Tuesday at Montana State’s afternoon practice, groups of defensive players were seen running from one group to another and one sideline to the other before resting in front of waterspout continually dispensing the liquid.
The idea was to get the Bobcats used to the pace and fatigue they’ll likely face Saturday night in Dallas when they play Southern Methodist.
Though SMU, an FBS opponent from the American Athletic Conference, lost to Texas Tech 41-23 in its season opener Friday, the Mustangs still managed to generate 490 yards and threw the ball on 62 of their 93 plays from scrimmage.
It comes as no surprise to Montana State’s coaching staff that the June Jones-coached Mustangs tossed the ball around the field with impunity; it’s what the former NFL coach is known for.
“June Jones is one of the all-time great passing gurus in the coaching profession,” Bobcats head coach Rob Ash said at Tuesday’s news conference. “He’s got a great knack for the passing game.”
Prior to his current stop in Dallas, Jones helped popularize the run-and-shoot offense during stints in the NFL and at the University of Hawaii. As Hawaii’s head coach, Jones mentored quarterbacks who set NCAA career-passing records and offenses that kept defensive coordinators up at night designing strategies to slow the explosive attack.
The traditional run-and-shoot philosophy is not currently in use by Big Sky Conference schools, but the Bobcats’ coaching staff is well acquainted with defending the concept.
“We have a familiarity with it having played Portland State with Jerry Glanville and Mouse (Davis),” defensive line coach Bo Beck said. “It’s always tough because it’s a high-paced execution offense. They have to pitch it and catch it and we have to find a way to disrupt that — it’s a fast, out-of-your-hand type of situation with quick receivers that can catch and run after the catch.”
To combat an offense predicated on short, quick timing routes, Montana State plans on exploring the depth and versatility of its defensive lineman. During fall camp, both Beck and defensive coordinator Jamie Marshall indicated the defense would employ more of the its third-down package against pass-heavy teams in an attempt to get more speed along the defensive line and its pass rushers up the field quicker.
“I know we’re going to need all the numbers of the guys that we have, so a guy like Craig (Ashworth) is going to have to know the third down stuff to be able to give us another body to roll through,” Beck said.
Combined with SMU’s frenzied pace, there is concern among the coaching staff that the Texas heat — it’s expected to be 98 degrees in Dallas at kickoff — could give the Bobcats problems.
Though Montana State should be well-rested after two extra days off following Aug. 29’s 42-24 win over Monmouth, coaches had players running as often as they could Tuesday in preparation for the exhaustion that could set in Saturday. It sounds like that is the plan throughout the week, as well.
“After the play in ‘scouts,’ we’d run over to a coach to get some extra running in,” said defensive end Oden Coe, who will make the second start of his career against the Mustangs.
“It’s always in the back of our minds; we’ve got to get our conditioning up and get used to sweating a little bit.
“I think the most important thing — and they’ve been harping on it this whole week — is just hydration and getting the fluids in us now. Obviously, we’re not going to be able to practice in 100-degree weather up here.”
Coe’s focus — and that of every Bobcats defender — is squarely on the game plan. Coe said Beck has been instructing the defensive line to disrupt passing lanes if they can’t apply enough pressure to get to SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert.
Coe sounded like he has embraced the idea of disrupting passing lanes, but relayed the impression that he and his fellow line mates preferred a more physical method of agitating Gilbert.
“We want to get pressure and get him laid down and get him thinking twice,” Coe said. “If they do resort to the quick game, which a lot of teams end up doing, then that’s when we get our hands up. But if it’s going to be a five- or seven-step drop, we want to get there and put him down.”
Kyle Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @kylesample_bdc.