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

So far… so good for the Griz as the 2-0 team is hitting the road for the first time this season to Western Illinois. This road game is going to make for a major test for this young team and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they respond. WIU is a team most of us are familiar with as many of us watched some or all of their game against MSU two weeks ago. And while WIU is winless they have an experienced team, this is their home opener, and they’re coming off last year where they made the playoffs and lost to Weber State in the 2nd round 19-21. Looking at WIU’s stats from last year they had a STUD wide receiver who had almost 1400 yards, he’s graduated now and represented most of their passing game (he got a shot with the Ravens but was waived after being put on IR).

I can see two paths here, of course we all know that in the prior years a Stitt-coached Griz team had a hell of a time playing well on the road, but now Bobby’s back and hopefully some of those motivation issues we’ve seen in the past could be behind us. On the other hand, this is a young Griz team that has already shown in the 2nd half of the UNI game (per quotes from Bobby) they didn’t really buy-in to his suggestions the game would tighten up, and then they came out pretty damn flat against Drake the next week too. So there’s mixed signals on what to expect this week. In the meanwhile, let’s break down WIU’s season so far:

Western Illinois Leathernecks 0-2

23-26 loss @ Bozeman State: WIU was up 13-6 at the half and while it wasn’t the most convincing lead they had generally kept the cats offense under wraps. WIU had tossed two costly picks in the 2nd quarter and then into the 2nd half their defense started to fall apart. The cats opened the 3rd quarter with a solid TD drive, WIU wound up missing a fieldgoal on the next possession. WIU would get the ball back shortly after than at score again, going up 20-13. The cats answered with another Andersen rushing TD to tie it, WIU then took a 3 point lead on a fieldgoal early into the 4th quarter. The cats would hit 2 more fieldgoals and generally stuffed WIU on offense to set the eventual score. Down 3 with one more drive needed WIU ran a fairly terribly called drive that stalled once across midfield with a turnover on downs. In the game WIU ran for 150 and passed for 160, they tossed two picks, and were just 3 of 15 on 3rd down, despite having 36:25 of TOP. Almost all of the yards WIU gave up on defense came at the feet and hands of Troy Andersen who had 145 rushing and 81 passing which is 226 yards of offense, the cats as a team in this game had 239 yards of total offense.

14-34 loss @ Illinois: Interesting takeaways depending on how you look at it. The WIU recap points out that the Leathernecks fought hard and the scoreboard doesn’t reflect how tight the game was. Illinois writers point out WIU really only had a good opening drive and Illinois was without their top 2 WRs, #1 TE, and resulted in having to insert a true freshman at QB when the starter got knocked out. WIU ran for just 66 yards but passed for almost 300 in this game, meanwhile Illinois ran for 240 and passed for about 140. WIU certainly had some chances later in the game to make it a little closer, after scoring a 2nd time to make it 14-24 they then had the next 5 possessions end badly, a lost fumble on the Illinois 15, an INT on their own 19, turnover on downs on the Illinois 8, another INT at midfield, and a turnover on downs at the Illinois 35. Looks like one of the Illini’s TD came on blocking a WIU punt.

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General Stats

Passing yards per game Montana (279 for UM vs 230 for WIU)
Rushing yards per game WIU (96 rush ypg for UM vs 109 rush ypg for WIU)
Total offense Montana (375 for the Griz vs 339 for WIU)
Passing yards allowed per game WIU (109 ypg allowed by WIU vs 225 ypg allowed for UM)
Rushing yards allowed per game Montana (91 ypg allowed vs 205 ypg allowed)
Total defense PUSH (316 ypg allowed by UM vs 314 ypg allowed by UNI)

3 for Montana, 2 for WIU, and 1 push

Offense points scored Montana (37 vs 18.5)
Defense points allowed Montana (19.5 vs 30)
Turnover margin Montana – UM is +5 while WIU is -4
Fieldgoal % Montana – 100% for Montana / 50% for WIU
Punt Returns Montana (10.8 YPR vs 4.5 YPR)
Kick Returns Montana (28.8 for UM vs 25.8 for WIU)
T.O.P. WIU (31:34 for WIU vs 29:22 for UM)
Red Zone defense (touchdowns) WIU (UM 80% / WIU 67% )
Red Zone offense (touchdowns) WIU (80% WIU / 60% UM)
3rd down offense Montana (34% for UM / 22.2% for WIU)
3rd down defense WIU (UM 35% / WIU 23%)

Montana gains 7 while WIU gets 4. That puts the total at Montana 10, WIU 6, and 1 push. WIU’s 3rd down defense over their first two games is pretty damn great.

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Players to Watch:

#5 Steve McShane, RB: McShane is a returning starter, he’s got 104 yards rushing with 1 rushing TD this year, also has another 66 receiving yards and 2 more TDs there. This is kind of his forte, he’s a true all-purpose guy, he had 580 rushing and 307 receiving last year, he actually finished 2nd in total receptions and receiving TDs on the team. He’s 5-8 and 185 pounds. His other strength last year was punt returns, he averaged 18.5 yards per return and had 1 TD last season. So far this year he’s not tallied any return yards yet.

#18 Sean McGuire, QB: He’s 6-3, 230 pounds and a returning starter. Not the greatest stats so far this season with 220 passing per game and 4 TDs with 4 INTs. Can run a bit, but not his primary thing to do. Last year was a pretty good year for him, he averaged about 240 per game, had 25 TDs to just 7 INTs. But keep in mind he lost his top target who caught 38% of his passes, had 48% of his yards, and 40% of his TDs from the prior year.

#35 Max Norris, RB: Norris splits touches with McShane, a bigger guy at 5-10, 207, he’s got just 64 yards rushing so far this season. Last year he actually out-rushed McShane, he had 656 rushing yards and 5 rushing TDs. Only a few catches last year and none this year… yet.

#25 Clint Ratkovich, WR: Clint appears to be the most experienced (statistically) returning WR. He’s got about 100 yards this season and no TDs yet. Last year he had 132 yards and 2 TDs. He’s listed as a 6-1, 210 pound guy… but as a RB, so far this year he’s got the 2nd most amount of receptions on the team behind only McShane, but 1 rushing attempt.

#11 George Wahee, WR: A Norfolk-State grad transfer Wahee leads the team in yards with 104, and has 1 TD this season. He had 340 yards and 1 TD at Norfolk in 2017.

#1 Tony Tate, WR: This guy appears to be another McShane in the making. He’s got 68 receiving yards on just 3 catches and 1 TD. Also has 77 rushing yards on just 8 attempts. He’s their kick return guy as well and has a 68 yard return this season as well.

#99 Khalen Saunders, DT: A first team-all MVFC selection this 310 pound DT will be a force for the Grizzly O-line. Just 8 tackles this season and no sacks (but they’ve played some run-heavy teams). Last year he finished with 57 tackles, 12 TFLs, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.

#39 Quinten Moon, LB: Moon is 6-2, 232 pounds and is the top returning tackler on the team, he had 70 last year (side note, the leader on the team had 162!). This year he’s leading the team so far with 21 tackles. No other stats to really report this season, last year he had 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 forced and recovered fumble, and even blocked a kick.

#37 Zach Gilsan, LB: A 6-2, 232 pound linebacker Gilsan has 19 stops this year so far, looks like he served mostly in an ST/backup role last year.

#30 Justin Fitzpatrick, DB: Just 8 tackles so far for this 6-1, 200 pound safety. He also made the first team all-MVFC team this preseason. Last year he had 57 tackles and a team best 5 INTs and 2 FF.

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Keys to a Grizzly victory

1. Have our best passing game yet. WIU has guys that actually suggest they have a stout pass defense with skilled players. Their stats don’t show too much simply because they’ve faced two teams with QBs that are run first, pass second guys. I believe the Grizzly passing game will be challenged more than they have the last two weeks by this team, and since the passing game is mostly what the Griz have, it’s going to have to be dialed in, FAST.

2. +2 or better in turnovers. So far the Griz have excelled at forcing turnovers and limiting their own. While WIU has been the opposite way. This needs to continue for Grizzly success on Saturday.

3. Don’t let McShane get rolling. This guy does it all for this team and has to be accounted for at all times, running, passing, and on punts. If there’s a guy that could break the game open for WIU it seems like it could be him.

4. Avoid playing flat. As I originally posted, this was a staple of Stitt-era road games and can also happen with younger teams. Also worth note that over Bobby’s career he’s had his share of humbling road losses too. We’ve seen this team in their 2 wins play essentially 4 quarters of good football and 4 quarters of poor football.

5. Cut back the penalties. The amount of penalties for the Griz this early into the season have been a little out of character for what we know from this staff. While mistakes at home can sometimes be more easily countered, on the road they sometimes can hurt a team even more with the momentum swings in the game.

6. Give Sneed more time. While it’s my 6th point on the list it’s probably the #1 priority. Sneed has to have more time in this game and can’t get too beat up. While we don’t know if it’ll be Meyer or Sain on the OL what we need is a step in the right direction on giving him even just a few more seconds to make reads.

7. Counter WIU’s game plan to our aggressive defense. I’d suspect the game film on the Grizzly defense after the first two weeks suggest that attacking overly aggressive blitzes from LBs and CBs could make some gains. WIU has 2 backs that are just as good of pass catchers as they are RBs. Watch for check-down passes over blitzing backers, be prepared for a team without an experienced deep-shot WR to try to beat us with their short game.

8. More QB pressure from the D-line. We need the front 4 to get after the WIU QB this week.

9. Have a RB with 75+ yards. We need a running game, and it can’t just be Sneed running for his life. WIU has given up big yards in the first two games and the Griz desperately need to get something going there.

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This feels like a trap game to me. WIU’s stats are kind of stunted due to the teams they’ve played and have some great skill defensively. Not knowing much about WIU and thinking about the game over the summer I chalked this up as a probable loss for the Griz. At that point we knew WIU barely lost to Weber in the post-season and I figured they’d be pretty highly thought of again. However their start has not been as expected and as I recall they’re projected to finish 8th in the MVFC.

The Griz will come in favored by sheer measure of records and ranking, but as I look at an inconsistent and young Griz team hitting the road, I still have my worries. This game feels like a toss-up to me, and right now I somewhat lean towards a WIU upset win. I think this game will be tight as WIU will look to slow the game down, and Montana will hopefully not be so inconsistent. I can’t really find a score to call it, I see this winding down either a tighter/closer Montana win or a WIU win where they stretch it out and win by double digits as the game goes on and a young Griz team fails to keep it close.

Looking at the numbers the Griz can win this, if we get the 1st half of UNI and/or the 2nd half of Drake, this is a game they win. If not… could be a tough day. I’m sure the coaches will have the guys as ready as they can be, and hopefully the Griz show more focus on their successful execution.

GO GRIZ!

EDIT: updated the tally on stat comparisons, incorrectly gave WIU a mark on total offensive yards and added it to their count

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