FCS Playoff Scouting Report: Montana Grizzlies vs. Sam Houston State Bearkats

Publisher’s note: Brint Wahlberg is a dyed-in-the-wool Griz fan. This is an excerpt from his post this week on eGriz.com. He (and we) assume you’ve got the 4-1-1 on our Griz team and players, so this is his scouting report on the Sam Houston State Bearkats and what he thinks it’ll take for a Griz victory.  

It’s down to the four best teams in the FCS. This Friday night it’s the Montana Grizzlies vs. Sam Houston State Bearkats as the two teams face off to determine which team will be the first team into the national title game. Both are coming off very convincing wins. I find it interesting that SHSU has a bit of a growing “mean streak” reputation. UCA fans talked about their game against SHSU where their QB was knocked out thanks to a cheap shot. This week papers in Texas bemoaned the poor treatment SHSU fans and players showed towards MSU… interesting…

Lots of info to follow. Get ready, because here we go:

SHSU, record 13-0.

20-6 win vs Western Illinois:  It was a slow start and an overall inefficient day for the SHSU offense however their D shut down WIU’s formidable rushing attack and held them to just 37 rushing yards. SHSU had 115 rushing and 200 passing and held the ball for a whopping 38:00 minutes.

31-10 win vs UCA: SHSU went big-time on the ground with 316 rushing yards, they also controlled the  clock really well again with over 36:00 of TOP. They frustrated the UCA passing game and held them to a very inefficient completion percentage.

48-45 win vs New Mexico:  It’s probably important to point out that while UNM is FBS they were 0-4 going into the game and have finished 1-11 on the year beating only… yep… UNLV.  This was a heavily back and forth game however SHSU in the 4th held leads of 35-21 and 42-28 with just 7:30 left in the game. However UNM scored a TD with just under 6:00 left, then forced an ensuing SHSU punt, and scored again to tie it up and take it to OT with less than 1 minute in the game.  In OT UNM got quickly to 1st and goal on the SHSU 4 yard line but on 3 incomplete pass attempts wound up having to kick a fieldgoal. SHSU on their possession took just 4 running plays to get into the endzone.  SHSU ran for 370 and passed for 175 while UNM passed for 430 and ran for 94. The star of the game was SHSU’s Tim Flanders who had 194 rushing yards, 48 receiving yards, and 5 rushing TDs.

22-7 win vs UT-San Antonio:  Soon to move-up UTSA was shut down by the SHSU defense, 246 total yards of offense and just 29 rushing yards.  SHSU wasn’t too sharp either but got it done, 222 rushing and 126 passing. UTSA had 5 turnovers in the game that were just killer.

45-10 win vs SFA:  It took SHSU a full half of football to wake up, but then they really exploded.  Up just 10-3 at the half they scored the next 35 points unanswered.  SFA is a pass-heavy team, they tossed 4 picks and lost 1 fumble (and had 63 pass attempts to just 9 rush attempts).  SHSU was almost perfectly balanced, 214 running, 217 passing.

47-7 win vs Nicholls:  Nicholls almost had as many turnovers (5) as first downs in the game (6).  SHSU only had 365 yards but didn’t need to do much thanks to all of Nicholls errors.

38-14 win vs McNeese:  It was close at halftime, just 14-7, then SHSU scored 21 points in the third which started with a blocked punt that was recovered for a TD.  SHSU passed just 7 times but ran for 246 yards. McNeese had 200 yards in the air but only 39 rushing.

66-0 win vs Lamar:  Lamar must be one sorry squad of a team. Just 98 TOTAL yards on offense.  SHSU ran for almost 400 yards alone.  It was a blowout in every aspect of the game.

38-9 win vs SE Louisiana:  SHSU had 400 yards of total offense and outgained SELa by about 150 total yards.  They forced a ton of turnovers (4) but had a few picks thrown of their own.  SELa couldn’t get the ground game going in the loss, just 56 yards rushing.

43-17 win vs NW State:  Yet another conference blowout, SHSU won the conference piling up 450 total yards of offense with a very balanced game, 250 rushing, 200 passing. I sound like a broken record but NWSt had a bit of success passing and really none at all rushing.

36-14 win vs Texas St:  Soon to be FBS TXST held this close into the 4th but SHSU just wore them down and opened it up with some fourth quarter scores. TXST had just only 236 yards in the game and lost 2 fumbles.  SHSU had another big day running the ball, 231 yards on the ground.

34-27 win vs Stony Brook:  SBU’s “stingy defense” was credited for flustering SHSU early and held them to a game where the Bearkats offensive production was fairly low, just 182 rushing and 161 passing.  Stony out-gained them with 150 on the ground and 226 in the air (on just 9 completions, 25 yards per completion avg).  It was 17-10 SHSU entering the 4th when both teams just went off.  Stony tied it up at 20 soon after, then SHSU on the next possession scored on an 80 yard TD pass.  Stony answered and tied it back up.  With 6:00 left SHSU got the ball, an SBU personal foul gave them great field position to start.  On a 10 play drive that featured not 1 single pass and two big runs coming from RB Flanders and then QB Bell SHSU scored with 1:00 left in the game.  SBU went “4 and out” and it was over.

49-13 win vs Montana State:  Most all of us watched this game, SHSU had some luck and faced cats team that just gave up on an early third quarter kickoff return TD and it was a rout from there. 428 rushing yards for SHSU I believe was their highest in a single game. MSU did have almost 275 passing yards but 3 of 14 on third down and not stopping the SHSU ground game destroyed the bobcats.


Players to watch:

#20 Tim Flanders, RB:  Talk about sick numbers, 1273 rushing, 21 rushing TDs, 404 yards receiving and 2 receiving TDs. Flanders is the leading rusher and the leading receiver (receptions, not yards). I don’t see how he isn’t a Payton Finalist, especially considering EWU’s Bo Levi Mitchell is… Flanders is 5-9 and 210 pounds.

#6 Richard Sincere, WR/RB:  Listed as a WR but their “wild-kat” QB that sliced and diced MSU. Sincere has 916 rushing yards and 9 TDs this year, he also has 25 catches, 449 yards, and 4 TDs.  Sincere also has thrown 1 TD this year on just 4 attempts.

#11 Brian Bell, QB:  A taller guy at 6-2 he’s the starting QB but can burn a team running the ball as well. Bell has a highly efficient 61.1% completion and 18 TDs passing to just 4 interceptions. Running the ball Bell has 249 yards and 5 TDs. Bell did get dinged up against MSU but did return to the game.

#4 Ryan Wilson, RB:  Another back that’ll get touches, also 5-9 like Flanders but 195 pounds Wilson has 337 yards and 5 TDs this year.

#10 Torrance Williams, WR/RB:  Another multi-use guy. Williams had a big game against MSU. He’s got 361 receiving yards on 27 receptions which is second on the team. He’s also got 269 rushing yards and 6 total TDs.

#38 Darnell Taylor, DB: Leading the team in tackles Taylor has 109, 9 TFL, and 3 sacks. He’s got 1 pick and 1 forced fumble as well. He’s 6 feet tall and 200 pounds.

#7 Dax Swanson, CB:   Swanson has an FCS-leading 8 interceptions this year and 16 pass deflections. He’s got 44 tackles and has 2 forced fumbles as well.

#32 Kenneth Jenkins, DB: Second on the team in tackles with 80, and he missed 3 games this year! He’s been a top tackler for years now. He’s also got 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, and 3 forced fumbles.

#36 Darius Taylor, LB:  leading all of the SHSU linebackers with 71 tackles, he’s also got 2 interceptions.

#47 Kash David, LB: A big 6-3, 240 pound linebacker who has a team leading 12 TFLs. He’s got 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and even a safety.

#92 Andrew Weaver, DE: A 6-1, 240 pound DE Weaver is tied for the lead in sacks with 4 (he had one against MSU). 31 tackles on the year, 7 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, and even 2 ints!

#23 Robert Shaw, DB: He’s got 60 tackles, 9 TFL, 1 int and 9 pass breakups.


General Stats:

– SHSU’s offense is scoring almost 40 points per game on average, in their home games they’re scoring an average of 39 points at home, so pretty much the same.  Meanwhile the Grizzly defense is allowing just 19.1 points per game (and only 12 points per game in their last 5 games). On the season UM’s defense is allowing 23.6 points per game on the road, however their last 3 road games that defense has allowed just 11 points per game.

– SHSU’s defense is allowing just 13.8 points per game, at home their defense allows about 12 points per game. UM’s offense is scoring on average 34.3 points per game (avg 28 points per game on the road), however in their last 5 games the Griz offense has been scoring 40.4 points per game.

– SHSU’s main offense is obviously their running game, they average 259 rushing yards per game (UM defense allows 117.6 per game). Passing SHSU averages 157.4 yards per game.

– SHSU’s defense allows an incredibly stout 67.4 rushing yards per game (UM offense has 219.2 rush yards per game). The Bearkats defense allows just over 208 yards passing per game, UM’s offense is about the same, averaging 204 per game.

– Running the ball SHSU has gained 144 first downs compared to 80 first downs passing the ball. Compare that to the Grizzly offense who has 140 first downs rushing and 113 first downs passing.

– SHSU plays some of the most error-free football I’ve seen, wow. They’ve grabbed 21 picks and only thrown 5 of their own. They’ve only lost 6 fumbles but have recovered 16 of their own. That puts them +26 on the season. Meanwhile UM is +15 this year.

– The Bearkats love to control the ball, an average TOP 33:30 per game.

– SHSU scores 79% of the time when in the red zone, 58% of the time it’s a TD. Meanwhile the UM defense allows scores 71% of the time and TDs 47% of the time when the opponent is in the red zone.

– On the other side of it SHSU’s defense allows scores 73% of the time when the opponent has reached the red zone and allows TDs 50% of the time. The Grizzly offense has scored 89% of the time in the RZ and scored TDs 65% of the time.

– SHSU’s defense by the numbers is staggeringly impressive.  They’ve allowed ALL SEASON just 13 points in the first quarter and just 24 points in the third quarter.  Meanwhile SHSU’s offense tends to be a little slow out of the gate in the first quarter but rolls up points in the second and third quarters.

– SHSU’s stadium holds 14,000 people however their average attendance is half of that at 7,500. There are graduation ceremonies that evening but just for a few portions of the school, I would presume this game will be a sellout with additional people being in town for the additional ceremonies on Saturday.

– Per the Sagarin rankings SHSU is 57 and Montana is 59. However, I found it interesting that SHSU strength of schedule is much weaker that the Grizzlies’. The Bearkats SoS is 189, while Montana is 137.


Keys for a Grizzly victory:

– DOLA. If there was ever a game our O-line needed to play their best this season, it’s this one. The SHSU defense has wrecked many rushing teams’ game plans with their swarming defense. I saw many glimmers of hope in the MSU game and I think that our OL can win in the trenches. The majority of SHSU’s leading tacklers are DBs and not LBs, our O-line will contend with quicker players but will have a great opportunity to smash those guys flat on their backsides.

– Win the turnover battle. It’s been really interesting this playoff season so far. The Griz each week have faced off against a team that has a more improved turnover margin than the prior one, yet they’ve still come out ahead at the end of the game. The same thing must happen this Friday, if the Griz give up easy turnovers and don’t force any they’ll be in a big hole.

– Do your 1/11. As I said against UNI, the Grizzly defenders individually have to do their part. In watching the MSU defense totally fall to pieces against Sam Houston’s option you could tell that any undisciplined defense will give up tons of big plays. If our D can do the same thing they did to UNI’s option it will be real tough for SHSU to win the game.

– Contain the option. Probably cannot be stopped, there’s just too much talent all across the field for SHSU. Going back to my prior point, slowing that option down will disrupt SHSU. Stony Brook did it for 3 quarters.

– Force Bell to throw. SHSU doesn’t rely heavily on the passing game. Bell was not incredibly impressive as a passer, in my opinion, but is fairly safe with the ball. In passing downs, some heavy blitzes like we did to Rennie could lead to some easy Tru/Roots picks.

– Speaking of Tru/Roots, put those dudes out on an island. (Lisowski, too, when he’s in). Have the safeties up closer to help in run support. While the biggest test is our front 7 our corners will have to be ready to make lots of tackles containing the edges and making sure they don’t get beat deep on play-fakes.

– Exploit passing opportunities. SHSU’s pass defense is good but not great and while they have 30 sacks this season they don’t have one or two premier rushers. Keep the ball away from Swanson probably but see if there are chances for some big plays down the field.

– This could be a great game for our TEs to find some big gaps 10-15 yards down the field.

– Don’t quit. SHSU’s tricky scheme might lead to some early scores, if the crowd gets behind them and they get up by 10 or more points, the Griz must keep their mental edge and not fold like the Cats did.


This will be the toughest challenge the Griz have faced to date. SHSU runs like wild and has a swarming defense that just gobbles up running games. The Grizzlies will need to peak at every aspect in their game to win this. The areas of opportunity that I see for the Griz are largely the strength of schedule, the Griz have played tougher opponents to date and have been challenged and recovered from it while SHSU has not really experienced that.

Additionally, this Grizzly defense is much smarter and tougher than any other D that SHSU has faced this year. If the Bearkats think the Griz are slightly better versions of the team they faced last week they’ll find out the hard way about that we are much better.

I have lots of worries here, the short week and finals week coupled with the travel. Obviously, just being on the road can be a mixed bag sometimes. And this offense which is more sophisticated than any other offense our defense has faced this year. That wild-kat offense they run will be a challenge to prepare for on such a short week.

I have faith in the Griz, the senior leaders on this team, and this coaching staff’s ability to prepare the team for a game like this. At the end of the day, I’m seeing a close win for the Griz on the road to get them back to the national title game for the third time in the last four years.

I’m saying 33-31 Griz win… Brody McKnight kicks the game-winner and then the defense forces a turnover to seal it.



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 egriz.com.