Brawl of the Wild – Griz Cat Game 2011

Publisher’s Note:  Brint Wahlberg is a died-in-the-wool Griz Fan.  This is an excerpt from his post this week on    He/we assume you’ve got the 4-1-1 on our Griz team/players–so below you’ll find a “scouting report” on MSU and what he thinks it’ll take for a Griz victory.  

General Stats:

– MSU’s scoring is consistent in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th quarter but in the 2nd they tend to explode on offense. MSU had scored more points in the 2nd quarter this season than they have in all of their 3rd and 4th quarters combined.

– On the other side of the ball MSU’s defense seems to allow more points early on but then clamps down in the 3rd and 4th.

– MSU’s offense is the highest scoring in the league, averaging 36.6 points per game. At home the MSU offense is even better, averaging an eye-popping 41.4 points per game at home.

– MSU’s defense is statistically the best in scoring and yards allowed. In terms of scoring their defense allows just 20.8 points per game (UM is right behind at 21.4 points per game). At home MSU’s defense is allowing just 15.8.

– Only PSU has run for more yards than the Bobcats this season. The cats average 237.1 rushing yards per game and pick up a good majority of their first downs on the ground.

– MSU’s defense has not shown a lot of weakness, they allow 114 rushing yards per game and 192 passing yards per game.

– On the season MSU is +2 in turnover margin

– MSU’s punt coverage team allows 8.4 yards per punt return and has the 2nd lowest punting average in the Big Sky.

– MSU’s defense has the most sacks in the Big Sky with 38, second best is UM with 28.

– MSU converts 3rd downs at almost a 50% ratio

– MSU is 4th worst in the Big Sky in penalty yards with nearly 70 per game.

– MSU’s red zone offense is the best in the Big Sky, scoring 89% of the time, UM is very close to them, scoring 85% of the time. On the other side though UM’s defense only allows RZ scores 69% of the time while MSU’s defense allows RZ TDs 81% of the time.

– 5 of MSU’s 15 turnovers have happened in the last two games, and 9 of their 15 turnovers in the last 4 games. MSU appears to be headed into this game with an escalating turnover issue.

– MSU is 9-0 when they score over 30 points… I mean their only loss they scored 10 points but allowed 27 so I suppose you could say with exception to the PSU game if MSU scores over 28 points they’re pretty much unbeatable.

Players to Watch on Their Team:

#25 Cody Kirk, RB: A product grown right in the Grizzly back yard, Kirk is from Frenchtown and, in my opinion, is the best running back in the Big Sky. Kirk has 1188 yards this year (2nd in the conference) and 14 rushing TDs (1st in the conference). He’s also a receiving threat with 214 receiving yards putting him 4th on the cats in terms of receptions and receiving yards. He’s a bruiser at 5-10, 215 pounds.

#9 Denarius McGhee, QB: McGhee’s role has scaled back with the emergence of a solid running game but he’s still a dangerous QB. McGhee’s averaging about 220 passing yards per game and has 333 rushing yards this season (gross – his net yards are 215 putting him at 22 ypg average). McGhee’s had fumble issues of late and has shown some regression in the passing game, tossing 10 picks this year where I think he only had 3 or 4 last year.

#1 Elvis Akpla, WR: Akpla is a 6-1, 190 senior WR who leads the team with 827 yards and 10 TDs. His 10 TDs ties him for 2nd in the conference. Elvis has some punt return yards but isn’t their primary returner. He’ll presumably draw Tru in most coverage situations.

#86 Tanner Bleskin, WR: Tanner scored the opening TD in the 2010 Brawl, he’s a taller WR at 6-3 and has moved up to be the #2 receiver on the team this year. He’s got 356 yards and 3 TDs this season.

#7 Tray Robinson, RB: Another bruiser of a running back, Robinson has 571 yards and 5 TDs this season, he’s got a few receptions, 153 total yards and 1 TD this year.

#4 John Ellis, WR: A shorter guy at 5-10, Ellis is one of MSU’s emerging guys at WR. He’s got 275 yards and 1 TD so far this year. Ellis has a few kick returns as well this season but isn’t the main returner, although he does hold the team’s longest kick return in 56 yards.

#14 Everett Gilbert, WR/RB: Gilbert is MSU’s “utility man”, he’s got 134 receiving yards and 1 receiving TD, he’s also got 164 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs. He’s additionally the main kick returner averaging 24.7 yards per return which ties him for 3rd best in the Big Sky.

#15 Jason Cunningham, K: Cunningham has a huge leg, he’s hit two 55 yard fieldgoals this year, he leads the Big Sky in total scoring and is tied with Brody McKnight for 2nd in the league with made fieldgoals.

#23 Jody Owens, LB: The will linebacker for the cats, Owens has a team leading 74 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT and 1 fumble recovery.

#42 Clay Bignell, LB: The starting middle linebacker for the team Clay is a guy we’ve seen for years. He’s 6-2, 240 and is 2nd on the team in tackles with 56, he’s also got 1 INT and 1 fumble recovery too.

#41 Brad Daly, DE: Leading the Cats with 10 sacks, he’s 6-1, 232. Daly has 27 tackles, 6 QB hits, and 1 forced fumble. If recall what I read about Daly, he actually stepped up to fill a spot left by injury and has flourished at it.

#49 Caleb Schreibeis, DE: Opposite of Daly, Caleb has 52 tackles, 9 TFL, and 6 sacks this year.

#13 Darius Jones, CB: Jones has a ton of tackles for a starting corner with 46, he also leads the team with 7 pass breakups. Presumably he’ll be looking to cover Sambrano.

#96 Zach Minter, DT: A 285 pound interior Dlineman, Minter has 29 tackles, 10 TFL, and 7 sacks. He’s also forced 2 fumbles. Minter is probably one of the best interior defensive linemen in the Big Sky.

#37 Deonte Flowers, S: Just 23 tackles as a safety and only 1 pick but also has 7 pass breakups.

Keys for a Grizzly Win:

– Montana State at home is a scoring machine, the Griz defense has to show up in a huge way and keep that offense under wraps. The one thing that I notice though is while MSU is rolling teams at home the teams they’ve played have been 3-7 UCD, Minot State, 4-6 Sac, 4-6 NAU, and 2-8 ISU. Looking at the Utah loss the Utes were able to shut Kirk down to less than 50 rushing yards and thus forced McGhee to shoulder the load who tossed two picks. I don’t think UM can simply “stop” Kirk but hopefully they can contain him and not allow 150+ rushing yards.

– Put the game in McGhee’s hands, literally. McGhee’s had some continued fumble issues and has been turnover prone as it’s been getting colder out. Additionally if the cats have to go away from ground and pound with Kirk I like the Griz secondary against the MSU WRs. Hopefully some heavy pressure can keep McGhee flat on the ground and a little rattled. MSU’s Oline doesn’t give up a lot of sacks and McGhee is slippery but some QB hits would go a long way.

– WIN the turnover battle. The Griz haven’t lost a game this year when they win the turnover battle or if it’s even. The two losses were the only game where the Griz lost the turnover battle. In the most simple terms based upon this season, WIN the turnover battle, WIN the game.

– Keep the cats under 20 points. The cats D is stout but seems to give up some points and of late their turnovers have put them in short-field situations. In their last 5 games their D has allowed 24, 13, 21, 24, and then 36. It’s a tall order and I’m not sure if it’s possible, but if the Griz can keep the cats under 20 their potential to win this game will go way up.

– Keep it close by halftime. As I mentioned, the cats tend to just go nuts in the 2nd qtr, if the Griz can keep it close (within 10 points down, tied, or anywhere in the positive) they’ll be in a good position to hang and get back into the game in the 2nd half or put it away. If it’s 28-10 cats at the half… good luck, because that’s how the cats play, get the lead and then grind the game out.

– Cover kickoffs well, MSU’s the 2nd best kick return team in the Big Sky. Giving them better field position to start will only help them get a W.

– Give them some easy 1st downs but don’t get burned deep. The Griz RZ defense is the best in the Big Sky, if it means giving up some movement between the 20s but forcing fieldgoal attempts and keeping MSU out of the endzone will help. Cunningham is a real good kicker but is nowhere near perfect, if the Griz can keep MSU going to him rather than going into the endzone they can either stay in the game or dash ahead by getting some TDs of their own.

– DOLA. Can’t say it enough, win in the trenches and don’t let Minter and Daly harass JJ… that’ll be huge. Open those lanes for Jordan, Petey, Beau…. and Dan. This is the last game for Oppie, Burton, and Sabin, last chance to punch these cats in the mouth and knock them flat on their butts.

– Rotate Tully/Hermanson a lot and observe who is better in run support and coverage. Hermey has really stepped up his game, he was 2nd in tackles against NAU and is tied for the most ints on the team. MSU is going to test our safeties BIG TIME, they’ll pull what PSU, NAU, Sac, and others did to move the ball on the Griz and try that out as well.

– If the DTs can plug up the middle and not give Kirk big lanes to run through it’ll make the day a lot easier on our ‘backers.

Quite honestly, if the Griz didn’t have that 1st half against Weber that they did… I might not be picking them to win. If we get THAT team, they’ll go to MSU and win this one, probably by double digits. Our defense is mean and hits hard, it’s rested, deep, and healthy. On offense a rested and ready JJ will give the cats something they will not have seen much (if at all) on tape, a QB that’s a threat to run it as well. Canada running wild, Nguyen busting free on screen passes, Sambrano catching/running/returning, and McSurdy knocking the teeth out of guys… I’m feeling it, and I feel confident in a GRIZ win. I’ll say 24-22, coming down to a Brody McKnight winning fieldgoal. Good luck GRIZ, your goal of a league title, beating the cats, and landing a cozy playoff spot are all riding on this game.

The Cats are rightfully favored, being at home, having the better record, having a fairly flawless season so far, I get it. This team is as talented as the Griz have faced, it’s got playmakers all over the field and makes up the 2nd best team the Griz have matched up against all season. It’s going to take the very best effort from all sides of the ball to win this. A few slip ups will cost the Griz, the margin for error is gone.

Play your best football in November. The eyes of Griz nation are watching, and we’re cheering for you all. GO GRIZ!


Brint Wahlberg is a Missoula native, a  life-long griz and a realtor with Windermere Realty. He’s a regular contributor on all things Griz at