Wyoming opens their first game of the 2014 season at home against the Montana Grizzlies. Montana is coming off a strong 2013 season where they ended with a 10-3 overall record and 6-2 conference mark. The Grizzlies also made the FCS playoffs, where they were upset at home by Coastal Carlolina 42-35. Montana is ranked in the top 5 preseason by most FCS pollsters.
The two teams have played 13 times and the Cowboys lead the series 13-0. The last time they played each other was in Laramie in 1997 where the Cowboys won 28-13. The teams first played in 1951, with Wyoming winning 34-7 in Missoula.
Here is a look at this years Montana Grizzlies strengths and weaknesses.
The Grizzlies offense starts first and foremost with senior quarterback Jordan Johnson. Johnson threw for 3,387 yards, 32 touchdowns and had only 5 interceptions. The Grizzlies had the second best turnover margin in all the FCS last season.
Johnson returns his two favorite targets in Ellis Henderson and Jamaal Jones. Henderson had 43 receptions for 1,008 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Montana has a balanced rushing attack where they returns three running backs who had carries last season. Jordan Canada is the focal point of the three and he rushed for 1,062 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
The offensive line could be considered a question mark, but they do return starters Trevor Poole and John Schmaing. Both will man the left side of the Grizzly offensive line and the maturation of the remainder of the line will go a long ways in determining the overall success of the offense. The skill positions players are there to put up huge numbers this Fall.
Defensively the Grizzlies took quite a hit but do return quality defenders such as defensive end Zach Wagenmann, who is a top notch pass rusher. Another quality defensive end is Tyrone Holmes who will be opposite of Wagenmann. The defensive front as a whole should be the strength of the Grizzly defense. Tonga Takai leads returning defensive tackles but both Caleb Kidder and Trevor Rehm should add quality production up front.
The secondary returns safety Matt Hermanson, who was second on the team with 107 tackles and cornerback Nate Harris, who picked off three passes.
To put it mildly, the Grizzlies were hammered pretty hard by graduation on the defensive side of the ball. Gone are linebackers Brock Coyle, Jordan Tripp and J.P. Kanongata'a. Losing all three linebackers is bad enough but losing a player the caliber of Tripp (Miami Dolphins) makes it even worse. Those three linebackers accounted for 313 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 29.0 tackles for loss, six interceptions and eight forced fumbles. They all earned all-conference honors as well.
Montana did have other significant loses, namely in the secondary. Most notable lost defenders outside of the three linebackers were defensive tackle Alex Bienemann, safety Bo Tully and cornerback Anthony Goodwin.
Offensively the biggest hit came along the offensive line where Danny Kistler and Kjelby Oiland both graduated. The right side of the offensive line needs to be rebuilt.
The Grizzlies lost wide receiver Cam Warren to graduation and tight end Jordan Harper to transfer. The receiving core as a whole should be more than fine even with the loss of Warren and Harper due to the return of Ellis Henderson, Jamaal Jones and Chase Naccarato.
The tight end position is a question mark and the Montana coaching staff has to hope inexperienced players step up there. Namely redshirt freshman Mike Ralston and senior converted wide receiver Mitch Saylor.
Head Coach: Mike Delaney (15-9 at Montana, 15-9 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Scott Gragg and Kefense Hynson
Defensive Coordinator: Ty Gregorak
Rushing: RB Jordan Canada - 1,062 yards
Passing: QB Jordan Johnson - 3,387 yards
Receiving: WR Ellis Henderson - 1,008 yards
Tackles: S Matt Hermanson - 107
Sacks: DE Zack Wagenmann - 8.5
Interceptions: CB Nate Harris - 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Travon Van, RB John Nguyen, WR Jamaal Jones, WR Chase Naccarato, DT Caleb Kidder, DT Trevor Rehm, DT Tonga Takai and DE Tyrone Holmes.
Key Losses: TE Jordan Harper, WR Cam Warren, OL Danny Kistler, OL Kjelby Oiland, LB Brock Coyle, LB Jordan Tripp, LB J.P. Kanongata'a, S Bo Tully, DL Alex Bienemann and CB Anthony Goodwin.
2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 185.2 (39th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 267.9 (23, 6)
Total Offense: 453.1 (15, 3)
Scoring Offense: 37.7 (14, 2)
Rushing Defense: 143.3 (40, 4)
Pass Defense: 237.7 (87, 8)
Total Defense: 381.0 (56, 5)
Scoring Defense: 22.9 (28, 4)
Turnover Margin: 1.40 (2, 1)
Sacks: 2.23 (48, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.31 (25, 3)