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USD Football: Scouting The Griz

The Joe Glenn era will officially get underway this Saturday, Sept. 1 when USD visits Montana.

It will be a homecoming, of sorts, for Coach Glenn. He coached the Grizzlies from 2000-2002, leading the team to a national championship in 2001.

Unrest In Missoula

The Griz are a perennial FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) contender and ended last year with a semifinal loss to eventual runner-up Sam Houston State.

Since then, however, the program has fallen on some hard times off the field.

The team found itself in the middle of an ugly sexual assault scandal, in which campus and local authorities were criticized for a lack of action.

That, along with a rash of other recent off the field issues, contributed, at least in part, to the dismissal of last year's Big Sky Coach of the Year, Robin Pflugrad, and athletic director Jim O'Day in March.

Unfortunately, the problems didn't end there. Last season's starting quarterback, Jordan Johnson, was arrested and formally charged with sexual assault just a couple of weeks before the start of fall camp. He has since pleaded not guilty.

With all of that swirling around the program, it would be resonable to expect to see some sort of impact on the field. But Coach Glenn expects the Griz, ranked No. 10 in the FCS' preseason coaches' poll, to be ready to go on Saturday.

Scouting the Griz - Quarterback

Montana is now trying to rebuild its team and its reputation, and would like nothing more than to take out months of frustration on the Coyotes.

Fall camp has featured a four horse - or in this case, bear - race at quarterback, with redshirt freshman Trent McKinney emerging as the starter. McKinney, an athletic, dual-threat quarterback, was named the team's "Scout Team Player of the Year" in 2011.

Running Back

A pair of seniors will anchor the backfield. Peter Nguyen  led the Griz in carries (151) and rushing yards (835) last season, while fullback Dan Moore rushed for 430 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Jordan Canada also figures to play a significant role. He had a team-high nine rushing touchdowns last season.

Wide Receiver

After losing two of last year's top pass catchers to graduation, wide receiver was a bit of a question mark for UM coming into fall camp. But it sounds like the Grizzlies are happy with the progress of the group.

Sam Gratton, a three-year starter, tied for the team lead with 36 receptions in 2011. He enters his senior season with 92 career catches and 1,026 yards. Fellow senior Bryce Carver (11 rec., 140 yds, TD in 2011), who was hurt for a good portion of last season, was having a solid fall camp until the injury bug got him again. His status for Saturday appears to be uncertain.

Several other guys are in the mix as well, though none had more than 17 catches last year.

Offensive Line

This could very well be the strength (pun intended) of the offense for Montana this season. According to the school's website, the Grizzlies projected starters - 1 senior, 3 juniors and 1 sophomore - will average 6-5 1/2, 306 pounds. They're experienced, too, with all but one seeing significant playing time last season.

Defensive Line

Nowhere did graduation take a heavier toll than on the defensive line. The Grizzlies started four seniors in 2011, including one first-team All-Big Sky selection (Bryan Waldhauser) and two honorable mention picks (Bobby Alt and Ryan Fetherston).

Those are some serious holes to fill, and the Grizzlies will be forced to plug them with inexperience. The only certainty surrounding this unit is that all four players who take the field against USD will be making their first collegiate start.

Linebackers

Thanks to a solid crop of returners, this group figures to be the strength of the Grizzlies defense.

Jordan Tripp started the first three games last season before suffering a season-ending injury in a game against Eastern Washington. He's a preseason candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is given annually to the FCS' most outstanding defensive player.

The other outside linebacker will be junior John Kanongata'a, who was inserted into the starting lineup last season following the injury to Tripp. Kanongata'a made an immediate impact, finishing second on the team with 93 tackles and a team-high 12 tackles for loss. He was a second-team All-Big Sky selection.

Junior Brock Coyle and senior Josh Stuberg are battling for the starting job at middle linebacker. Both lack starting experience, but have combined for 63 career appearances.

Secondary

After losing three starters to graduation, the secondary will be made up some young, but very promising talent.

Safeties Bo Tully and Matt Hermanson are the only players with starting experience. Tully, a junior, started the final eight games last season and finished with 52 tackles. Hermanson, a Sioux Falls native, made one start as a true freshman, but appeared in 13 games. He tallied 65 tackles and tied for the team-high with three interceptions.

Cornerbacks will likely be junior Sean Murray and redshirt freshman Nate Harris. Murray, who has 21 career appearances, recorded 23 tackles and two interceptions in 2011.

Homefield Advantage

Washington-Grizzly Stadium, with an official capacity of 25,503, could be one of the more intimidating places the Coyotes experience this season. Aside from what figures to be a very pro-Montana crowd, the fact is the Grizzlies are almost unbeatable on their home turf with a record of 169-21 since the stadium opened in 1986.

Filed Under Football | College | University of South Dakota