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Big Sky notes: Griz may need to overcome volatility at QB

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | October 5, 2021 10:44 PM

The Montana Grizzlies’ last-gasp, 34-28 loss on the red turf at Roos Field Saturday served to repeat a couple axioms for those that you may have forgotten: One, Eastern Washington always has a dynamic quarterback, and Eric Barriere was the difference maker on his home field.

Two, that QB position is certainly a volatile one.

Griz starter Cam Humphrey was knocked out of the game as he led his team down to what might have been the winning touchdown, taking a big shoulder-to-shoulder hit at the end of a scramble.

He stayed down for a long time, then limped off with an obvious leg injury, but as is Montana coach Bobby Hauck’s wont, injury talk was off limits at Monday’s weekly press conference. Which was a short one.

Later in the afternoon Humphrey was listed as a possible starter (along with sophomore Kris Brown, who low-key made an excellent Hail Mary throw on the game’s final play Saturday). Gabe Sulser was also listed as starter at receiver.

Without playing doctor, it would be boggling if either one played for weeks.

It’s a bummer. Sulser missed a good part of 2019 with a lingering concussion, and is a talented receiver and return man; he was high-lowed on a screen and came off with a leg injury.

Humphrey had bided his time to become starter and had done yeoman-like work, taking care of the football and guiding the offense — his two interceptions against EWU notwithstanding.

One can hope that they rate a better mention than what’s been given so far.

Gone from the depth chart is senior safety Gavin Robertson, who reportedly has been ill while UM, to reference a Montana Kaimin story, also refuses to release Covid vaccination numbers for athletics.

“Next man up,” has been the mantra in Hauck’s time, and so Billings’ Junior Bergen has filled in on a running back corps down three players, and Eureka’s Garrett Graves has played capably at strong safety with 19 tackles in two starts. Also, Barriere got over the top plenty of times in the second half Saturday, but as has been noted, he’s a great one.

“Going into last week we were down a bunch of guys,” said Hauck on Monday. “You kind of look to the guys in the locker room to be ready and perform the best you can. He (Graves) played hard and he’s just doing a good job.”

Where were we?

Back to QBs. Going back to 2003, Montana has relied on one starter for every game, or all but one game, nine times in 17 years.

Jordan Johnson started 39 of 41 games in 2011 and 2013-14, which is pretty remarkable.

Craig Ochs started every game in 2004; Josh Swogger started 13 of 14 in 2006; Cole Bergquist got the call in every game from 2007-08; Andrew Selle split some starts in 2009 with Justin Roper, but played in every game; Dalton Sneed played every game in 2018, the missed two in 2019.

Things got pretty volatile during the Mick Dennehy-Bob Stitt years, but Hauck didn’t have it easy in 2003 (Ochs missed the first four games) or 2005. Those seasons ended in first-round playoff losses.

In 2004, 2008 and 2009 the Griz made the FCS title game; in 2006 and 2011 they made the semis (Johnson played in six playoff games total); 2007 was the upset loss to Wofford; 2019 was a trip to the quarters.

In other words you’d like to have one healthy starter the whole year.

So now comes 0-4 Dixie State, with Brown getting a start — if Humphrey can’t go, of course — Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Things being where they are, and seeing Brown show his talent is short spurts, maybe this Griz team writes a new formula. The quarterback out of Bozeman is big, fast and accurate. He was biding his time. Perhaps it is his turn.

“Everything is still out there,” Hauck said Monday. “Season’s are long. We need to just take care of what’s in front of us.

“We’ve got to play better, we have to coach better, not necessarily in that order.”

Run-first Bobcats

One team that is not down to its third- or fourth-string running back is Montana State, with Isaiah Ifanse going over 100 rushing yards for a third straight game Saturday, in the Bobcats 40-17 win over Northern Colorado.

Ifanse is the 16th Bobcat to have such a streak, though three have done it twice. If he goes over 100 again Saturday, when the Bobcats play Cal Poly in their homecoming game, he’ll join eight who’ve had four straight 100-yard games.

The list includes senior Troy Andersen, who did it six straight games in 2018 and now plays exclusively at linebacker. Andersen, at one point MSU’s starting QB, didn’t play the second half against NC, after making five tackles in the first half. He remained on the sidelines in full pads, however.

Davis finds Magic

Speaking of Andersen (and volatile positions), UC Davis may have found one of those dudes.

Of the ranked Big Sky Conference teams that played last weekend, the No. 7 Aggies had the toughest time Saturday, needing a double pass from Carson Crawford to McCallen Castles to beat visiting Idaho 27-20.

Castles made a highlight reel, one-handed TD catch, but the player of the game was Trent Tompkins, a freshman from Fresno who came in for the cramped up Miles Hastings — who was starting in place of the concussed Hunter Rodrigues — and ran for 85 yards and was 4-for-4 passing for 45 yards.

Tompkins’ 10-yard TD pass to Jared Harrell started the Aggies back from a 20-13 deficit early in the fourth quarter. The double-pass started with Tompkins and came with 8:05 remaining.

“We started to dial it up with Trent,” Davis coach Dan Hawkins told the Sacramento Bee. “He’s a baller. He’s an old-school baller. He’d play kick the can and he’d beat you. With ‘Magic,’ don’t over-coach it. Let him go. He’s unbelievable. We couldn’t quite get out and run and he comes in and gives us a big spark, and it was residual. The whole team felt it.

“That’s an intangible. Does he make teammates better? He does.”