Amandre Williams, Spring Football (copy)

Montana State’s Amandre Williams tries to chase down the quarterback during spring practice March 30 at Bobcat Stadium.

TELEVISION: SWX Montana (Chris Byers, Mike Callaghan, Aunica Koch)

RADIO: Bobcat Radio Network (Jason Alvine, Zach Mackey, Dan Davies)

WEATHER: 69 degrees, 7 mph winds

COACHES:

Montana State: Jeff Choate

RECORD: 17-19; 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 five years last season.

Southeast Missouri: Tony Matukewicz

RECORD: 26-34; YEAR: Sixth

Last season, Matukewicz led the Redhawks to a 9-4 record, a second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference and the school’s second FCS playoff berth. He was named OVC coach of the year in 2018.

MONTANA STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Logan Jones - RB

Southeast Missouri has successfully contained opposing running backs, so MSU primary back Isaiah Ifanse may have a tough time against the Redbirds. Finding ways to utilize Jones’ speed and give him the ball on the perimeter could open up MSU’s run game. The senior only played four games last season but averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

Zach Redd - OL

Redd is listed as the team’s starting center, but he started out at guard last week while Denver Krone took over in the middle. Wherever Redd lines up could indicate MSU’s offensive intentions. The Bobcats have allowed just 37 sacks in the last 35 games, and the offensive line has been key in MSU’s potent run game.

Amandre Williams - Buck

Williams had little opportunity to show what he can do last week after transferring from Washington. However, coaches have boasted of his versatility, and in MSU’s home-opening Gold Rush game, he may be used on offense as well. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound junior will need to bring pressure off the edge in order to disrupt SEMO’s offense.

SOUTHEAST MISSOURI PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Zach Hall - LB

Hall, the 2018 Buck Buchanan Award winner, is off to a strong start this season. He totaled 19 tackles, two for loss, and a sack last week against Southern Illinois. The 6-foot, 238-pound linebacker is a standout run stopper and the leader of SEMO’s experienced and aggressive defense.

Daniel Santacaterina- QB

Santacaterina is the spark of SEMO’s offense. The first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference pick threw for 248 yards and a touchdown last week and rushed for 54 yards and two more TDs. He’ll rely on receivers Kristian Wilkerson (146 yards) and Aaron Alston (91 yards) who also excelled in their season opener.

Clarence Thornton - DL

MSU head coach Jeff Choate said the Bobcats must keep an eye on Thornton in the run game. The second-team all-OVC pick totaled 36 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. Blocking the 6-3, 268-pound senior won’t be easy for MSU.

BY THE NUMBERS:

0 — Montana State committed zero turnovers last week at Texas Tech.

3 — MSU defensive end Bryce Sterk has a sack in three straight regular season games.

11 — MSU has taken the ball away from its opponent in 11 straight games.

34 — MSU running back Isaiah Ifanse’s 77 rushing yards last week raised his career total to 1,102 which is 34th in Bobcat record books after 13 career games.

36 — Left tackle Mitch Brott’s 36 straight starts is eight from moving him into the top six streaks and the top 10 in total starts at MSU all-time.

86 — MSU has won 86 home openers. The Bobcats are 86-24-4 in such games and 36-10 in Reno H. Sales/Bobcat Stadium.

KEY FACTS

- Montana State has never met Southeast Missouri. The Bobcats have never faced an Ohio Valley opponent or one from the state of Missouri

- MSU is plus-1 in turnovers this year after leading the Big Sky in turnover margin (plus-0.77) in 2018.

- The Bobcats were 1-4 against ranked opponents last season. Their lone win was over No. 24 Incarnate Word in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

- The Bobcats committed just two penalties to Texas Tech’s four last season.

- The last time a Bobcat passed for more than 400 yards was DeNarius McGhee (402) against Idaho State in 2010.

MONTANA STATE KEYS TO VICTORY

1. Turnover battle

In 2018, SEMO was first in the FCS with 36 takeaways and scored 144 points off them. However, the Bobcats were one of the best teams in the nation in turnover margin, leading the Big Sky with a plus-10 mark. MSU only turned the ball over 13 times in 2018 and didn’t lose the ball at Texas Tech. Considering retaining the ball is a trademark for both squads, taking it away will be crucial.

2. Special teams

In a close contest as this could be, key plays may be made in the third phase of the game. Considering neither team coughs up the ball often, field position will be critical. MSU’s Jered Padmos averaged 51.4 yards per punt last week, putting him second in the nation. Also, blocking a field goal or a kickoff return touchdown — which MSU hasn’t produced since 2015 — might also prove important.

3. Establishing the run

The Bobcats have run more than they’ve passed in 31 of their last 35 games. Even with a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Casey Bauman, the Bobcats will remain committed to placing the ball in the hands of their running backs. But SEMO’s defense is particularly strong up front, allowing Southern Illinois to rush for 170 yards. In order to establish an offensive rhythm, the Bobcats will have to find a way to do so on the ground.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Bobcats have been eager for this opportunity. Ever since a blowout loss to eventual national champion North Dakota State in the second round of the FCS playoffs last season, the Bobcats have expressed their desire for a top-eight place in the playoffs and therefore a first-round bye. In order to get there, they have to build their resume with a win over a ranked opponent like Southeast Missouri.

This game will not be easy. But after a substantial loss at Texas Tech and with home-field advantage on Gold Rush night, the Bobcats are plenty motivated to find a way to win. They have standout talent at every position group and are poised to build off the success of last season.

Pool’s pick: Montana State 28, Southeast Missouri 27

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