GRIZ GRIT: Bitter Defeat for UM

By Beacon Staff

A tumultuous roar greeted redshirt freshman quarterback Denarius McGhee each time he approached the line of scrimmage in Missoula Saturday. But if it bothered the Texan, he sure gave no indication and his demeanor had as much to do with the 21-16 Montana State University victory as anything.

I’m not the first one to observe McGhee is the best Bobcat quarterback in decades and, while comparisons to Travis Lulay are valid, McGhee has the potential to exceed even his accomplishments.

Appropriately, given the importance of the game, there never has been more people at a sporting event in Montana. And I’m sure I won’t get much of argument in saying that there also has never been worse conditions to watch a football game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

But time and time again McGhee came to the line of scrimmage under center, barked a signal or two, then either snapped the ball or backed off to get the play from the sidelines, then returned to the line to communicate his intentions and settled back into the shotgun formation. And all that, the majority of the time, with just 15 seconds or so remaining on the play clock.

He relished the atmosphere and the importance of the competition like no other quarterback before him.

He simply has a veteran’s composure and University of Montana defenders seldom were able to apply pressure as his handoffs were crisp and the Bobcat offensive scheme consistently left receivers open and McGhee seldom missed them.

Still, the game came down to, as you probably already know, Montana’s inability to maintain possession of the football, especially in the red zone, where you just can’t be turned away without scoring points.

I’m sure the proverbial drawing board already has been assembled and, by the time you read this, UM coaches will be hard at work pointing toward the 2011 opener at Tennessee. And players will begin an off-season routine that for years has paid dividends with a record amount of consecutive playoffs appearances and league titles.

It so seems that collegiate seasons come upon us so quickly that there is hardly a chance to put one in perspective before another one begins.

But this year as Griz coaches hit the recruiting trail they will do so with some added burdens.

Yes, they continued their record of 26 consecutive winning seasons, but they’ll no longer be the defending league champion for the first time in a dozen years and, quite possibly, won’t even be favored to win the Big Sky Conference. That may depend on the status of McGhee, who is rumored to be considering move-up options.

There’s also bound to be other schools pointing out Montana’s deficiencies in the UM Athletic Department infrastructure and, thus far at least, only the verbal recognition that the deficiencies exist, but no sound plan to address them.

Fifteen Montana seniors have completed their eligibility and that doesn’t leave much room to restock the depleted shelves, although many young players saw game action and contributed in this injury-marred season.

While now-to-be sophomore Jordan Johnson is the heir apparent at quarterback, most teams recruit a quarterback every year and several, like Shay Smithwick-Hann, already are in the Grizzly fold to provide competition for the signal-calling role in the spring.

It was a bitter and sudden ending to a season of promise but constant disappointment. All but a few teams end their season with a loss, but that doesn’t make it any easier, does it?