BOZEMAN — Montana State rode the wind to a 30-22 victory over Portland State on Saturday, and got a nice bit of help from senior running back Nick LaSane in the process.
In his first game back from a four-game suspension, LaSane rushed for 63 of the Bobcats’ 403 rushing yards. He had 17 of the team’s 57 rushing attempts, a career high and by far the most of any MSU running back.
On a windblown day, the Bobcats pounded the ball on the ground and didn’t relent.
LaSane, a fifth-year player from Dallas, was relegated to the scout team since the start of the season, a punishment handed down by coach Jeff Choate stemming from separate arrests during the summer. But he was a welcome re-addition Saturday, even though it may have taken some time to adjust to his first game in 10 months.
“I think he missed a couple reads here and there. A little rusty, but he ran the ball hard,” Choate said of LaSane. “You see the physical presence that he brings, and I thought he did some good things for us.”
LaSane’s 17 carries bested his previous career high from way back in 2014, when he had 12 rushes (for 54 yards) in a 57-10 blowout of Division II Black Hills State. It was just the second game of LaSane’s career in which he had 10 or more rushing attempts.
It was the second-highest yardage total of his career, behind an 85-yard performance last season against Eastern Washington.
LaSane now has 515 career rushing yards on 97 attempts, an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
LaSane’s return brings greater depth to the running back corps, and that fact had the Bobcats’ coaches prepared to move true freshman Troy Andersen back to linebacker for the Portland State game. Andersen was originally recruited out of Beaverhead High School in Dillon to play defense.
But a second-quarter injury to Edward Vander forced Choate and Co. to abandon that plan. Andersen, again showcasing an impressive amalgam of size and speed, went on to rush for 85 yards on just eight carries in the second half, including a 59-yard run late in the third quarter.
As the Bobcats prepare to face Big Sky Conference power Eastern Washington this week, the question about Andersen’s role going forward will again loom large.
It will depend, ostensibly, on the availability of Vander, who Choate said suffered “a little ding” against Portland State. Vander had 58 yards on eight carries in the first half but didn’t play after intermission.
Andersen was moved from linebacker to running back during fall camp following LaSane’s suspension and when Boise State transfer Jake Roper suffered a foot injury (that he is still recovering from). With 267 yards and two touchdowns through five games, Andersen has been one of the Bobcats’ most valuable offensive players.
Andersen had 131 yards in a win at North Dakota on Sept. 23. But the coaches love Andersen’s upside on defense, too, as a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder.
“Everything about Troy is appealing for a coach,” defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak said last week. “He’s a big, long, fast, smart athlete. He was recruited to play linebacker here, and if that happens — and when that happens — I think it will be a good thing for the team. Every week it’s been a continuous evaluation of who’s playing where and when and how.”
Gregorak, who doubles as linebackers coach, added: “I know why we moved him (to running back). I was the first one to say, ‘If this is best for the team then we need to do that.’ Just look at the North Dakota game. The kid is a player. The kid’s an athlete. I’m sure (assistant coach Matt) Miller would take him at receiver, I’m sure the guys behind me would take him in the secondary.”
LaSane has fresh legs, and Vander (when healthy) and Logan Jones are more than just complementary options. Behind Andersen and quarterback Chris Murray, whose 543 yards rank No. 2 in the Big Sky, Vander is the Bobcats’ third-leading rusher with 251 yards.
Choate was noncommittal when asked if Andersen’s performance against Portland State gives him second thoughts about moving Andersen back to defense, except to say the burgeoning star will comply with any decision.
“Troy can do a lot of things,” Choate said. “The best thing about Troy is he’ll do whatever we ask him to do to help our organization be successful.”