Grizzlies’ defense will play key role

By Gus Bode

Arkee Whitlock might have his work cut out for him Saturday.

The University of Montana, the SIU football team’s quarterfinals opponent, boasts one of the deepest and most dangerous defenses in Division I-AA football. The Grizzlies pose a serious threat to the Salukis’ chances of advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 1983 – the year the Salukis won the national championship.

The No. 2-ranked Grizzlies, who defeated McNeese State 31-6 on Nov. 25, will host the Salukis and should present a more unique style of defense than SIU has played against in the past.

Advertisement

Montana head coach Bob Hauck said his defense doesn’t necessarily posses the speed that most Gateway Football Conferences teams boast – the Grizzlies prefer to play a more tenacious and physical type of game.

“We are not as fast like some of those teams that SIU has played,” Hauck said. “We are a big group that likes to hit people. We are pretty good fundamentally, and we pride ourselves in tackling hard and finishing those tackles.”

The Grizzlies’ defensive line is a testament to Montana’s defensive philosophy – the line has only allowed an average of 98.1 rushing yards a game and a total of nine touchdowns on the ground all season.

To put the statistic into perspective, Whitlock has rushed for 11 touchdowns in his last three games and 25 on the season.

Matt Dougherty, the Sports Network’s executive coordinator for Division I-AA football, said Montana’s defensive line is very good and has a legitimate shot at stopping Whitlock come Saturday.

“Their defensive line is very quick and probably the deepest that you will find anywhere in the country right now,” Dougherty said. “A lot will depend on how the Saluki front can push them back and give SIU some holes to run through.”

Montana’s four-man defensive front boasts returnees and has three upperclassmen – sophomore defensive tackle Craig Mettler is the only underclassmen on the starting line.

Advertisement

Highlighting the veteran group is defensive end Kroy Biermann – the junior leads the Grizzlies in assisted tackles (49), total tackles (69), tackles for a loss (12.5), sacks (10.5) and pass break-ups (5).

Biermann, a relentless pass rusher, is also a Buck Buchanan Award finalist. The Buchanan Award is similar to the Payton Award, but honors the top Division I-AA defensive player of the year.

Biermann was a major contributor in Montana’s first-round playoff win against McNeese State – he collected 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Offensively, the Grizzlies have seen better days – Montana has lost two of its top running backs to injury this season.

A rushing corps that averages 144.2 yards per game and has found the end zone 20 times this season is a compilation of multiple rushers, Hauck said.

Montana is without a 1,000-yard rusher this season and relies on a trio of backs to get the job done in running backs Reggie Bradshaw, Brady Green and Thomas Brooks-Fletcher.

“We lost two of our top guys, which was a big deal for us, so we are kind of a rushing-by-committee type of deal,” Hauck said. “Our throwing game is West Coast-based. It is a balanced offense, and we are going to try some things with the passing game to try and beat them.”

Senior quarterback Josh Swogger leads the offense, which is predominately a pass-first system, with his 205.6 yards per game and 15 touchdowns.

Swogger spreads the abundance of his passes to three receivers – Ryan Bagley, Eric Allen and Craig Chambers – all three of the receivers have recorded more than 500 yards receiving and have caught at least four touchdown passes from Swogger.

The passing game in general averages 231.1 yards per game and has scored 17 touchdowns on the season.

Hauck said the aerial attack should be vital for a win against the Salukis.

“We are going to try some things with the passing game to try and beat them,” Hauck said. “They look good, and it should be a fun game to play for both teams.”

Advertisement