Defense shines in final Griz scrum

MISSOULA – Domination by the defense and turnovers were the two main themes Saturday morning, as The University of Montana Grizzlies held their second and final football scrimmage of fall camp drills.

The Griz defense limited the offense to 257 total yards (averaging 3.8-yard per play), and had two fumble recoveries and an interception, and gave up just one touchdown and three field goals in the 68-play scrimmage.

“I thought we did some very good things on defense today,” said Griz head coach Mick Delaney.  “I would have to say that the last few days the offense have had a little bit of a upper hand in a lot of the competition drills and had a little bit of success.

“It’s human nature and that’s what we’ve got to work on,” Delaney said.  “They (the offense) came out thinking things are rosy, and the defense comes out with a chip on their shoulder and played really well.  They flew to the ball and had three take-aways.

“Then as you look at it as a head coach, you say, ‘yeah, but heck the offense had three turnovers,’” Delaney continued.  “We’ve got to fix the turnovers, but we also have to continue to force turnovers as a defense.  If we will play with the same energy, passion and focus that we’ve practiced with over the last two weeks, along with the way we played today and last Sunday (in UM’s first scrimmage) – we’re going to be fine.

“We will put ourselves in a position to win football games,” Delaney said.  “You know in this day and age that’s all you can ask, ‘are you there in the end with a chance to win?’  That’s what our goal is.  Now would it be nice to blow 10 people (opponents) out, yes, but is that going to happen?  Certainly not.  Especially in this league now, and our non-conference schedule being what it is.”

The first two scores in the scrimmage came on two field goals – a 25-yarder by redshirt freshman Chris Lider (from Bellevue, Wash.) and a 20-yarder by true freshman Harrison Greenberg (from Lake Oswego, Ore.).  Lider later missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, but connected on a 19-yarder for the day’s final points.

The only touchdown of the day was a 12-yard touchdown pass from redshirt transfer (Stanford) quarterback Adam Brzeczek (Queen Creek, Ariz.) to true freshman running back Joey Counts (Mesa, Ariz.).  That scoring drive started on the 8-yard line of the defense.

UM’s four quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Trent McKinney (Mililani, Hawaii), sophomore Shay Smithwick-Hann (Kalispell), Brzeczek, and true freshman Brady Gustafson (Billings), did not account for a lot of passing yards, but were fairly accurate, going 25-of-39-1 (64.1%) for 190 yards and the one TD.

McKinney was 15-of-19-0 (78.9%) for 128 yards.  Smithwick-Hann was 5-of-7-1for 34 yards; Brzeczek was 3-of-7-0 for 17 yards; and Gustafson was 2-of-6-0 for 11 yards.

Rushing-wise, UM had 29 carries for 67 yards, averaging just 2.3 yards per attempt.  McKinney led the way with six rushes for 36 yards, while senior halfback/fullback Dan Moore (Tucson, Ariz.) had five totes for 13 yards.

“There’s no doubt that Trent McKinney is the number one guy, and it’s obvious on the field, it’s obvious in the classroom, and it’s obvious off the field by the amount of work he is doing,” Delaney said.  “Is the competition still open there – definitely.  But, he still hasn’t done what he’s doing now in an actual game.  I compare this a lot to our quarterback last year who hadn’t played in a lot of games either the year before, and he ended up doing a tremendous job for us.

“Trent is, I think, only going to get better and better, because he has a ton of talent,” Delaney added.  “He’s a better than average thrower.  He’s a dynamic runner. He’s smart and he understands football.  He’s earned the respect of the other players on offense.

“Trent’s doing some great things, but Shay, and Adam, and Brady are also doing some good things,” Delaney added.  “They continue to push each other to see who is going to be number two, and by doing that it still creates competition on Trent to make sure that he continues play like he has the last two weeks.  We still have a lot of work to do, but there’s some light at the end of that tunnel, I believe.”

Senior receiver Sam Gratton (Billings) had a scrimmage-high 5 catches for 37 yards, followed by Counts (3 for 44), Moore (3 for 32), and senior tight end Greg Hardy, from Fairview, who has 3 grabs for 19 yards.

“Like I told people today, this is my first media type of deal (it was media day in the stadium after the scrimmage), and I have to be careful because when you’re the coach of the running backs (which he was the previous four seasons at UM) it’s ‘we’, and when you’re an offensive guy and you talk about the defense it’s they, and vice-versa,” Delaney said.  “With me now it’s got to be ‘us.’”

Junior linebacker Jordan Tripp (Missoula) and sophomore free safety Matt Hermanson (Sioux Falls, S.D.), each had a scrimmage-best 6 tackles, while junior tackle Alex Bienemann (Denver, Colo.) added 5.  Junior strong safety Bo Tully (Spokane), senior linebacker Josh Stuberg (Helena), and junior linebacker John Kanongata’a (Bellevue, Wash.) had 4 tackles apiece.  Redshirt strong safety Connor Lebsock (Billings) and senior end Josh Harris (Kalispell) had 3 stops each.  Hermanson recovered both fumbles.

“As I said earlier, there was a lot of good play out there today on defense,” Delaney said.  “I know there were a lot of doubts about our defense three of four months ago, and I distinctly remember saying at that time we’ll be fine.  There are some players in this program who have worked their butts off for two years, and maybe you haven’t seen their names in the paper, but they are good football players.  You throw them in there with some of our young guys, and our defense is going to be dynamic, I think.”

– UM Sports Information


RUSHING: Trent McKinney 6-36, Dan Moore 5-13, Brady Gustafson 1-5, Joey Counts 2-5, Jordan Canada 4-5, Nelo Butler 3-4,  Shay Smithwick-Hann 1-2, Adam Brzeczek 4-2, Peter Nguyen 1-minus 1, Jacob Elder 2-minus 4.  PASSING: McKinney 15-19-0 for 128 yards; Smithwick-Hann 5-7-1 for 34 yards; Brzeczek 3-7-0 for 17 yards; Gustafson 2-6-0 for 11 yards.  RECEIVING: Sam Gratton 5-37, Counts 3-44, Moore 3-32, Greg Hardy 3-19, Kevin Berland 2-9, Gerald Kemp 1-14, Ryan Burke 1-9, Spencer Hale 1-7, Cam Warren 1-5, Clay Pierson 1-4, Chase Naccarato 1-4, Jordan Canada 1-3, Jake Dallaserra 1-2, Nelo Butler 1-1.


Chris Lider, 25 Field Goal

Harrison Greenberg, 20 Field Goal

Joey Counts, 12 Pass from Adam Brzeczek (Lider kick)

Lider, 19 Field Goal


Sacks: Jesse Ginn, Tyrone Holmes, Josh Harris.  Pass deflections: Trevor Rehm, Stuberg, Brian Maus, Nate Harris.  Fumble recoveries: Hermanson 2.  Forced fumbles: Tripp and Stuberg (on the same play); Bienemann.  Interception: Justin Whitted.


Stephen Shaw, 41.8-yard average on four punts (long of 45).  Smithwick-Hann had 1 punt for 31 yards.