Four downs: Montana State prepares for UT Martin’s talented offense and defense | National sports

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MOntana State players and coaches felt their trip home from their last game was a long one.

The Bobcats had just been beaten by rival Montana for the first time in five years. It was also their first loss to anyone since their first game of the season, a prelude to a nine-game winning streak.

Following a pass, the No. 8 seeded Bobcats (9-2) have the opportunity to bounce back. They will host UT Martin (10-2) in the second round of the FCS qualifiers on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Bobcat Stadium.

“There was a lot of pain and injury,” Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen said of the loss to the Grizzlies. “But we knew that was not the end of the story for this team. It was not necessary. So keep it as simple as, “Hey, we’re not going to forget that performance and we have to find a way to play better than that day, but move on and keep this story going. I think that’s the state of mind you have to have.

“We have to believe in what we are doing. We have to believe in each other, and I think our team found that out over the last week and will continue to prepare and go out and be a hungry and aggressive team on Saturday.

Montana state offensive production

When Vigen takes a look at a stat sheet after this week’s game, he’s hoping to find his team balanced offensively.

Vigen wants the Bobcats to get more aggressive, especially in the first and second downs. He doesn’t anticipate they’ll throw up to 30 times per game, but he wants to see more completions. This way the Bobcats can count on the talent they have as a wide receiver.

“I know at the end of the day we have to get out there and play as fast as possible offensively,” said Vigen, “and I don’t think we did that against Montana.”

Against Montana, many facets of MSU’s offensive fell short of its standards. His 204 yards were his lowest production of the season. Quarterback Matthew McKay completed 12 of 25 passes for 108 yards with a touchdown, his fourth time in five games with under 150 yards. McKay has also been sacked four times.

“He played a little more on his heels,” Vigen said of McKay. “We have to be able to work this out of him. I think he owns this performance. He knew this was not what we needed that day, and with an extra week we hope we can sort things out.

UT Martin’s offense may change, Vigen said, according to the quarterback.

Keon Howard, Walter Payton Award finalist and Ohio Valley offensive player of the year, completed 59.7% of his passes to go with 1,811 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for 472 yards and 10 touchdowns.

But he was out for UT Martin’s playoff win over Missouri State a week ago. In his absence, Dresser Winn “had some really good shots,” said Vigen. He completed 23 of 43 passes for 272 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The Bobcats are gearing up to take on Winn and Howard, so they’re up for either.

Vigen added that the Skyhawks have had many one-on-one clashes in the passing game. Donnell Williams caught seven of those passes for 178 yards and one score.

Peyton Logan (143 carries for 1,050 yards and four touchdowns) and Zak Wallace (142 carries for 788 yards and 15 touchdowns) lead the Skyhawks’ rushing offense. UT Martin is eighth in the FCS with 219.4 rushing yards per game.

Logan, at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds, and Wallace, at 6-foot, 220 pounds, are “a good combination,” said Vigen.

“It’s a change of pace between the two,” Vigen adds. “They create problems for tacklers, especially if you allow them to enter space.”

Vigen acknowledged that UT’s defense Martin was playing aggressively and with confidence. It was clear last week.

The Skyhawks forced six turnovers against Missouri State. For the season, UT Martin is 44th in the FCS with 353.2 yards allowed per game and 24.9 points allowed per game.

Vigen noted that the Skyhawks are “extremely active” and their first seven “can really cause problems.”

“They won this game with a chip on their shoulder,” said Vigen. “They played in many ways as if they had nothing to lose and continued to gain confidence as the game progressed. It was evident.

Vigen believes the Bobcats are pretty healthy after the regular season.

After the Grizzlies game, Vigen said Walter Payton Award finalist Isaiah Ifanse was not “exactly at full speed.” He was one week away from missing the second half against Idaho with a leg injury. He rushed for 50 yards at the season low in 19 attempts against Montana. But he had more time to rest during the bye.

Bobcats right tackle TJ Session “will continue to be absent,” said Vigen. The coach added that defensive back Ty Okada intends to play this week. Had the Bobcats been in the first round, Vigen is not sure Okada was ready following his injury against Montana.

“We have not suffered anything too important. I think the week off for a guy like Isaiah has been pretty big, ”Vigen said. “Defensively we probably came out of it pretty healthy and in some ways I like to think we could be as healthy as we have been.”


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