safety but starting this season he leads the team so far with 22 tackles, 17 of which are solo. No other major stats to report, but seems like you’ll see #8 around the ball all day long.

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Keys to a Grizzly victory

1. Contain Thompson and force him to make errors. Much easier said than done honestly. The Sac offense last season was really clicking when this guy was on and seems to be doing the same this year. He’s a threat to run and a very efficient passer. The Grizzly front 7 is going to have to keep tabs on him and make sure that he doesn’t burn them with his feet too much. Thompson hasn’t thrown a pick yet this season and isn’t prone to either, but it should would be great if the Griz could steal one.

2. Find a way to keep the Sac D-line from destroying Sneed. The Grizzly O-line has already faced some great talent with opposing D-lines and actually kept the UNI and WIU stars on their lines to marginally quiet days. Trick is that Sac has 2 studs on the edges here. I would assume the Griz will have to game-plan to build an offensive attack that keeps these two out of Sneed’s face all day.

3. Win in turnover margin. Got to eliminate the issues in turnovers the Griz showed last week, while forcing Sac into a few errors of their own. Stats suggest some forced fumbles might be the best way to go. The Griz cannot go -3 again and expect to win.

4. Flip those red zone percentages. In compiling the stats this was a spot of big concern. Sac is better at scoring TDs in the RZ and preventing TDs defensively than the Griz are on both accounts. This could suggest that all things equal we could see some times where Sac’s scoring TDs to the Grizzlies kicking fieldgoals and that’s trouble. Going to need that Grizzly defense to really buckle down.

5. 40% or better for the Griz offense on 3rd down. Interestingly enough that seems to be the Sac St defensive issue early on. 3 games into the season they’re allowing 3rd down conversions 46% of the time. The Grizzly offense HAS to take advantage of that.

6. No lead is safe. Sac in 2017 had 3 or 4 come from behind wins and has 1 this year already. The Griz got beat last week on just that too. Sac has the skill for quick strikes and has a core group of players on offense that will continue to execute even down late.

7. Show improvements on execution issues, especially on special teams. The Griz keep flashing what they could do (JLM punt returns, Flowers TD, pretty good kickoff coverage) and then turnaround and show missed PATs, penalties on returns, and TD allowed on a punt return. I don’t expect a perfect game this weekend from this group, but it needs to show improvement.

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Let’s hope the loss last week jarred the Griz to focus on some improvements because if not, I see a Sac win in a hard fought game. Sac presents a style of QB we’ve not yet faced, stud DE-ends, and has a solid track record of late of not being phased through tough games.

However I have some faith in this team and this staff that they’ll have these guys ready to play and improve on what we’ve seen so far. I still expect a lion share of issues in pass coverage and O-line related issues but I’m looking for a step in the right direction this weekend. The Griz are at home, in throwbacks, with Dave in the house… it’s going to be a battle but I’ll say Griz come away from it with a flatter start but a strong finish, 27-17.

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