By MICK HOLIEN
Just how big a factor a predicted sellout crowd will have on the 109th meeting between the Grizzlies and the Bobcats will be proven early.
The defense has to rock MSU freshman quarterback Denarius McGhee like he’s never been rocked before. The offense has to put together a sustained scoring drive and special teams just can’t allow a big play or let field position belong to the Cats.
The excitement will be there early on, but it’s up to the Grizzlies to keep it there and use the home-field advantage to the utmost. That’s a tall order against a Montana State team that not only has shown it knows how to win, but also how to be resilient when they’re not playing their best football.
And this Grizzly team, while they’ve won their share of games in a variety of ways, has yet to show they are a playoff-caliber entity. That’s a double-edged sword as they prepare this week for the annual state collegiate championship.
There’s no arguing that they can play better in all phases of the game but, while the stakes have gone up in what could be their season finale, this team has not shown week-to-week improvement in some phases and, over the last few weeks, in any phases. To me, it’s a sign of a football team with no leadership, yet a focus and will to plod through a long season with winning results.
I’m surely not ready to throw this team under the proverbial bus, and always have confidence that every Griz team will prevail in every encounter. And in fact, I do this week, too, as I prepare for a basketball game against the University of Utah. But something different has to click on the football field.
Coach Pflugrad alluded to it last week when he said he’s seen some younger players assume a leadership role – a role that I believe was vacated with the injury to quarterback Andrew Selle.
Leadership on any sports team is a tenuous thing. It’s hard to describe and can’t be anointed. You don’t know how it happens, but you know when it isn’t present. Sometimes that person you assume should be the leader isn’t that type of personality and prefers to lead by action. Sometimes that works, and sometimes not so much.
I’m not talking about the rah-rah type of leadership. I’m talking about the Marc Mariani type of leader who willed the Griz back against South Dakota State. Not with just an electrifying return, but prowling the sidelines making sure every player knew what was possible, albeit improbable, and how important it is to have an opportunity to run one more play or play one more game.
The Cats have not won an outright Big Sky Conference football title since 1984, although they shared the championship in 2002, 2003, and 2005. They’ve won just once in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, in 2002, where Montana has lost just 20 times since the facility opened in 1986.
There’s little doubt the Bobcats are the favored team. No matter what uniform the Griz wear Saturday – Maroon or Copper – the bullseye is squarely on Montana State as both teams look to prove themselves on the national level and build momentum for the post-season.
Let the Brawl of the Wild begin.
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