BOZEMAN — After helping produce a 341-yard outing in a win at North Dakota, Montana State’s running backs regressed a bit last week in a homecoming loss to Weber State.
Many factors contributed to this: A disparity in time of possession, the strength of the Wildcats’ front seven, the fact that the Bobcats were trailing by 12 points in the fourth quarter, etc.
Through four games, MSU’s running backs — coupled with the offensive line — have battled inconsistency. But the Bobcats are set to reintroduce suspended senior Nick LaSane to the lineup this week against Portland State.
The Bobcats hope LaSane's return pays off.
“I’m excited about it,” offensive coordinator Brian Armstrong said. “Obviously he’s a very physical, downhill-run guy. Hopefully he’s going to have bad intentions and fresh legs after a few weeks. Watching him out at practice, obviously he’s had a ton more reps at a lot of the stuff we do than some of our others guys. I think he’ll be a great addition.”
LaSane missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension related to separate off-the-field incidents during the offseason. LaSane was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in June, and was apprehended again in July for obstructing a law enforcement officer after a fight at a local bar.
In addition to the suspension, it was announced at the outset of fall camp that LaSane had been hit with internal penalties and was forced to surrender a portion of his athletic scholarship.
Choate said LaSane has since made amends and is ready to contribute to the team again.
“He’s handled himself very well, and that was part of the deal,” Choate said. “As I said a long time ago, if he handles this the right way this will be a very positive thing for him.
“It wasn’t easy for anybody. Back in May we’re saying, ‘That’s going to be our (bell cow) and we’re going to roll with that guy.’ Certainly that was a blow to our team. It was a blow to Nick.
“I think it’s been humbling for him and I think he’s handled it well, and we’re excited to get him an opportunity to help contribute to the team now.”
LaSane’s suspension threw Montana State’s running back situation into a state of flux, as did a foot injury to Boise State transfer Jake Roper. True freshman Troy Andersen, transfer Edward Vander and veteran Logan Jones have carried the torch in the interim to mixed results.
Andersen has shown flashes of brilliance. He had 131 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-21 victory at North Dakota, for instance. But the running game — quarterback Chris Murray notwithstanding — was unable to fully assert itself in a 25-17 defeat to Weber State.
Curiously, Andersen is not listed on the depth chart this week. Choate did not say Andersen is injured. The former Dillon standout had just six carries against Weber State.
Choate did say Andersen’s role on offense is fluid.
“I think he’s a guy, because of his versatility, we can utilize him in specific packages on offense and maybe take a couple shots off of him here and there,” Choate said.
Armstrong indicated that Andersen’s role this week, along with those of Vander and Jones, are “to be determined.” Choate said "it is tempting" to move Andersen to linebacker, the position at which he was originally recruited to play.
LaSane, formerly a prep tailback in the Dallas area, has been with the MSU program since 2013. He overcame two knee injuries and had been buried on the depth chart behind the likes of Chad Newell and Gunnar Brekke in recent seasons.
To date, LaSane has 452 career rushing yards on just 80 attempts, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He had 263 yards last season, including a 61-yard run in the third quarter of a 24-17 win over Montana that set up a short Newell touchdown.
“Experience is the most obvious thing” LaSane brings, Choate said. “He’s been around here a while, and I think Nick understands protections, he’s got good hands, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run between the tackles, he’s got decent speed on the edge.”
“He’s really good at some stuff,” Armstrong said. “You get him on the edge with some tosses and wide-zone stuff, he’s really good at that. (He) hasn’t had as many reps at the inside zone. He’s really kind of a straight downhill guy or a get-him-on-the-edge kind of guy.
“Some of the reads and nuances of the inside zone stuff he’s not as comfortable with. There will still be situations where we can try to get him on the edge or get him going downhill.”
NOTES: Choate said S JoJo Henderson and CB Tyrel Thomas are injured. Neither is listed on this week’s depth chart. Choate said Henderson underwent an MRI on Monday. Expected to start are S Khari Garcia and CB Damien Washington. Transfer S Dre Jackson and true freshman CB Jalen Cole could see their first playing time this week as backups. ... Choate said MLB Josh Hill is still working his way back from a leg injury. Hill has missed the past two games. Grant Collins has started in Hill’s stead. “We’re going to get Josh back, and I really believe it’s going to be at the most opportune time,” Choate said.