HAMILTON — In three plays, Montana defensive lineman Kale Edwards passed at the line of scrimmage, recorded a sack and participated in another sack with fellow lineman D Garrett Hustedt.
The defense dominated the day in the spring game, especially in the trenches and in the secondary. The Griz intercepted three passes, had several more breakups and allowed just two touchdowns.
Offensive and defensive fronts were UM’s two biggest question marks heading into the spring game. These are the two areas where improvements could help the Griz take the next step and move past the quarter-finals, where their last two seasons ended.
“I thought we looked quick on the defensive end,” Montana coach Bobby Hauck said after the 60-minute scrimmage. “I didn’t think we looked so sharp on the attacking side. A lot of these guys haven’t played a ton of snaps together, so that’s probably playing a bit. I thought it was solid.
Edwards, a sophomore who transitioned from linebacker to defensive end, finished with four tackles for loss and two sacks. Hustedt, a transfer from Nebraska who plays defensive end after being a linebacker, has made a handful of plays and is someone for whom Hauck noted “early sightings are really favorable to him” as the Griz replace Joe Babros and Justin Belknap.
Sophomore Noah Kaschmitter, who last year played as a third-string defensive tackle, also had a pass at the line of scrimmage. The Griz have been focused on giving plays to their younger players on both sides of the ball, while more proven players like defensive end Jacob McGourin and defensive tackles Eli Alford and Alex Gubner haven’t. cheek.
The defensive front and the secondary fed each other. Disruptions on the line limited the time it took for cornerbacks and safeties to cover. Solid coverage at the back gave the defensive linemen time to get to the quarterback.
Junior safety TraJon Cotton intercepted a pass from Kris Brown deflected by cornerback Justin Ford in the end zone. Cornerback Corbin Walker landed a pass from Kris Brown that was deflected by senior linebacker Michael Matthews after a leaping Edwards landed in Brown’s face. Dylan Simmons caught a pass from Daniel Britt in the end zone. Cornerback Trevin Grandey Gradney and safety Ryder Meyer also participated in breakups.
“The whole defense looks good,” Edwards said. “The coverage is good. Then it forces the quarterback to hold onto the ball a little longer and we D-line players can play. I think we have great depth on the line. Yeah, some guys were away, but they’ll all be back. It’s exciting to see where everyone is going to be this fall.
The success of the defensive front in particular and the defense in general could mean that the attack and the offensive line have played badly, but that is not quite the case.
For one, the O line is a work in progress trying to replace three starters who have combined for 85 starts, and the Grizzlies’ two returning starters have played on a separate line from two of their highly recruited underclasses. Junior center AJ Forbes and junior left guard Hunter Mayginnes, who have 25 of 26 starts among O linemen on the roster, were on a line with left tackle Kevin Good, right guard Kukila Lincoln and right tackle Declan McCabe, all three. are freshmen in red shirts.
Sophomore Brandon Casey, who was drafted heavily from Oregon State, played right tackle and second Colin Dreis, who was of interest from Arizona, played left tackle on a line with senior left guard Cody Kanouse, junior center Gerrit Bloemendaal and redshirt freshman right guard Liam Brown. Hauck praised the athleticism of the O-line group despite their inexperience and noted earlier at camp that Casey “did not disappoint”.
Casey and Dreis seemed to have weathered some plays well when placed in one-on-one blocking situations on the rim. Brown brought some size and strength inside at 6-foot-5, 307 pounds as a redshirt rookie.
“I expected them to go out and work and try hard every day, so yeah, they did,” Hauck said of his assessment of the offensive line this spring. “As far as analyzing their progress, I feel pretty good about it.”
He added: “I think as a group they did a really good job. I’m not great at labeling someone as good or bad. I thought as a group they had made progress. I think we’ll be fine there.
The Griz are trying to fill those holes while a traded quarterback, Lucas Johnson, learns of the offense. He played with the line that had the starters back in the first half. The lines changed in the second half when Kris Brown was able to play with this group of linemen.
It didn’t help the attack that it was a windy day, especially in the first half, which may have affected some passes that were knocked down and knocked down. The Griz were also deprived of many of their best attacking players as the youngsters got more reps.
Additionally, calling play has been simplified on both sides of the ball. Hauck estimated that neither offense nor defense ran more than five different play calls, and there was no play preparation on either side about what to expect.
“I think it’s hard to play offense when you’re not planning the game,” Hauck said. “It was good, I thought, it wasn’t a penalty bowl or anything like that. You can read whatever you want there. I’m not going to get too much out of it tonight.
Sophomore wide receiver Aaron Fontes caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brown and a 50-yard pass from Daniel Britt with redshirt freshman cornerback Dylan Simmons in coverage. Three plays later, Simmons got an interception in the end zone and returned it for what was ruled a touchdown. Fontes was pushed out of bounds and ran behind the bench players to scramble for a tackle from Simmons before the end zone.
“Aaron is doing a great job,” Hauck said. “He does a good job in school. He does a good job in the playbook. He has great ability. He can really run. He does a lot of good things. I think the sky is kind of the limit for him.
Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Simpson showed off his hands and footwork when he caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Johnson on a fade route with Autjoe Soe in tight coverage. It was the first score of the game and it went into the third quarter.
Redshirt freshman running back Colter Janacaro ran for a 7-yard touchdown on the final play. His 13 carries and 40 rushing yards were both the best of any player.
Junior linebacker Braxton Hill led all players with seven tackles.
Johnson passed 10 of 20 for 34 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Brown had 6 of 19 assists for a score and a pick.
Hauck was not satisfied with the play of the specialists. Carver Gilman made a punt. An additional point was missed.
“The biggest takeaway from this spring would be that I think we’re going to have a good football team,” Hauck said. “I think we’re going to be fun to watch. I think we have great guys with a good attitude, and I think we’ll have a good team.