BOZEMAN — Twelve different Montana State players have carried the football on offense through the first two games of the season. Five have thrown passes. Nine have made at least one reception.
And while the Bobcats were fairly basic in a Week 1 loss at Texas Tech, they opened up the playbook last week during a 38-17 victory over Southeast Missouri as nine separate skill players handled the ball in some capacity.
The all-purpose Troy Andersen rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns while running back Isaiah Ifanse led the way with 114 rushing yards, including a 62-yard burst in the second quarter. Logan Jones sped down the sideline for a 55-yard score on a quick pass from Travis Jonsen, and running backs Karl Tucker II, a senior, and DeMareus Hosey, a freshman, scored their first career TDs.
Starter Casey Bauman, Andersen and Jonsen all took snaps at quarterback as the Bobcats spread the ball around with a variety of handoffs, QB runs, sweeps, ball fakes and throws.
It seemed to be a more accurate portrait of what opponents, fans and observers will see from MSU this season, though it was far from a perfect performance — the Bobcats had a stretch of five consecutive scoreless possessions in the second quarter.
Andersen, with a dual role as a linebacker on defense and big-play producer as a runner, scored on a 38-yard gallop on MSU’s second play from scrimmage. He later had a 44-yard run as Choate’s preseason proclamation that Andersen will continue to be weapon on offense was not hyperbolic.
With so many options, Choate described his team’s offensive approach as a bit of a balancing act.
“One of the challenges that we face a little bit on offense is, how do we get all these guys involved? Especially when you’re changing quarterbacks,” Choate said Monday. “You’re in the flow, and then you say, ‘Hey, we’re going to put Troy in on this down, or we’re going to put Travis in on this down, or Casey’s up.’
“That’s one of the things that we’re working through, is how can we continue to maintain good tempo, good flow within the offense while we’re moving the pieces around? You see that a little bit with Isaiah at running back, Logan at running back, Logan on fly sweep. I think that’s going to make us really difficult to defend, but we can’t do it at the expense of us not executing at a high level.
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“I think some of the lulls that we had on offense on Saturday was a little bit of a result of that. Our flow wasn’t what it needed to be. And that’s a huge challenge, because what we’re doing isn’t easy. Most people just line up with one guy behind center and they roll. We’re trying to maximize our guys and get creative in what we do to make it easy for us and difficult for the opponent. And that’s still a work in progress, I think.”
The biggest question the Bobcats faced before the season began was how Bauman, a redshirt freshman, would perform as the starting quarterback early in the season. Through two games, he's been serviceable.
Bauman is a combined 20-of-44 passing (45.5%) with 256 yards, one touchdown and, most importantly, no interceptions. Bauman has shown the ability to keep defenses honest with the necessary arm strength to stretch the field, though the Bobcats haven’t connected on a good portion of those deep balls.
Choate said Bauman continues to work to make strides.
“Completion percentage isn’t where it needs to be, but decision making has been reasonably good,” Choate said. “We missed an easy touchdown on Saturday night. We had a play dialed up in the red zone and I think he overthought it and saw some pressure coming from the field and thought he was going to go somewhere else with the ball.
“They didn’t cover the guy. There was nobody within 20 yards of him. And so he’ll learn from that and get better. That part of the decision-making and processing is still getting better and better and better all the time. If he can be a little bit more accurate in our quick game, that’s really going to help us.”
When it comes to throwing down the field, Bauman hit a 31-yard touchdown pass to Coy Steel against Texas Tech, and also found both Willie Patterson with a 31-yard throw and Kevin Kassis on a 35-yarder in that game. His longest pass so far was a 38-yard toss to Kassis against Southeast Missouri.
Choate said the deep ball will remain a part of MSU’s offense as the team prepares to play nonconference foe Western Illinois on Saturday in Macomb, Illinois.
“We have to be able to hit those if we’re really going to explode on offense,” Choate said. “We’re going to keep taking them, I promise you that.”