There is absolutely no way to sugar coat this loss today.
In the previous 5 games, there has almost always been something positive to take away. Whether it was hanging with the Cougs, or our exhilerating victory over San Diego State, or keeping it close in Seattle, there has always been a positive this season......and usually multiple positives.
This one, however, is a tough pill to swallow and should go down as "A Tale of Two Halves."
Indeed, the Vandals came out swinging this afternoon. Down 7-0 early in the first quarter, Idaho would carry a 24-17 lead into halftime, largely on the outstanding running of Blair Lewis who would finish the day with 126 yards rushing...123 of those yards would be gained in the first half, including an explosive 53 yard touchdown scamper (he scored all 3 of Idaho's first half touchdowns).
Through the air Idaho quarterback Brian Lindgren would end the day with 28 completions for 295 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. Senior wide receiver Josh Jelmberg had a career afternoon, amassing 153 yards on 11 receptions. Redshirt freshman Jeff Stowe was second in receiving with 71 yards on 7 catches and a touchdown.
Defensively, Idaho had one of its best performances, statistically, of the year. Led by senior linebacker Jordan Kramer (who led all tacklers with 12 on the day), Idaho registered 6 sacks on Montana's QB. The top 4 tacklers, in order, were Kramer, DT Brian Howard (9), DT Talifaia Atoe (7), and redshirt freshman linebacker Mike Anderson (6). In fact, Mike had a career day with 6 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a pass deflection, and a quarterback sack. All told, Idaho had 7 tacklers register a total of 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
So, what happened?
Alot of things really, and all after intermission. First, Montana made some smart adjustments at the half. Gaping running lanes that were present in the first half for Blair and the Idaho backs were long-gone in the second half.
Montana's defensive backfield also did a dandy job tying up Josh Jelmberg and Orlando Winston in the second half. Its not certain whether they were double covered in the second half, but they were rarely open.
The most notable change, however, seemed to happen to the Montana players individually. Their defensive line and linebackers turned up the heat on our offensive line. When they realized they couldn't arm tackle Blair, they found a way to wrap him up. The Grizzly offense, and especially their special teams, just kept chugging away. Individuals stepped up for the Grizzlies that hadn't stepped up all season. In short, they played bigger and faster than they had all year.
In addition to Montana adjustments, Idaho had its own problems as well. Regular cogs in the Idaho arsenal who almost never struggle during games, struggled immensely in the second half today. Who?
In the 5 games leading up to the Montana game, Idaho quarterback Brian Lindgren and his receivers almost always appeared to be on the same page. Today, in the second half, they didn't look like they were even reading the same book. Receivers would turn "in" when Brian would throw "out", and routine routes began looking forced.
An offensive line that has been able to move the ball either through the air or on the ground (and typically both) all season, ground to a halt in the second half. Lindgren was sacked 6 times on the day, and had very little time to set-up througout the 3rd quarter, and on only a single drive in the 4th. The Grizzly defensive front got after it, and Idaho didn't have an answer.
Through the first 5 games, our special teams could be counted on to deliver good field position offensively, and to pin the opponent deep in their end of the field. Not today, and DEFINITELY not in the second half. For the first time all year, Cedric Thompson had trouble shaking tacklers, and appeared to run kicks out of the endzone that, on any other Saturday, he would have typically taken a knee on.
Punting has been, bar-none, our most potent special teams weapon of the year. Today, Ryan Downes, the #6 punter in the country, would average 12 yards below his season average on punts under fairly heavy pressure. Moreover, Montana's last 5 possessions all started within the Idaho 50, while Idaho rarely started beyond its own 15. We were beaten soundly in the field position war in the second half, to say the least.
Finally, the Idaho coaching staff was making good adjustments at the half in the previous 5 weeks, but were stymied in this game, or at least that's the way it appeared. Defensively the team was able to make some stops in the second half, but the offense never got going through the air or on the ground in the second half.
The sheer fact we were able to hold Montana to 2 TDs and 2 fieldgoals in the second half is a feat in itself. Our defense played with its back against the wall the entire second half, while Idaho's offense posted 4 consective 3-and-outs. Given the circumstances, the defense did its part to keep us in this game. But it wasn't enough, and it won't be if the miscues continue.
Montana won this game by taking advantage of multiple opportunities and never letting up. They brought it for 4 full quarters, and everyone on the Grizzly team did their part.
And then some.