Montana State is focused on the next step.
The Bobcats broke a two-game losing skid with a 42-7 win last weekend over Southern Utah. They still have tough opponents remaining, but MSU head coach Jeff Choate wants the Bobcats honed in on only their next one.
No. 12-ranked MSU (6-3, 3-2 Big Sky) will play at Northern Colorado (2-7, 2-3) at noon Saturday in Greeley, Colorado.
Choate said it’s a tough place to play. And that’s why he wants his team focused on taking care of UNC before thinking too much about UC Davis or Montana the following two contests.
Moving piecesChoate said on Monday that cornerback Greg Filer III will likely redshirt this season. After suffering an injury during fall camp, the senior preseason all-Big Sky cornerback has played in two games so far.
But while the Bobcats deal with him missing games, Choate lauded buck Amandre Williams and linebacker Josh Hill for stepping up recently.
Williams, a junior who transferred from Washington, totaled three tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and six tackles in MSU’s win over SUU. Williams is now MSU’s interceptions leader with two.
“You could just see this guy get better and better and better the more he plays,” Choate said. “He’s really playing at a high level right now. I’m excited for what he’s going to continue to do for us.”
Hill missed three games in a row but returned two weeks ago against North Dakota. The senior from Kalispell made his return evident against SUU as he tied a team high with eight tackles and tallied 2.5 tackles for loss.
“He’s played as well as he’s played for us in a while,” Choate said. “He had some really impactful plays for us. He tackled well in the open field. I think we’re better when he’s out there just because of the command of the defense.”
UNC’s offensive capabilities
MSU’s defense will need to play sound this week, Choate said.
UNC hasn’t been much of a threat offensively as it’s last in the Big Sky with 18.7 points and 347.3 yards per game.
Still, Choate compared Bears quarterback Jacob Knipp to Sacramento State’s Kevin Thomson, who torched the Bobcats in their first FCS loss a month ago during MSU’s homecoming game.
Knipp has completed 59.6% of his passes for 2,001 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing six interceptions. Choate believes the Bears will likely use empty formations to attack MSU’s passing defense.
“They’re a dangerous team, a very dangerous team. And they play well at home,” Choate said. “You can’t let your guard down. This is a big game for us. We’ve got to prepare accordingly.”
The Bears also haven’t been very successful on defense as they’re 11th in the conference with 37.2 points and last with 510.2 yards per game allowed.
But Choate maintained that UNC poses challenges because of the multiple types of defenses the Bears run. Depending on the style of the opposing team, for example, UNC utilizes three down linemen early in games and then four as games go on. So the Bobcats must be ready for both looks.
Choate said UNC’s defense runs through linebacker Luke Nelson, who’s fifth in the conference with 9.3 tackles per game. Choate added the Bobcats will have to constantly watch out for cornerback Michael Walker.
He was named the conference’s defensive player of the week after he forced a fumble, returned an interception for a touchdown, added another pick and broke up another pass in UNC’s 26-20 win at Idaho State last weekend.
“We’ve got to go down there,” Choate said, “and have that one-game-at-a-time mentality and go prepare to play our best game against this group.”
4. Special teams evaluationChoate called MSU’s specials teams a “mixed bag” now after nine games. The phase of the game has helped and hurt the Bobcats at different times this season.
MSU’s Jered Padmos is averaging 45.6 yards per punt, which is second in the Big Sky. He’s also pinned opponents in their own 20-yard line 11 times and has 16 punts of 50 yards or longer.
Kicker Tristan Bailey has made 7 of 12 field goals. He’s 5 of 6 within the 40-yard line but 2 of 6 from beyond that mark. He’s also totaled 20 touchbacks on 51 kickoffs as opponents’ average starting field position is the 22.
Likewise, MSU averages 19.9 yards per kick return, led by Jahque Alleyne’s 23.2. But the Bobcats average 7.3 yards per punt return.
Choate pointed out how key special teams can be because of MSU’s loss two weeks ago to North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks pinned a punt within MSU’s 1-yard line. Then a breakdown in protection led to UND blocking a punt by Padmos and recovering it for a game-winning touchdown.
“Obviously we had some disasters two weeks ago … but we’ve also made some plays,” Choate said. “I think our skill level has improved, but I think there’s still a lot of plays we can make out there in that phase.”