TIME, DAY, PLACE: Noon Saturday, Nottingham Field, Greeley, Colorado
TELEVISION: SWX Montana (Chris Byers, Mike Callaghan, Aunica Koch)
RADIO: Bobcat Radio Network (Jason Alvine, Zach Mackey, Dan Davies)
WEATHER: 67 degrees, sunny
Montana State: Jeff Choate
RECORD: 23-21; YEAR: Fourth
Choate came to MSU after several stints as a position coach at FBS schools including Washington, Washington State, Florida and Boise State. He led the Bobcats to their first playoff appearance and victory in six years last season.
Northern Colorado: Earnest Collins Jr.
RECORD: 28-69; YEAR: Ninth
Following an all-conference playing career with the Bears, Collins was a secondary coach at UNC, Kansas and Central Florida. He was Alcorn State’s defensive coordinator then head coach for two seasons before returning to the Bears in 2011.
MONTANA STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH
45 - Derryk Snell - TE
Snell caught three passes for 42 yards and a touchdown last weekend in a blowout win over Southern Utah. The reason Montana State could gain its insurmountable lead was because the Bobcats utilized their wide arsenal of weapons, including Snell. If he gives quarterback Tucker Rovig a reliable target, MSU’s offense should roll again.
58 - Josh Hill - LB
Hill was sidelined for two weeks but has made an impact since. He recovered a fumble against North Dakota and tied a career high with 2.5 tackles for loss against Southern Utah while tying the team lead with eight total tackles. MSU’s defense is formidible when Hill is affecting games like he has.
61 - Jake Sessions - OL
When right tackle Connor Wood went down with an injury last week, Sessions stepped in and is now starting in place of Wood as he recovers. If the Bobcats are to continue their rushing success, Sessions will have to produce. Considering he’s played in nearly every game this season, he should be ready.
NORTHERN COLORADO PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. 7 - Jacob Knipp - QB
Montana State head coach Jeff Choate said Knipp, at 6-foot-4, 213 pounds, possess prototypical size and arm strength. He’s completed 59.6% of his passes for 2,001 yards and 10 touchdowns and has thrown six interceptions. The graduate senior is also experienced and reads defenses well, Choate said, so the Bobcats will have to be disciplined.
2. 29 - Luke Nelson - LB
Choate said Nelson is the facilitator of UNC’s defense. The senior is fifth in the Big Sky with 9.3 tackles per game and has totaled 84 this season. At 6-foot, 230 pounds, Nelson will likely play a key role in how the Bears hope to limit MSU’s run game.
3. 5 - Michael Walker - CB
Walker was named the conference’s defensive player of the week after he intercepted a pass, returned another for a touchdown, forced a fumble and broke up another pass in UNC’s 26-20 win at Idaho State. His presence could be problematic for how MSU plans to pass the ball.
BY THE NUMBERS
1 — On average, Montana State allows just one sack per game.
5 — MSU left tackle Mitch Brott is five starts away from tying offensive tackle John Weidenaar (2012-15) with the most consecutive and total starts in program history.
8 — The Bobcats are second in the Big Sky with a plus-8 turnover margin.
9 — Troy Andersen has totaled nine tackles for loss this year after he racked up three last week. He has 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks in the last three games.
9.5 — Bryce Sterk’s 9.5 sacks this season is tied for 10th in a season in Bobcat history.
20 — MSU has taken the ball away from opponents in 20 straight games.
42 — MSU’s 42 points in the first half last week against Southern Utah tied for fifth most in program history before intermission.
38 — Kevin Kassis has caught 38 passes this season. Among MSU’s 133 completions, 29% of them have been to the senior wide receiver.
- Northern Colorado is the only out-of-state foe the Bobcats have faced in each of the last three seasons.
- Montana State is 4-1 against the Bears at Nottingham Field but has outscored UNC by only a total of 35 points in those games.
- The Bobcats are 21-10-1 all-time against UNC.
- MSU head coach Jeff Choate is 2-0 against the Bears while UNC head coach Earnest Collins Jr. hasn’t beaten the Bobcats as he’s 0-5 against them.
- Troy Andersen rushed for 16 yards and a first down on MSU’s first offensive play last week, then logged a sack on the team’s first defensive play.
MONTANA STATE KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Pass defense
Northern Colorado has the weapons to hurt teams both on the ground and through the air. But UNC’s Jacob Knipp may be one of the most talented quarterbacks in the Big Sky, meaning the Bobcats’ secondary will have to play accordingly if they want to avoid a high-scoring game. The Bobcats are fourth in the Big Sky with 239 passing yards allowed per game. They’ll have to maintain their level of play against the Bears.
2. Rovig’s rhythm
MSU quarterback Tucker Rovig played one of his best games a week ago, completing 13 of 23 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns while catching another TD against Southern Utah. He completed passes when needed and found open receivers downfield. If Rovig can continue a similar level of success against the Bears, who are 12th in the Big Sky in passing defense, that could be key for his confidence the rest of the season.
3. Foot on the gas
After losing their previous two games, the Bobcats responded by scoring 42 points in the first half and then not allowing a single point until the game was already decided in a win over Southern Utah. MSU can’t let up because any Big Sky team could put a halt to that momentum. The Bobcats still have postseason aspirations, but that is dependent on if they can take care of the Bears on the road.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Under head coach Jeff Choate, Montana State has thrived in November. When the pressure was on last season, the Bobcats won their last three regular season games and made the FCS playoffs last season. That late-season success should continue this weekend.
The Bobcats have favorable matchups in nearly every area against Northern Colorado, particularly up front. They know they need to win if they want to make the playoffs again. UNC posses problems, but the Bobcats should have an answer for each one.
Pool’s pick: Montana State 45, Northern Colorado 21