MISSOULA — Montana will face a team that’ll be using two quarterbacks for the third time in six games when it hosts Sacramento State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Unlike Cal Poly and Dixie State, the Hornets' use of two quarterbacks is more of a system because one player is more of a passer and the other is more of a runner. It'll be the first time UM will face a mobile quarterback used primarily as a run-first player.
That'll make the Grizzlies’ preparation different from those first two games and might challenge them more on the field. Their defense allowed just seven points to Cal Poly and seven to Dixie State.
“It’s different systematically because they rolled in guys, but they were running the same plays,” Hauck said of Cal Poly and Dixie State. “Sac tends to run different plays with each quarterback.”
With the two-headed attack at quarterback, the Hornets are off to a 2-0 start in Big Sky Conference play. They’re 3-2 overall, with their two losses coming to FBS Cal, 42-30, and Northern Iowa, 34-16, which was then ranked No. 15 in the FCS.
They’re averaging 25.8 points, 293.2 passing yards and 144.4 rushing yards. The passing yards are third in the Big Sky, the rushing yards are eighth, but the scoring is just seventh.
“I don’t think that’s the way it has to be called, but that’s the way they chose to call it,” Hauck said of using two QBs. “That’s the way they’ve decided to go with it. And it’s been effective for them.”
Junior Jake Dunniway has taken over as the primary passer. He attempted 86 passes for 777 yards, five touchdowns and one interception in the past three games. Asher O’Hara had just 21 passes for 131 yards in that stretch. He had attempted 74 for 457 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in the first two games, while Dunniway had just 13 attempts for 85 yards.
O’Hara has been used more as a rusher despite being a dual-threat quarterback at FBS Middle Tennessee State, where he threw for 2,616 yards and ran for 1,058 in 2019. He’s run 72 times for 289 yards, an average of 57.8 yards per game, which ranks eighth in the Big Sky. His four rushing scores have come in the past three games and are tied for the third most in the league.
“It’s mostly run game,” Hauck said of how O’Hara is used. “It’s quarterback run game. There’s RPO game. There’s a lot of read stuff. And then there’s just some called runs.”
The combination of Dunniway and O’Hara is how the Hornets have gone about trying to replace All-American quarterback Kevin Thomson. The offense they’re running looks similar to 2019 under coach Troy Taylor, Hauck noted.
“They haven’t made wholesale changes in the offense,” he said. “Using the two quarterbacks, it looks to me like they try to highlight their strengths, where they just had one guy doing it before.”
All-American senior running back Elijah Dotson reportedly left Sacramento State on Thursday for family reasons.
“Football isn’t a priority for him right now, and we support him, and he’ll graduate this semester,” Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor told The Sacramento Bee. “He doesn’t want to play football right now. We love Dot. We wish him nothing but success.”
Dotson ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries against the Griz in 2018 in Missoula. UM won that game, 41-34, as Sacramento State went on to finish 2-8 overall, 0-7 in the conference during the final season for Jody Sears as head coach.
In the Grizzlies’ 49-22 loss at Sacramento State in 2019, Dotson caught eight passes for 124 yards and one touchdown, and he ran 12 times for 41 yards. The Hornets won a share of the Big Sky title, earned a first-round bye in the playoffs before losing in the second round.
“I think they had a good team in 2017, 2018 as well,” Hauck said. “The team that we beat out here in 2018 was a really good football team that I didn’t think got their just due necessarily. And then 2019 they had a bunch of veteran players, a lot of sixth-year seniors, I think it’s pretty well documented, and rode a hot quarterback to a playoff appearance.”
Dotson carried the ball only 28 times for 95 yards and one touchdown in the four games he played this fall, giving him 2,466 yards and 22 touchdowns in 38 career games. He caught 18 passes for 108 yards, giving him 110 career receptions, the school record for a running back.
In Dotson’s absence Saturday, the Hornets rushed for a season-high 251 yards as eight different players ran the ball, led by BJ Perkinson with 85 yards.
Best in the league
Even with Dotson’s departure, Sacramento State still has a big weapon on the outside with junior wide receiver Pierre Williams, a 2019 All-Big Sky first-team pick.
Williams is fourth in the Big Sky with 476 receiving yards and 95.2 yards per game. But he’s tops in the league in Hauck’s book.
“He’s a really good player,” Hauck said. “They have a lot of good players on the offensive side of the ball. I think he may be the best one. He makes a lot of plays. He’s got good size, he’s got good speed, he’s got good hands. Hard to pick a better wide receiver in our league, in my opinion, than him.”
Joining Williams is sophomore tight end Marshel Martin, an All-Big Sky second-team player and a Freshman All-American in 2019.
“They’re a really skilled football team,” Hauck said. “I think they’ve got good team speed. So, they’re an interesting team.”
Montana offensive lineman Tyler Ganoung has left the team, Hauck confirmed Tuesday but declined to say why. The sophomore guard from Hillsboro, Oregon, hadn't been listed on the two-deep this season.
Last week, starting right guard Colton Keintz announced he was leaving for mental health reasons. Senior Moses Mallory has started in his place the past two games after they had been rotating throughout games during the first three weeks of the season.
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.