MISSOULA — After a first quarter in which Montana uncharacteristically struggled to tackle well, Griz safety Robby Hauck didn’t miss his chance on a blitz.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore came off the edge, raced past a tight end on the right side of the line and clotheslined Idaho State quarterback Matt Struck for a loss of 8 yards in the second quarter of Montana’s 59-20 win on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The play helped lead to the Bengals’ first punt after three scoring drives and appeared to rattle Struck. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound signal caller completed just one of his next seven passes across the second and third quarters.
By the next time Struck had a pass for positive yardage, Montana had turned its 17-7 deficit into a 24-17 lead. That pass came on a drive that ended with a field goal, the Bengals' lone points after going up 17-0, getting outscored 59-3.
“If you’re able to get to the quarterback, it’s definitely a positive for the defense,” Hauck said. “I actually got to him early in the first quarter and then I was able to get to him again. I think when you get hit by someone you’re not used to seeing come, he started eyeballing me a little bit.
"So, I think that helped the defense out a lot. Just rattling a quarterback is big from a defensive perspective.”
Struck finished his day completing 16 of 33 passes for 189 yards. He was 9 of 10 passing for 145 yards before that hit and 7 of 23 for 44 yards after as the Griz played the run-pass option game better.
“We had a couple adjustments in our coverages and all that,” Hauck said. “But really just watching the quarterback, he liked to eyeball his throws a little bit. And then just rally to the ball and tackle.”
Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie didn’t think Hauck’s hard-hitting sack affected Struck too much while playing in front of an announced crowd of 25,023.
“It’s just Matt Struck’s first time in an environment such as this,” Phenicie said. “It’s a louder, more raucous environment than even Utah. Like I said, it was just a matter of us overcoming adversity. We got to be better at that.”
Montana’s defense failed to limit the chunk plays early and fell down 17-0. Idaho State receiver Mikey Dean took a slant pass 71 yards and Ty Flanagan broke off a 71-yard touchdown run to go up three scores.
Flanagan’s run encapsulated Montana’s tackling struggles early on as he employed two spin moves to avoid Hauck, Gavin Robertson and Justin Calhoun, who all appeared to lunge toward him instead of trying to wrap up.
“Their RPO game hurt us early,” Montana head coach Bobby Hauck said. “We allowed them to run the ball way too effectively in the first quarter and the first part of the second quarter. They were completing passes at a high rate.
“We did not play well on defense in that first quarter. Part of that’s us, part of that’s them. I don’t want to take credit away from them. They were doing some great things.”
When the Griz shored up their tackling, they forced Idaho State to punt on nine of its final 12 drives after the Bengals scored on each of their first three. The three drives that didn’t end in punts were a made field goal and two end-of-halves.
“It’s just finding our groove,” Robby Hauck said. “Something we say is, ‘Never get too high. Never get too low. Just keep chopping wood.’ We were able to settle in and find our groove and just do what we do on defense and as a team in general. It was a positive really for us.”
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Montana junior receivers Samori Toure and Sammy Akem each put together a record day.
Toure had a career-high 188 receiving yards on eight catches, including an 8-yard touchdown snag. Akem had a career-best 10 catches, going for 135 yards with a 25-yard touchdown.
“We just have a really great offense in general,” Toure said. “When everybody does our job, I don’t think there’s too many people who can stop us, except ourselves. We just had to trust in the system and just keep on going, keep on staying persistent, keep on doing our jobs. Ultimately, we found success.”
Phenicie could only laugh when asked how tough of a matchup it was against Toure and Akem.
“We like to think our No. 20 and No. 2 and No. 80 are close to those guys,” he said. “But that’s the first time. Well, you know, I guess Akem was with the team two years ago, three years ago as a freshman. But he’s a big guy. He’s a big, good-looking receiver. They do a good job with them.”
Toure nearly had a touchdown on the first drive of the game, but quarterback Dalton Sneed just overshot him in the end zone on a second-and-2 play from the Idaho State 44-yard line.
“I told him as soon as he came off the sidelines, I said, ‘Man, I owe you one. I missed you,’” Sneed recalled. “But we knew just that with Samori’s ability that he’s a terrific receiver and has good speed, so I trust him to run by defensive backs. That’s what he did.
“When they wanted to come up and get in his face, I’m going to tell him, ‘Hey, just go do your thing. Go run by him.’ And that’s what he did today. He made phenomenal plays on two deep balls and was able to keep his feet inbounds. So, that’s just him doing his thing.”
Toure said he didn’t notice the Idaho State secondary mixing up coverages when the Griz receivers started to have success.
“We were seeing more of the same stuff,” Toure said. “They didn’t have too many adjustments to make.”
Phenicie, a former Montana offensive coordinator under Bobby Hauck from 2003-09, fell to 0-2 all time against one of his mentors and 0-1 with them facing off as head coaches.
“It was more of a, ‘You got to remain focused,’” Phenicie said of the experience being back in Missoula. “There was a lot of people wanting to say hi and all that stuff. You got to block a lot of that out, but it was good to see a lot of people that I consider friends. But I’m an Idaho State Bengal. Our 64 guys that are here and 100 guys total back in Pocatello, that’s who we are and that’s who’s my No. 1 priority.”
With the combination of Phenicie returning and the game being homecoming, Bobby Hauck estimated that “there was probably a little over 100” former Griz players in attendance.
“It’s great to see everybody,” Hauck said. “We had a lot of fun. It’s a great bunch of guys. I’m ecstatic that those guys, they feel tied to the program still. It was just fun seeing them.”