UM Grizzlies 17, Eastern Washington 14.

By MICK HOLIEN

Well so much for balance in the offensive game plan of the Montana Grizzlies.  For the second straight week, The Griz avenged one of last season’s four losses and in the process of beating a defending National Champion, almost eliminated any chance that Eastern Washington will have an opportunity to defend its 2010 title.

Now I know the season is just three weeks old, but I believe the Eagles with a trio of consecutive losses and Montana State traveling to Cheney next Saturday, have to run the table to be a factor in the post season.

And who would have thought it would a ground-Pflu attack – rushing the ball 46 times and averaging 5.4 yards a carry – that spelled doom for the Eagles.

Those stats are somewhat skewed by a pair of long jogs by quarterback Jordie Johnson and Gerald Kemp on a reverse that accounted for 94 of the rushing total.

But while the rushing total dominated the scorecard and represented the highest ground total in eight years, it was the defense that brought the Griz to victory over Eastern Washington for the 15th time in 19 games.

Keyed by coordinator Mike Breske to stifle the passing of Bo Levi Mitchell, running back Jordan Talley was able to eclipse the century mark in rushing.   But an offense that converted 10 of 18 third-down challenges in the three-point loss at Washington and stood at 53 percent for the first two games, was turned away 11 of 18 times and failed on all four fourth-down attempts.

And just what about the goal-line stand heading into the North end zone when for two downs one could hardly make out turf between the tip of the ball and the goal line?   Yet somehow the Griz got the push to hold the Eagles out of the end zone and eventually picked off a fourth down interception.

With about a dozen pro scouts in attendance, Mitchell who was completing about 60 percent of his passes, missed on 23 of 49 passes.  He seemed out-of-sort–especially late in the game from Griz pressure–and was picked twice and sacked three times.

Eastern’s injury-depleted offensive line, which lost a pair of starters during the game and played a walk-on at one guard spot, just couldn’t handle the constant barrage of Griz blitzes which increased substantially as the game wore on.

And with the game on the line and the Eagles trailing by just a field goal, Mitchell misfired high on back-to-back possessions and finally was intercepted by linebacker John Kanongata’a whose soft kneel to the ground in front of the Griz bench virtually echoed through Washington Grizzly Stadium and sent a record UM crowd into a frenzy.

And don’t underestimate the job cornerback Trumaine Johnson did on EWU star receiver Brandon Kaufman who was limited to five receptions for only 27 yards.

Don’t think the scouts in attendance to see Mitchell didn’t take notice of Johnson in a matchup of Payton-Buchanan Award nominees.

Along with the defense, offensive pace was the key for me on Saturday.

Robin Pflugrad’s spread offense operated mostly efficiently and most effectively and gave a prime indication of what kind of shape this team is in.

By the final stanza EWU was gassed, hands on hips, and looking to the sidelines for an answer or maybe oxygen.

It’s just one Big Sky Conference game that leaves Montana tied at the top of the circuit ladder with three other victorious teams including pass-happy upstart Idaho State.   But a variety of naysayers didn’t forecast the Grizzlies would be victorious in two of three games at this point.

However, Sacramento State stands in the way of validation of the EWU victory next Saturday night and it’s all about what have you done for me lately.

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Now in his 27th year of broadcasting University of Montana football or basketball games, award winning journalist Mick Holien has a unique and insightful perspective on collegiateathletics.