Montana State running back Nick LaSane is tackled by a host of Eastern Washington defenders during an October game in Cheney, Washington.

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Most will recall only that frenzied, frustrating final sequence — one snarled by mistimed motion and a relentless pass rush — that resulted in an errant toss, a failed two-point conversation and one-point Montana State loss.

The rest of that evening in Flagstaff, Arizona, however, should engender confidence for Chris Murray and company.

The 36 points were the Bobcats’ highest output since a late-September shellacking of undermanned North Dakota. They piled up 21 first downs despite running only 59 plays and repeatedly broke off sizable gains; three touchdown drives covered 75 or more yards in five or fewer plays.

They rushed for 300. Senior Nick LaSane entered with a career high of 87, nearly matched that with one scamper of 74 and exited the Walkup Skydome with 184 and one score.

Murray arguably was as efficient as ever, demonstrating great poise and command while combating ball-hawking Northern Arizona. He was 12 of 19 for 155 through the air, added 85 on the ground and accounted for four touchdowns.

Most important, he and the Bobcats did not turn the ball over. It was just the second time MSU had pulled that off this fall. It is hoping to replicate the feat today against opportunistic Montana, which seven times swiped the ball from Northern Colorado in last week’s runaway.

While the Grizzlies rank in the Big Sky’s top six in scoring (28.8), rushing (154.3) and total defense (422.3), they have distinguished themselves most with takeaways. Their 16 interceptions lead the league — and are four times more than today’s counterpart — and they’ve recovered seven fumbles.

How have they been so successful?

“Pressure,” head coach Jeff Choate asserted Monday. “They bring it when they get off the bus and they bring it often; probably about 45 percent of the time they’re bringing more than four … They’ll run man-free pressures, they’ll run zero pressures, a lot of line movement and it’s a huge challenge. … A lot of that starts with their ability to pressure, hit and confuse the quarterback.”

Conor Regan and Keaton Mott last week were picked off five times, sacked twice and the Bears fumbled away a pair. By day’s end, the Grizzlies had amassed 10 tackles for loss.

They’re second in the league with 35 sacks, in red-zone defense and boast a formidable front seven. Defensive ends Tucker Schye (fourth, .65) and Chris Favoroso (fifth, .60) rank in the top five in sacks, while linebackers James Banks (second, 10.0), Josh Buss (fourth, 9.1) and Connor Strahm (sixth, 8.9) crack the top six in tackles per outing.

“I think they’ve got the best three linebackers in the league,” Choate surmised. “You can tell that they own the scheme, understand what they’re supposed to be doing, play with good balance and eyes and … have exceptional play-making ability. … Buss doesn’t quite get as many (tackles) because he’s playing on the edge, but he might be the most athletic of the three.”

Throw in a secondary that is rounding into form after injury and suspension, and the challenge facing MSU is demanding.

What can they do to counter? Following last year’s script is a start, though more diversity than leaning on the run for 62 of 72 snaps likely will be needed.

“Our margin for error is small and we did not make one mistake in that game,” Choate recalled. “We executed the game plan about as well as we could’ve ... There were some things in that game that I think just the ball bounces your way now and then.”

— Jon Maletz

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