Defense dominates Grizzlies’ first spring scrimmage

MISSOULA — The only touchdown of the day was scored by a linebacker, as the University of Montana Grizzlies’ defense dominated the first scrimmage of spring drills Saturday afternoon in UM’s Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Head coach Bob Stitt’s team made its debut today, and the first-year mentor was pleased with the play of his team on both sides of the football.

“We need to go back in and look at the film, because I know we had a lot of good things going on,” Stitt said.  “I felt like we moved the ball very well in the open field, and that’s what we needed to do.  We have not worked on goal-line, plus-10,or red zone situations, and I am not worrying about that until we get to fall camp of next year.

“So I was really concerned with moving the ball between the 30’s, and I thought we got that done,” Stitt said.  “You really have to wait to assess how you feel about things until you go look at it (film from the scrimmage), because you could have everything going right with 10 guys, and one little mistake in protection or an overthrown ball, or whatever, and it takes away a great play.

“I felt good,” Stitt continued.  “We are continually just letting these quarterbacks feel their way, and bank knowledge and experience, and we did some really good things today with those guys.  On the other end of it, we’ve got a great defense – a very good defense.  What we are seeing every day is as good as we’re going to see next year on the field.  So it’s great to go against those guys every day, and we’re coming along.”

Linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren, a 6-1, 220-pound senior from Bellevue, Wash., was one of several standouts on defense today, and he scored the only touchdown of the 99-play scrimmage, picking off an interception and returning it 28 yards for a touchdown.  Van Ackeren, a second team All-Big Sky Conference selection last season, also had 6 tackles, a sack, and a pass deflection.

Despite not scoring on offense, the passing game was efficient, as five quarterbacks went a combined 38-of-58-2 for 65.5% and 278 yards.  The ground game was limited to just 61 net yards on 41 totes, but that total included losses of 22 yards on six sacks.

Brady Gustafson was 9-of-12 passing for 108 yards, while fellow junior quarterback Chad Chalich was 10-of-12 for 61 yards;.  They were followed by sophomore Makena Simis, who was 9-of-15 for 58 yards; while redshirt freshman Eric Prater was 5-of-12 and he was picked off twice; and true frosh Willy Pflug completed 5-of-7 passes for 28 yards.

Leading receivers were redshirt freshman Caleb Lyons (7 for 37 yards), and seniors Jamaal Jones (5 for 50) and Ellis Henderson (4 for 47).  Junior halfback John Nguyen rushed 9 times for a scrimmage-high 46 yards.

The only other scoring in the scrimmage came on a pair of field goals – a 21-yarder by senior Chris Lider, and a 32-yarder from junior Harrison Greenberg.

Cornerback Ryan McKinley had a scrimmage-high 7 tackles, along with 2 pass deflections.  A 6-1, 188-pound sophomore from Anthem, Ariz., McKinley missed most of the 2014 season due to an injury.

Jeremiah Kose, a 6-2, 230-pound senior linebacker from Oceanside, Calf., who was a third team all-conference pick last year, also had a pick.

Returning starter Tyrone Holmes led with 2 sacks, and also had a couple of quarterback hurries.  Holmes, a 6-4, 245-pound senior from Eagle Point, Ore., was honorable mention all-league pick last season.

Other statistical leaders on “D” were junior cornerback Tyrel Garner (5 tackles), junior tackle Caleb Kidder (5 tackles), sophomore linebacker Connor Strahm (5 tackles) senior end Addison Owen (4 stops), and redshirt freshman safety Manu Rasmussen (4 tackles).

“Defensively, I think everybody stood out,” Stitt said.  “Offensively, I was happy with some of the drives with that first group (the number one offensive unit).  You really have to look at what’s our play count going to be in the game?  When our defense is getting off that quickly, and you can move the ball 30 or 40 yards in the open field, your play count is getting high.  They don’t have anybody else.  We’re wearing on those guys, and wearing on those guys.  In a scrimmage like this you’re trading in and out. We want to just keep their same defense out on the field and just continue to grind them.

“We only got Brady (Gustafson) 20 plays and we’d like to get him more, but we really needed to look at four guys hard today, and then we’re going to cut down some reps here the rest of the spring, and give the top two (quarterbacks) and maybe the third guy the majority of the reps” Stitt said.  “We wanted to see everybody who we thought had a chance.”

The Grizzlies will hold their second and final scrimmage in Missoula next Thursday evening, March 26 in WGS.  The team then takes a week off for spring break, and resumes its drills on April 6.  Montana’s annual spring game will be held in conjunction with Carroll College, and starts at 1 :00 p.m. in the Saints’ Nelson Stadium.

Monday, March 23: Practice, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 25: Practice, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
Thursday, March 26: Scrimmage #2, WGS, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
March 27-April 5: SPRING BREAK.
(Practice resumes on Monday, April 6).
PASSING: Brady Gustafson 9-12-0 — 108; Chad Chalich 10-12-0 — 61; Makena Simis 9-15-0 — 58; Eric Prater 5-12-2 — 23; Willy Pflug 5-7-0 — 28.
RUSHING: John Nguyen 9-46, Carl Johnson 4-16, Lorenzo Logwood 10-12, Chalich 5-6, Prater 2-3, Austin Spring 2-0, Pflug 3-(-5), Simis 4 -(-8), Gustafson 2-(-9).
RECEIVING: Jamaal Jones 5-50, Ellis Henderson 4-47, Josh Janssen 2-45, Caleb Lyons 7-37, Tristen Clark 3-26, Chase Naccarato 3-18, Logwood 2-12, Reese Carlson 2-11, Connor McGuire 1-10, Mitch McLaughlin 4-8, Ryan Burke 1-6, Zach Hollenback 1-3, Nguyen 1-2, Johnson 2-0.

TACKLE LEADERS (includes solos & assists): Ryan McKinney=7, Kendrick Van Ackeren=6, Tyrel Garner=5, Caleb Kidder-5, Connor Strahm=5, Addison Owen=4, Manu Rasmussen=4, Connor Lebsock=3, Kyle Davis=3 tackles, Ryan Johnson=3 tackles, Riley Kack=3, Mick Delaney=3, Derek Crittenden=3.
SACKS: Tyrone Holmes=2, Crittenden=1, Van Ackeren=1, Evan Defer=1, Shane Cochran=1.
INTERCEPTIONS: Jeremiah Kose=1 & Van Ackeren=1 (TD)
PASS DEFLECTIONS: Tucker Schye=2, McKinley=2, Van Ackeren=1, Lebsock=1, Holmes=1.
FUMBLE RECOVERY: Austin Chadderdon=1.

— Montana Sports Information