BOZEMAN — Running back Edward Vander sprung free for 48 yards down the sideline on Montana State’s first play from scrimmage last week against Weber State.
“The left side was wide open,” Vander recalled Tuesday, and the Bobcats appeared poised to imitate their 341-yard run-game dominance from the week prior, which resulted in a 49-21 victory at North Dakota.
But good teams make good in-game adjustments, and the Wildcats, Vander said, did a much better job of stretching their defense laterally to limit MSU’s ability to run the ball effectively to the edge.
Other than quarterback Chris Murray making plays with his feet like he always does, the Bobcats’ ground game was, for the most part, grounded. In a role reversal from the previous week, MSU’s offense barely possessed the ball for 20 minutes and lost the game, 25-17.
There was time for reflection afterward.
“The biggest thing is just missed opportunities, whether it was by me — I should have called a better play here or there — or there were plays to be made but we had 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy is not exactly executing his job,” offensive coordinator Brian Armstrong explained.
“I need to do a better job, especially coming off the North Dakota game, of educating our guys and teaching our guys how to handle success. How you prepare is everything. How you practice is everything.
“Not that we didn’t respect Weber State, because we did, but in my opinion we didn’t have the same week of preparation, and that showed up Saturday at times, for sure.”
As the Bobcats get set to host winless Portland State on Saturday, a big onus will be put on igniting the running game in a similar fashion to two weeks ago at North Dakota. The return of senior running back Nick LaSane — who’ll bring fresh legs and, as Armstrong suggested, "bad intentions" to the field — could prove beneficial.
The running back group, which primarily consists of LaSane, Vander, Logan Jones and Troy Andersen (who is not listed on this week’s depth chart) now has more bodies with which to work.
Andersen rushed for 131 yards against North Dakota, which was just the 12th 100-yard performance by a Montana State freshman since 1987. But Andersen got only six carries against Weber State and finished with 13 yards. Part of that was due to the Bobcats possessing the ball for less than 20 minutes.
“That’s how you win games, by keeping the ball and executing plays," Vander said. "The longer you keep the ball the better off you’ll be.”
LaSane had 263 of his 452 career rushing yards as a junior last season. Despite his veteran status, LaSane has just 80 career carries. He's averaged 5.7 yards per rush.
Regardless of who is carrying the football, the key for MSU’s ground game rests with the way the offensive line matches up with the Vikings’ defensive line, a unit with an average weight of just 260 pounds.
Portland State’s defense, which has faced two FBS teams in BYU and Oregon State, is allowing roughly 167 rushing yards per game, which ranks in the middle of the pack of the Big Sky Conference. The Bobcats are betting on the notion they can with the battle in the trenches this week.
“Every offensive line in the United States has a mentality of being physical, and that’s our emphasis,” left guard Caleb Gillis said. “We really want to run the ball, as anybody can see who has watched the games.
“It seems like we’ve just got to stick to what we’re all about. We want to run the ball, and that’s just about it.”
Armstrong said the Bobcats “match up a little bit better up front with (Portland State) than we did with Weber. Time will tell on that, but at least on paper it would appear that we match up a little bit better with them up front.”
Montana State has won seven consecutive home games against Portland State dating back to 2002. The Vikings are coming off a 45-33 home loss to Montana.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 11 a.m. It will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.