BOZEMAN — Time has flown by for Mac Bignell.
It seems like only yesterday the do-it-all linebacker from Drummond was going viral with his ferocious hit on Fort Lewis running back P.J. Hall — a perfect form tackle that announced Bignell’s presence as a playmaker on Montana State’s defense.
But that was two seasons ago, before Bignell’s star had truly risen. On Saturday, when Montana visits Montana State for the 117th meeting between archrivals, Bignell will play the final game of his illustrious MSU career.
Emotions will be running high, but Bignell is taking a levelheaded approach.
“I’m just trying to keep my emotions in check,” he said. “It is pretty emotional, but I also know that can take me out of my game. I don’t try to focus on it too much.
“There’s time on Sunday that I can think about my whole career, and I’ll do that then. But right now I’m just trying to focus on the game, the task at hand.”
And the task is difficult. The Grizzlies (7-3, 5-2 Big Sky) visit Bobcat Stadium having won five of six and with a red-hot quarterback in freshman Gresch Jensen, who has accounted for 25 touchdowns in nine games.
Bignell will be a huge part of the defensive scheme MSU (4-6, 4-3) draws up, which will be centered on containing a more multi-dimensional Griz offense than what was on display last year.
“The way that their program is built around what coach (Bob) Stitt wants to do on offense, it starts and ends with the quarterback, and I think Gresch Jensen has done a really nice job as the year has gone on. I’ve been very impressed with his poise,” Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said.
“He’s more physical than you think. He’s a tough kid. He understands what they’re trying to do on offense, and probably the best attribute that he has for that style of offense is that he gets the ball out of his hand very fast. I think those are all things that make him fit what they’re doing there at Montana very well.”
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on Saturday from Montana State’s perspective:
History: MSU hasn’t beaten the Grizzlies at Bobcat Stadium since 2005, when Travis Lulay was playing quarterback and Choate was the special teams coordinator at Eastern Illinois under coach Bob Spoo.
The road teams have had a decided edge in this series since 2007, having won seven times.
“We haven’t won a game in Bozeman against these guys in 12 years or something like that,” left tackle Dylan Mahoney said. “It would be huge for the community, huge for the state and definitely for this program moving forward. I’d like to be a part of that.”
MSU also hasn't beaten the Griz in consecutive years since 2002-03.
Close again?: Of the Bobcats’ 10 games so far, eight were decided in the fourth quarter. Are they destined to go down to the wire with Montana?
If so, situational execution will be a focal point. In those eight fourth-quarter games, the Bobcats won only three times.
Montana hasn’t played in nearly as many close games. The Grizzlies’ average margin of victory this season is 21½ points.
More balance: The Cats managed to beat the Griz last year in Missoula even though quarterback Chris Murray completed only two passes. MSU rolled up 368 rushing yards, including 142 and two TDs from Murray.
They’d love to have more balance this time. Murray, in a 37-36 loss at Northern Arizona last week, threw two touchdown passes without an interception. The turnover question will also loom: Montana picked off five passes in a 44-14 victory over Northern Colorado last week.
Pressure’s on: Montana’s defense loves to rush the quarterback, and Choate called it “an equal opportunity pressure unit. They don’t discriminate based on down and distance.”
The Griz can make life tough on you, but Murray’s ability to escape the pocket and make explosive plays with his feet are factors that can change the way a defense plays. Murray is the first MSU quarterback in history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. His 1,025 yards rank second in the Big Sky.
JLM: While Murray is MSU’s home run hitter, Jerry Louie-McGee plays that role for the Grizzlies. Choate noted Louie-McGee’s ability to make plays with the ball in his hands either on offense or as a punt returner.
The Bobcats would like to match cornerback Jalen Cole against Louie-McGee, but won’t be able to until the second half. Cole must sit the first 30 minutes due to his targeting disqualification in the second half last week against NAU.
“I’d like to see Jalen be able to match up against Jerry. Not that he’s going to shut Jerry down, but be able to match up against him so that we feel like we’ve got our best guys out there,” Choate said.
Another matchup to watch is the cat-and-mouse game between Louie-McGee and Bobcats punter Jered Padmos. Padmos is placing his punts as well as anyone in the league, and it will be imperative that he limit Louie-McGee’s opportunities on special teams.