MISSOULA — A cursory glance at Cam Humphrey’s stat line in the box score from Montana’s win Saturday doesn’t look all that bad a few days later.
The senior quarterback completed 62.5% of his passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t commit a turnover, so he didn’t lose the game for the Griz with mistakes.
However, Humphrey’s outing felt less satisfactory watching the game live. The incompletions were sometimes striking and didn’t go unnoticed inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium, especially by Humphrey, as the offense managed just two touchdowns and 15 points.
“Personally, I wasn’t happy with my performance,” he said. “Points, completions, touchdowns, all that stuff, there’s a lot left on the table, especially on my part. I’m not really too satisfied with it. I know we have a lot more potential as an offense and me personally.”
The completion stat is an interesting aspect because improving that should lead to more touchdown passes and points.
Humphrey’s completion percentage of 62.5% might seem fine on the surface, but it’s a little deceiving. He completed only 15 passes after completing only 12 in the season opener, but increasing that to 20 in the second game.
The incompletions are compounded by the fact Humphrey has completed only 11 of 24 passes (45.8%) on third and fourth downs. However, when he completes a pass on those downs, UM has picked up a first down or scored 10 times in the 11 completions. He has four of his seven touchdown passes this season on third and fourth downs.
Humphrey simply needs to get the ball in the hands of the athletes around him, which he’s done in the past. He’s completed at least 73.1% of his passes in three starts and is at 66.7% overall across all eight starts.
That role of being a distributor of the ball is usually the description of a “game manager.” That’s the term Western Illinois coach Jared Elliott used to describe Humphrey.
“I hear a lot of negative about that term ‘game manager.’ I don’t see anything wrong with it,” Humphrey said. “As a quarterback, I play the position like a point guard. I’m trying to get the ball to my athletes. There’s a reason why I’m not at running back or receiver. I’ll make plays with my legs when I have to, but my goal is to distribute the ball accordingly depending on the scenario and coverage they’re in.
“If that means I’m a game manager, then so be it. If that means I only throw 250 and we get a win, I don’t care. A win is a win for me. I’m here to play my role on this team and not be an individual worried about stats or anything like that.”
Humphrey also has some running backs to whom he can hand off the ball. Although the Griz are missing their top two backs in All-American Marcus Knight and Nick Ostmo, Xavier Harris returned last week to pair with Isiah Childs and Junior Bergen.
Saturday will be another chance to see if the offensive line can create lanes for those running backs and if Humphrey can get time in the pocket to have a chance for better accuracy on his passes.
“It brings me back to when coach (Bobby) Hauck was there before,” Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said of his evaluation of UM’s offense. “(They) like to lean on you, like to establish the run, re-establish the run. Big offensive linemen. Multiple tight end sets. Quarterback that can get the ball out but can use the play action to the entire benefit of the offense. He’s got explosive receivers, guys that can make plays. They’re not going to hurt themselves.”
Chance to shine
Humphrey was recruited by then-Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin, who made a visit to his house in Issaquah, Washington, but never offered him. That adds another layer of motivation for him this week.
Humphrey also had that motivation last week when facing Baldwin's Cal Poly team. And he had it in 2019 when he made his first career start, a 34-17 home win over Eastern Washington as he completed 20 of 29 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown,
Humphrey has learned to keep a chip on his shoulder, something he still has despite the Griz being 8-0 in his starts. He’s still trying to find ways to show he belongs after being overlooked coming out of high school, walking on at Boise State, leaving for junior college, coming to UM and being a backup his first two seasons in Missoula.
“I’ve kind of been doubted on my whole career, so I just remind myself of that throughout the course of the week, and it really gets me fired up knowing that I got something to prove,” he said. “Always playing with a chip on my shoulder, not taking anything for granted.
“Knowing that maybe it’s just one person, but one person’s out there doubting me, and I’m going to prove them wrong.”
Humphrey and Montana’s offense could be a deciding factor in the outcome this Saturday as UM’s dominant defense and Eastern Washington’s electric offense could cancel out each other.
Montana’s offense is right around the top quarter of FCS teams in terms of converting drives into points once they get in the red zone, ranking 35th by scoring 88.9% of the time. The Griz are 34th with 31.3 points scored per game.
The Eagles are 70th in scoring defense, giving up 31 points per game. Even worse, they’re allowing opposing teams to score on 93.8% of red zone trips, which ranks 108th of 123 teams. They’ve given up 15 scores on 16 trips, with 13 of those being touchdowns.
The Griz are in the middle of the pack by averaging 363 yards of offense, 59th of 123 FCS teams. They’re slightly worse on third downs, converting just 34.1%, 74th in the nation.
Conversely, EWU is 70th in total defense, allowing 389 yards on average. The Eagles have hunkered down on third downs, allowing a conversion with 32.1% of the time, 24th in the FCS.
The Griz should have an opportunity to have a better outing against EWU’s porous defense than last week. On paper, they should’ve carved up Cal Poly, but Hauck tabbed it up to not executing well enough because all 11 players on the field weren’t doing the correct things.
“I don’t think we were sharp enough after watching the film,” he said. “No one’s real satisfied with where we are yet, so we’re going to get back to work this week and work to improve. That’s why we practice, and that’s the spirit of what we’re going to have when we go out there this week.”
Although Hauck dislikes night games, the Griz are 2-0 under the lights this season. So, what can he point to for the success?
“They’re college guys, they don’t wake up ‘til 5 o’clock,” Hauck joked.
Griz junior safety Robby Hauck followed up with a more serious answer: “I’d say routine. We stick to a tight schedule through what we call the final 48 of a game. I guess one positive about being on the road playing at night is there won’t be many distractions. We’ll all be in the same area and all on the same schedule.”
Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at email@example.com.