Three men gathered by the door and huddled around a cell phone. Moments later, just as Rob Ash’s press conference following Montana State’s 16-10 second round playoff victory over Stony Brook was ending, Montana State’s Assistant AD of Media Relations Bill Lamberty made the announcement that MSU would play Sam Houston State Friday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
Immediately, the attention turned back towards the coach and the question was thrust upon Ash: “How does playing on Friday change your preparation?”
As if the moment was rehearsed and he was waiting on his que, Ash was just as prompt in his response.
“It changes a lot,” the coach volunteered. “It’s a short week, but of course they played, too, so that’ll be even. We’ll have to take our day off – our usual day off is Monday – we’ll have to make that be Saturday now at the end of the week. So guys won’t get a day off is what that amounts too. We’ll go Sunday and practice light on Monday and just have to move everything up a day.”
Almost as immediate as Ash’s response, the Bobcats’ staff of interns, graduate assistants and coaches went to work breaking down the Sam Houston State Bearkats.
Jason McEndoo, Montana State’s offensive line coach, began looking at game film about 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, just seven hours after the Bobcats beat Stony Brook.
As McEndoo sacrificed sleep, the players dispensed of their day off and got right to work in preparing for a quarterfinal game against the fifth-ranked team in the nation.
“The biggest thing was the players didn’t get their day off on Monday, so I’m a little concerned about that. But if you give them that day off, that’s one whole day less of practice, which we couldn’t afford to do,” Ash said on Tuesday. “We have to find the balance between practicing and making sure the guys are fresh for Friday night.”
To prepare for the Bearkats’ speed and athleticism, Ash and his staff dipped into their scout team to help replicate Richard Sincere, Timothy Flanders and company.
“We tried to put our fastest scout team players out there and we’ve tried to tell them to play as fast as they can,” Ash said. “We have a good group of scout team guys this year and that will help. They aren’t as fast as the Sam Houston guys, but we have to rehearse for that and play our best.”
“We have some quick guys, little small dudes from Cali’,” said linebacker Na’a Moeakiola. “They’re very similar little scat backs. They’re doing a good job and giving us good looks.”
Montana State also has firsthand experience to rely on. It is familiar with the Sam Houston State attack from the quarterfinal game the two teams played last season in Huntsville, Texas. Sam Houston State returned nearly everybody from that roster and still employs very similar offensive and defensive concepts.
“You go through their lineup and every single name is the same,” Ash said. “It’s like they didn’t graduate anybody. It’s the same names on both sides of the ball, good players, guys who have a lot of playoff experience and great talent and speed. I think they are a very, very fine football team.”
Aiding the ‘Cats preparation during the shortened week, McEndoo believes, is the game Montana State played against Stephen F. Austin earlier this year.
“I feel great about going against Sam Houston after getting to play them last year,” McEndoo said. “Also, getting to play Stephen F. Austin earlier this season from their conference was a good advantage for us. (Sam Houston State) was the fastest team we saw last year. Going against Stephen F. Austin and getting (SHSU) up here is big.”
Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston’s natural rival – the two campuses are separated by 94 miles along Texas Highway 94; both teams play in the Southland Conference – lost to Montana State 43-35 on Sept. 15. Three weeks later, the Lumberjacks succumbed to SHSU, 51-43, at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Sam Houston is facing the same shortened week after beating Cal Poly 18-16 last Saturday, but the Bearkats’ staff and roster have dealt with this issue in the past. After beating Montana State last season, SHSU had six days to prepare for their semifinal match up with Montana. The ‘Kats won, 31-28, to advance to the national championship game.
“We had this same kind of situation last year going from the quarterfinals to the semifinals. You can really just work on the schemes you are going to see from your upcoming opponent. It can be a positive if you make it that way,” Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz said.
Defiant to the challenge, Montana State linebacker Jody Owens agreed with Fritz.
“We usually get Mondays off and we had to practice (Monday),” Owens said. “That’s one adjustment that you have. But besides that, I think people like it because we get to play one day earlier at night. It’s gonna be awesome.”
Kyle Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 582-2690. Follow him on Twitter: @kylesample_bdc