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Montana State safety Brayden Konkol takes down Northern Colorado wide receiver Noah Sol on Saturday at Nottingham Field. 

GREELEY, Colorado — Troy Andersen was nonchalant. His teammates were ballistic.

The junior linebacker came screaming in on a blitz, wrapped up Northern Colorado quarterback Jacob Knipp and sent him to the ground. Andersen stood up like he’s made the play countless times, which he has. But his Montana State teammates yelled in his face in exhilaration, others hit him on the helmet in jubilation.

This was early on in the first quarter. The Bobcats defense commanded the outcome of the game from the beginning.

No. 12-ranked MSU limited nearly everything UNC tried offensively. The Bobcats held the Bears to 289 yards while totaling 564 on the way to a 45-14 triumph Saturday at Nottingham Field.

“I think we had a really good game plan. We disguised our coverages well,” Andersen said. “We prepared well. I think we had a good week of practice, and that carried over into the game.”

The Bobcats were stout on the ground and suffocating through the air. The Bears rushed for 44 yards on 21 carries and converted just 12 first downs.

UNC’s only points until the fourth quarter came on an interception of MSU quarterback Tucker Rovig that was returned for a touchdown.

But that mistake wasn’t costly because of what the Bobcats (7-3, 4-2 Big Sky) did to UNC’s offense.

MSU linebacker Josh Hill believed it began up front. As the Bobcats’ defensive linemen clogged run lanes, UNC’s blockers had to dedicate more attention to them. That cleared the way for the likes of Hill, who tied a game high with 10 tackles, two for loss.

MSU’s push up front was clear late in the second quarter. The Bears (2-8, 2-4) had crossed midfield and were trying to score their first offensive touchdown of the day. Their drive stalled, so they went for it on fourth down.

Knipp stood in shotgun, handled the snap and handed off to running back Milo Hall. He lowered his head and barreled forward.

He didn’t see UNC’s offensive linemen being pushed back and Hill shooting the gap. He stuffed Hall, halting the run and the drive.

“I think it’s a lot of the same things we’ve been doing the last couple weeks,” Hill said. “It was just getting back to our fundamentals and doing the little things right on defense and just flying around and making plays like we know we should be able to.”

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Montana State defensive back Level Price Jr. tries to take down Northern Colorado's Noah Sol on Saturday at Nottingham Field.

UNC’s lack of a run game forced the Bears to pass and become predictable. MSU head coach Jeff Choate said earlier in the week Knipp was a prototypical passer with eye-popping arm strength. But MSU gave him few open targets. He completed 27 of 38 passes for 220 yards, a touchdown and an interception, most of that production coming in the second half of a game already decided by intermission.

Against Knipp, a veteran passer, the Bobcats knew they couldn’t sit back in standard coverages. They needed to be proactive in how they defended in the secondary. They masked their play calls by showing Knipp a defensive formation presnap, leading him to anticipate a certain coverage. But then the Bobcats mixed their alignments around to at least make Knipp think a little longer and at most leave him perplexed.

“With a young man like Knipp, that is such an experienced quarterback, if you show him what you’re going to do and then do it, he’s going to find a way to beat you,” Choate said. “I think there was some confusion with him at times holding the ball, maybe not going to the right read.”

Because Knipp needed more time to diagnose coverages, he often didn’t have enough to throw and was sacked twice. Andersen blitzed several times, either knocking Knipp off his rhythm or forcing UNC’s offensive line to shift toward him.

The threat of Andersen opened up opportunities for others like defensive end Bryce Sterk, who added another to his total of 10.5 sacks this season. Andersen, meanwhile, is up to 5.5 sacks, all in the last four games.

“(Knipp is) a good player,” Andersen said. “That’s why we really tried to disguise our coverages and get him confused, get him off schedule.”

UNC was 5 of 16 on third downs and failed to sustain drives. The Bobcats only forced one turnover, but the defense continuously gave MSU’s offense the ball back.

The Bobcats held the ball for about seven more minutes than the Bears. Even though they converted on one single third down, they could afford to. The Bears weren’t about to do much on the other end.

“It definitely fires us up and makes us want to go hard,” MSU running back Lane Sumner said. “Those guys are going hard, you know? If they make a play, we want to make a play.”

Now the Bobcats will play in the most important stretch of the season. They face UC Davis and Montana, two teams fighting for playoff positioning and both with potent offenses.

The Bobcats know that. By stifling the Bears on the road, by rendering a quarterback like Knipp ineffective, MSU’s appears ready for the trials ahead.

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.