There was a bittersweet vibe to the Montana State football team’s 27-9 win over Idaho State on Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.
The No. 8-ranked Bobcats (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) won their seventh straight game heading to their next contest, Nov. 6 at No. 2 Eastern Washington following a bye. EWU lost 35-34 at home to Weber State on Saturday to snap EWU’s 20-game winning streak at Roos Field.
MSU earned a 13-7 win at then-No. 19 Weber State last week, but the game “took its toll,” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said Saturday. The Bobcats dealt with remnants, both positive and negative, from last week during Saturday’s game against ISU (1-6, 1-4).
Here are three takeaways from MSU’s conference win over the Bengals:
Bobcats banged up
Shortly before Saturday’s game, MSU announced three inactive players: starting linebacker Callahan O’Reilly, starting right tackle TJ Session and backup defensive back Tyrel Thomas.
An absence that wasn’t disclosed was Chase Benson’s. MSU’s starting nose tackle got hurt during a walk-through shortly before Saturday’s game, according to Vigen.
“The damndest thing,” Vigen said.
Benson was not on the sideline for most of the ISU game, and he appeared late on crutches. Vigen didn’t say what Benson’s injury was or “the depth of it,” but the all-Big Sky player from Helena will be back this season, Vigen added.
Taylor Tuiasosopo, who has started at right guard all season, replaced Session at right tackle, and Cole Sain played right guard. Helena’s Alex Johnson replaced Bozeman’s O’Reilly.
Session, O’Reilly and Thomas were all battling nicks from last Friday’s game at Weber State, according to Vigen.
MSU hoped an extra day of recovery would allow those three to play against ISU, but they weren’t quite ready, Vigen added.
It’s “a point in the season where every team’s going to be banged up a little bit, so having a bye week now is good timing for us,” said MSU defensive lineman Amandre Williams, “especially before a big game like Eastern. It’s going to feel good having a bye week.”
Against WSU, Thomas filled in for starting corner Eric Zambrano, who left in the first half with an injury. Zambrano started Saturday’s game, and that was important considering Thomas’ absence. James Campbell, who started at corner in the first four games, hasn’t played since getting hurt at Portland State on Sept. 25.
Vigen sounded optimistic about Campbell’s chances to return against EWU. If Campbell and the four key players who were scratched from Saturday’s game are back by then, MSU will have all but one of its preseason starters available (Thomas was the starting nickelback before undergoing knee surgery in fall camp). Kyle Rygg, the season-opening starter at defensive tackle, has been out since suffering a serious lower-body injury at Wyoming in Week 1.
“We’ll see how we came out of this game, but I think we should be sitting pretty good with a bye week,” Vigen said.
MSU struggles to find rhythm
The Bobcats gained 222 yards on 62 plays against Weber State. On Saturday, they finished with 388 yards on 53 plays, including 242 yards rushing on 30 carries (8.1 yards per carry). Isaiah Ifanse had 165 of those yards on 17 carries (9.7 ypc) with a touchdown.
“We were just seeing the holes better,” Ifanse said. “In the Weber game, there were a couple that we missed that could’ve been big gains.”
A rebound offensively wasn’t surprising, given the gaps between WSU’s and ISU’s defenses this season. But the Bobcats are “still trying to find our way” on offense, Vigen said.
MSU quarterback Matthew McKay was in jeopardy of finishing with less than 100 passing yards for the second straight week until he passed for exactly 100 yards in the fourth quarter Saturday. He opened the fourth with a 27-yard TD pass to Lance McCutcheon and followed that up with a 65-yard TD pass to Willie Patterson, turning a 13-6 lead into 27-6.
McKay finished with 138 passing yards, completing 10 of 21 attempts with the two TDs and no interceptions. The redshirt junior rushed for 52 yards on seven carries (7.4 ypc), but he lost a fumble on a run in the first quarter. He missed some open wide receivers and looked indecisive on some dropbacks.
“There were balls that we certainly, I would say, most times, most games, we connect on,” Vigen said. “You could attest that to (not) finding a rhythm, not getting in a groove, however you want to characterize it.”
Vigen said “holy cow” when he looked at the stat sheet and saw the time of possession: 42 minutes, 17 seconds for ISU and 17:43 for MSU.
“Offensively in a game like that, you never get in rhythm, and that’s not the type of game we want to be about,” Vigen said. “There was just no rhythm, I felt like, today. Fortunately, we were able to make a couple big plays in the passing game in the second half to get two touchdowns.
“But weird, ugly. I don’t know, you could throw about any adjective on that.”
Saturday’s performance paired with a 12-for-19, 76-yard showing at WSU caps a poor two-week stretch for McKay.
The struggles are hardly all his fault. McCutcheon dropped a couple deep passes against ISU, and some of the incompletions might have been more on the receivers than McKay. The North Carolina State transfer had mostly passed well in the previous six games, too.
It will be tough for MSU to beat EWU or Montana if McKay doesn’t return to his early season form. Then again, the Bobcats proved they can beat a tough opponent without much production through the air or on the ground. And as they showed Saturday, they can lean on Ifanse and their offensive line.
Glessner ‘keeps answering’
MSU kicker Blake Glessner was named Big Sky special teams player of the week for his performance at WSU: field goals from 46 and 32 yards out, plus an extra point. His player of the week resume looks even better a week later.
Glessner opened the scoring for MSU on Saturday with a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter that tied the game at 3-3. That kick broke the MSU freshman record for longest field goal, previously set by Glessner with a 53-yarder at Wyoming in the season opener.
Glessner’s 54-yard field goal is the sixth-longest kick in program history and five yards short of the record, set by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud in 1965.
“We had the wind behind us going in that direction. I looked down and he gave me a thumbs up,” Vigen said. “That was critical at that point to just gain some momentum.”
Glessner also made a 29-yard field goal against ISU and was good on his three PATs. He did send one kickoff out of bounds, which Vigen said he’s “going to get on him about.”
“He keeps answering,” Vigen said. “He continues to do the things we’re asking.”