Cody Kirk was bearing gifts as he met his offensive line Tuesday morning.
Following his five-touchdown, 104-yard, Big-Sky-Conference-offensive-player-of-the-week performance in the Bobcats’ 63-20 win over North Dakota, Kirk took to Twitter and promised his offensive line a sugary reward.
“(Cody) did bring doughnuts this morning,” offensive line coach Jason McEndoo confirmed at Tuesday’s news conference.
Kirk’s gesture was in response to the commanding effort Montana State’s offensive line turned in — a stark contrast to the previous two games, when the Bobcats generated 205 yards on 76 carries.
In Saturday’s win over UND, however, the offensive line, which McEndoo said graded out at 93 percent, consistently opened holes large enough for MSU’s backs to run for 315 yards — the highest output since the Bobcats rushed for 436 in a 55-10 win over North Dakota last season in Bozeman.
What was the difference?
“What I did was I locked the offensive line, the tight ends and the running backs in a dark room for an entire week,” McEndoo jokingly responded. “I didn’t feed them any water, give them any food. If you spend an entire week in a dark room without any food, you’d be ready to play, as well.”
With a few days to reflect on what took place in Grand Forks, McEndoo said the Bobcats didn’t change much schematically with the run game; the total was a matter of circumstance and execution.
During Sept. 14’s 26-0 win over Colorado Mesa, when the running game first started to show signs of frailty, McEndoo said the unorthodox nature of Mesa’s defensive approach perplexed the offensive line; before they could get things squared away, the Bobcats began to throw the ball.
One week later, in a 52-38 loss at Stephen F. Austin, the Bobcats found themselves in an early 17-3 hole and had to switch gears away from their power game to try and keep pace. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Bleskin wound up throwing 41 times.
But McEndoo conceded that even when the offense tried to grind out yards the execution was not there.
“When we did run the ball, we didn’t get the yardage that we needed. We were getting 2 yards a carry on first and 10,” McEndoo said. “You have to get 4 yards a carry to stay ahead of the chains. That put us in long-yardage situations. Against SFA, with the type of speed they had, that was a difficult situation.”
Though confidence is surging after a blowout win, MSU suggested it’ll find out just how far the run game has come when Northern Arizona visits Bobcat Stadium Saturday for a showdown of top-20 teams in The Sports Network’s latest poll; Montana State moved back inside the top 10 to No. 8, while NAU is No. 15 after a 34-16 win over Montana on Saturday in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“They’re extremely, extremely disciplined and they have some really great players all around the board; the secondary, the linebackers are really good,” senior quarterback DeNarius McGhee said. “They run to the ball. If you watch on film, whenever someone is tackled all 11 (defenders) are right around the ball, so we’ll have to get whatever we can when we can.”
Added head coach Rob Ash, “They play outstanding defense; they’ve created a lot of scoring opportunities and scores with their defense. They’ve dominated the FCS opponents they’ve played with their defense.”
In last week’s win over the Grizzlies, the Lumberjacks held a previously potent offensive attack to 347 yards — including 55 yards on the ground on 26 carries.
Through four games, Northern Arizona is the conference’s highest ranked defense in terms of yards allowed (317), the second highest in points allowed (19) and fourth in rush yards allowed (134).
Those numbers are slightly skewed by NAU’s season-opening 35-0 loss to FBS Arizona of the Pac-12 Conference, Ash said. The Lumberjacks surrendered 305 rushing yards against the Wildcats. Against FCS opponents, however, NAU is giving up just 77 yards rushing in three games.
Regardless of what NAU has done — and what MSU has recently accomplished — the narrative heading into Saturday’s matchup was made clear Tuesday.
“We’re not even thinking about a 2-0 start; we’re more thinking about winning this game and going 1-0 this week,” McGhee said. “Whatever happened in the past and whatever happens down the road is irrelevant. We have to live in the now and make sure we take care of business right now.”
Kyle Sample can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @kylesample_bdc.