A bold opening statement for Montana's Stitt
(STATS) - Gutsy. Dangerous. A tad diabolical.
It's all rolled up into new Montana football coach Bob Stitt's style of offense that he unveiled on Saturday against a team that, oh, has won the last four FCS national championships.
Stitt's punch-you-in-the-mouth style of offense has its detractions, but as No. 13 Montana upset top-ranked North Dakota State, 38-35, with a late touchdown in the FCS Kickoff, Stitt basically announced he's the new sheriff in town - like it or not.
In a wildly entertaining start to the college football season, two of the most successful programs in FCS history played just the type of shootout that could become common in Missoula. Hazy conditions surrounded Washington-Grizzly Stadium from the forest fires in the vicinity, but it was clear that the Grizzlies will play fast in Stitt's four-receiver spread offense.
They ran 92 plays - just shy of Stitt's goal of about 100 per game - and totaled 544 yards against an NDSU defense battling an imperfect storm - a first-game assignment against an unknown offensive system and without seven graduated starters from last season's FCS championship team.
"We didn't win the national championship today; we won a ballgame," Stitt reminded afterward. "We're 1-0, and we're going to keep working. I asked the kids where we want to be in week 11, and this is a piece of that whole journey."
Stitt, 51, is known nationally among coaches for his innovative offensive concepts. Having spent the last 15 seasons at Division II Colorado School of Mines, where he was highly successful but far from the national spotlight, Stitt felt he "wanted to be some place where it really mattered. I wanted that pressure on us."
Bull's-eye, welcome to Griz Nation.
In its national search for a new head Grizzly, the Montana administration wanted an offensive-minded coach, but also one who would continue to lift the program from a period of NCAA sanctions and negative attention for the way the university handled sexual assaults on campus, some involving football players.
Stitt, who replaced the retired Mick Delaney, has been making his players more accountable off the field (for example, starting linebacker Herbert Gamboa was suspended for the FCS Kickoff). The opening on-field results weren't too shabby, either.
If there was a negative, Stitt was too aggressive with his offense in the first half - although it was nothing new for him. Montana twice tried to convert a fourth down from its territory and was stopped by North Dakota State. The second time came just inside the final two minutes of the second quarter and allowed the Bison to take possession at the Grizzlies' 43-yard line and move on to score a go-ahead touchdown (at 28-21) before halftime.
But Stitt made adjustments from there and didn't play with such reckless abandon in the second half. His trigger-man, quarterback Brady Gustafson, had a good opening grasp of the offense and spread the ball around to different receivers, which is the way to keep a defense on its heels.
For openers, Montana football must like what it sees in its new coach.