BOZEMAN — Montana State offensive coordinator Brian Armstrong could sense that something wasn’t quite right with head coach Jeff Choate on Saturday in Brookings, South Dakota.
“We kind of knew before the game (and) during the game that he was not well,” Armstrong said Tuesday during an interview at MSU’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. “Afterwards it was like, ‘I’m not a doctor, but you might want to see a trainer or something.’”
It was more than an ordinary malady.
Choate ultimately underwent an emergency appendectomy Sunday morning after the team arrived home following a 45-14 loss at No. 3 South Dakota State. Choate released a statement Monday evening, thanking the medical staff at Bozeman Health, along with MSU’s athletic training staff and team physician Dr. Alex LeGrand.
“I’m fortunate they caught it when they did,” the statement read in part.
Choate was said to have been both at practice and working in the MSU football offices on Tuesday, and his postponed Monday morning press conference has been rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon — signs that Choate will be on the sideline at 1 p.m. Saturday when the Bobcats host Wagner.
With Choate on the mend, MSU hopes to rebound from the loss at South Dakota State, a game in which the offense produced just 29 rushing yards, six first downs and 193 yards of total offense.
Both Armstrong and left tackle Mitch Brott said the offense came away from the game “embarrassed.”
“We definitely have something to prove now,” Brott said. “Saturday was a step back. We need to come out and finally establish who we are and run the ball. We’re going to focus on being a downhill team this Saturday.”
Against SDSU, The Bobcats’ running game was held under 100 yards for the first time in Choate’s tenure as coach. Well below.
That in turn made life tough on Tucker Rovig, who was making first career start at quarterback. MSU produced just one first down before halftime, and went into the locker room trailing 24-0.
Rovig did find a bit of a second-half rhythm, and ended up completing 52 percent of his throws (13 for 25) for 164 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. But otherwise there were few positives.
The lack of production from the running back group —which has put up only 24 yards combined in two games — is something Armstrong pointed to as needing a fast fix entering the game against Wagner.
No one has yet to step forward to earn the bulk of the carries. But opportunities have been few and far between.
“What were one-yard runs should have probably been four-, five-, six-yard runs” against SDSU, Armstrong said. “I actually thought when we called runs that (we) did a pretty good job of denting the defense at the point of attack. We just didn’t do a great job of pressing it from the backfield.
“We have to get somebody going in the backfield. And in order to get somebody going we have to give them touches, and in order to give them touches we’ve got have the confidence to call (those plays) again.”
Armstrong said it wasn’t ideal that Rovig and Troy Andersen each made their starting debuts at quarterback in the first two weeks of the season. It didn’t allow for much continuity.
Andersen suffered a left hand injury in a Week 1 victory over Western Illinois, and was limited to just a handful of plays (at running back and linebacker) against South Dakota State.
A Week 3 depth chart has yet to be released, and when asked if Andersen’s role will increase against Wagner, or if he will return to play quarterback this week, Armstrong didn’t have an answer.
“We’ll see. The big thing is hopefully he can get back healthy and get back to 100 percent,” said Armstrong, who stated his belief that Andersen will be the starting quarterback when deemed fully ready. “We’ll kind of see how it goes. I don’t have a definitive yes or no.”
Wagner, of Staten Island, New York, will visit Bobcat Stadium with a 1-1 record. The Seahawks, of the FCS Northeast Conference, are coming off a win over Division II Bowie State and a loss to FBS Syracuse.
MSU sees the game as an opportunity to reassert itself on offense, and Armstrong said Tuesday’s practice demonstrated that.
“We’ve got a team coming from the east coast and we have them at home and we’re coming off an embarrassing loss that stings,” Armstrong said. “And it’s not that we lost — no one wants to lose — but it’s how we went about it, quite honestly, offensively.
“I think guys are embarrassed and guys know they are capable of better. And we need to be better.”