OGDEN, Utah — Make it three straight losses for the Montana Grizzlies, as they fell to Weber State 24-21 on Saturday in Ogden, Utah.
There's plenty to clean up for Montana if they hope to make the playoffs with three games remaining on their regular season schedule.
"We're in a rough spot, we've lost three in a row," UM head coach Bobby Hauck said. "Certainly not where we want to be, but I look at it academically where we've just lost in heartbreaking fashion twice on the road to Top-5 teams in the nation, so we have to remain confident. We have a good football team."
Ugly would be one word to describe Saturday's game between Montana and Weber State.
In a defensive slugfest, the two teams couldn't get much going on offense throughout the game.
The Griz were without starting quarterback Lucas Johnson, so Kris Brown took the reins under center, but the UM offense only racked up 114 yards total on 55 plays on that side of the ball. UM went 4 for 14 on third down and also gave up four sacks on Brown.
"Well, it wasn't good enough, we didn't generate enough yards, didn't generate enough first downs," Hauck said. "I thought we were close on a lot of stuff but they got the best of us."
The Griz offense doesn't take many shots down the field, and on Saturday those scenarios were even less, with Hauck saying the play-calling and Brown both were some of the reasoning behind that, but that if the opportunities presented themselves he'd like to see it attempted. Brown finished the game 10 for 17 for 72 yards and ran the ball for one score.
"It's both," Hauck said of the deep looks. "I mean, just because we're throwing it underneath doesn't mean there's not a route over the top. In almost every route combination there's an over-the-top phase to it, so whether the ball could go there or not, hard to tell right now."
Hauck also addressed whether they'd considered bringing in backup quarterback Daniel Britt after Brown and the offense continued to struggle. Alongside Brown, wide receiver Junior Bergen — who played sparingly due to a left hand injury — took some snaps from the Wildcat formation.
"We had stuff all week, but we're in a game like that where we feel like we're close, and we're doing some stuff, we just can't sustain it," Hauck said. "There's a reason why guys are where they are on the depth chart. It's a tight game. There isn't a lot of leeway to experiment in a game like that."
Montana's defense lost linebacker Patrick O'Connell in the first quarter due to a left ankle injury and he didn't return.
Still, the Griz defense was up to its usual standards, but Weber State found success on two big scoring plays that altered the game.
Down the stretch, the Wildcats also had success running the ball against the Griz late in the fourth quarter, including a 3rd and 13 conversion by Dontae McMillan that extended a drive that Weber State eventually turned into a score to make it 24-13, and a fourth-down conversion by Kris Jackson on the final drive that sealed the game. The Wildcats finished the game with 345 yards on offense — 192 of which was on the ground — while going 8 for 18 on third down.
"I think they just had more push than us," senior cornerback Justin Ford, who had an interception in the game, said. "We get the stop immediately, but the line is coming in pushing. We just have to do a better job on critical down situations, understanding what they want to do. We should've known they were going to run the ball and just really buckled down to get that stop, but, play on."
At 5-3 overall and 2-3 in Big Sky Conference games with three games remaining in the regular season, the playoffs are still in sight for Montana, a possibility the team knows is there.
"So before the season that was one of my main goals was a national championship and as of right now that hasn't changed," Ford said. "It's still possible so obviously that's what we're going for. We can't drop another game though, very important."
"This is one of my favorite teams I've been on," senior wide receiver Mitch Roberts said. "I believe in these guys and this is a tough situation but we just keep pushing and take it one game at a time and approach doesn't change."
"We've kind of put ourselves in a must-win situation this week which is fine," Hauck added. "It's must win."
The Grizzlies next opponent is Cal Poly (2-6, 1-4) in Missoula on Saturday.