#17 Montana FCS Football 2015 Preview

Montana Grizzlies

Overall Rank: #17
#3 Big Sky

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Montana welcomes Coach Bob Stitt to Missoula. He takes over for the retired Mick Delaney. Coach Stitt spent the previous 15 seasons at the Colorado School of Mines where he turned the Orediggers from an afterthought to a regular Division II contender. The Grizzlies reached the playoffs last season where they hosted San Diego in the first round. After taking out the Toreros 52-14, Montana had to head to conference foe Eastern Washington for the second time in less than a month. During the regular season, Montana lost 26-36. In the playoffs, they again lost, this time 20-37.

2014 Record: 9-5, 6-2
2014 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Bob Stitt (0-0 at Montana, 108-62 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Chad Germer, Nolan Swett
Defensive Coordinator: Ty Gregorak

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: John Nguyen, RB, 265 yards
Passing: Ryan Burke, WR, 76 yards
Receiving: Jamaal Jones, WR, 1,044 yards
Tackles: Kendrick Van Ackeren, LB, 122
Sacks: Tyrone Holmes, DE, 7.5
Interceptions: Jeremiah Kose, LB, 2; Justin Whitted, S, 2

Other Key Returnees: WR Josh Janssen, K Daniel Sullivan, LB Herbert Gamboa

Key Losses: QB Jordan Johnson, RB Jordan Canada, RB Travon Van, WR Mitch Saylor, DL Zack Wagenmann, DL Tonga Takai, S Matt Hermanson, CB Joshua Dennard

Montana’s defense was strong last year. They allowed just 21.0 points per game, which is especially impressive considering the two games against the extremely potent Eastern Washington offense. There are some major holes to fill, most notably defensive end Zack Wagenmann and safety Matt Hermanson. Wagenmann tallied 17.5 sacks and forced six fumbles, while Hermanson picked off a team high six passes. Those two were a huge reason why Montana had one of the best turnover margins in the country. The torch will be passed to plenty of experienced options though. Up front, Tyrone Holmes will take over as the main pass rushing threat. He will get help from linebacker Herbert Gamboa, who totaled 6.0 sacks in 2014. Linebackers Kendrick Van Ackeren and Jeremiah Kose combined for 239 tackles last season and will likely lead the way in tackles again this year. Justin Whitted will take over the leadership role in the secondary for Hermanson. He intercepted two passes and recorded 63 tackles. He will be joined by cornerback Nate Harris to form what should be a very good secondary.  

The questions on offense are more concerning. Gone is quarterback Jordan Johnson, who threw for 2,784 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2014. A carousel of quarterbacks in the spring did not yield an obvious replacement. With Jamaal Jones back after catching 66 passes for 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns, whoever is under center will have a favorite target waiting for them. Ellis Henderson, who missed most of last year with an injury, should emerge as a solid secondary receiver. Montana needs to replace running back Jordan Canada too. He rushed for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns. John Nguyen is the team’s top returning rusher with 265 yards, but promising sophomore Lorenzo Logwood and Joey Counts, who spent the better part of two years recovering from an injury, will be in the mix too.

The Bottom Line:
Montana kicks off the season in style against North Dakota State on August 29th. The Grizzlies went to NDSU last season and lost 22-10. This time around the Bison come to Missoula. The offense will not be ready to do much in that game, but the defense can keep it close. The other nonconference game is at a very dangerous Liberty team. If Montana can get past the early season slate, which also includes games against Cal Poly and Northern Arizona, they will stay in the Big Sky race until the very end when they host Eastern Washington and travel to Montana State.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 167.9 (57th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 226.6 (46, 10)
Total Offense: 394.4 (52, 9)
Scoring Offense: 29.6 (44, 6)
Rushing Defense: 148.1 (37, 2)
Pass Defense: 211.4 (56, 3)
Total Defense: 359.4 (39, 2)
Scoring Defense: 21.0 (19, 1)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (3, 1)
Sacks: 3.29 (7, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 1.29 (26, 5)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#83 Cody Baker


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