Cal Poly football coaches and players heard about the score before they even hit the showers last Saturday.
That’s how easily No. 1 Montana (1-0) dispatched Western State on the same day the Mustangs struggled to a 23-17 comeback win over Humboldt State that helped them avoid the embarrassment of their first loss to a Division II team in eight years.
Cal Poly (1-0) won the game but dropped from the No. 25 position all the way out of the Football Championship Subdivision coaches’ poll.Hearing the Montana score didn’t mean much to Cal Poly at the time — not without seeing the game film — but even after digesting the video, the Mustangs still might not know very much about this year’s version of the Montana offense.
“Their offense really didn’t get a chance to get in any rhythm,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “They only played 51 plays as it was, and I think they only played eight or nine plays in the first quarter. Their defense played so dominantly in the game, I’m sure we didn’t get to see a lot of what (new head coach) Robin Pflugrad has added to the Montana offense, which scared the heck out of us. There’s a lot of unknowns about who they really are on offense.”
In the same week the Mustangs learned they’ll soon be joining the Grizzlies in the Big Sky Conference, they’ll get an up-close look at the team that’s dominated it to the tune of 17 straight Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances and 12 straight conference titles.
Cal Poly is no stranger to Montana. Tonight’s game will be the 11th time in the past 13 seasons that the two teams have met. What they are unfamiliar with is Pflugrad, who replaced former coach Bobby Hauck after Hauck left to become the head coach at UNLV in the offseason.Pflugrad served as receivers coach for the Grizzlies last season, but his experience in Missoula is that thin. He spent the better part of the past 15 years as an offensive assistant in the Pac-10, with stops at Arizona State, Washington State and Oregon.
The reason Walsh couldn’t get too detailed a read on what Pflugrad brings to the table is because the game got out of hand so early and substitutions were plentiful.
Montana did score six offensive touchdowns, but starting quarterback Andrew Selle only attempted 11 passes, and senior running back Chase Reynolds — who scored three touchdowns in a 35-23 Grizzlies win over Cal Poly last season — only touched the ball 10 times.
Eventually, receiver Jeff Larson threw for a touchdown and even third-string quarterback D.J. Zapata, a redshirt freshman, passed for a couple of completions.
“You’re able to see the abilities that these guys have,” Mustangs senior linebacker Marty Mohamed said. “Just watching film, you can tell why they are ranked number one. You jut gotta be ready to play.”
As Walsh said, the offense was able to sub freely because the defense furnished it with a commanding lead. The Grizzlies tied an NCAA record with four interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Three of those came in the first quarter alone, after which Montana held a 28-2 lead.
If the dominant defensive effort might have helped the Grizzlies mask what their new offensive wrinkles will be under the new coaching staff, in a way it helped the Mustangs offense brightly highlight an area of concern.
The Mustangs had three costly turnovers against Humboldt State, two of which came on the very next play following forced turnovers by the Cal Poly defense.
Mustangs quarterback Tony Smith had an interception and a fumble and watched another one of his handoffs bobbled and returned for a Lumberjacks touchdown.
He was limited for the first half of this week of practice after sustaining a head injury toward the end of last week’s game, but Walsh said Smith has been cleared to play.
After last week’s effort, the Grizzlies’ secondary is already being called the “pick-six posse,” and it’s certain they’re aiming to give their offense another night off if they can.
“We can see that they play hard,” said Mustangs senior receiver Dominique Johnson, who missed the Humboldt State game, “and when you play hard and prepare hard, stuff like that happens. You come out and get the ball rolling, and it just keeps rolling. We all know the score of that game, and we saw the tapes. So we know what we have to prepare for.”