BOZEMAN — Jeff Choate seemed taken aback with the way Montana State jumped all over Southern Utah in the first half of its game last week at Bobcat Stadium. MSU scored all of its points in the first half en route to a 42-7 victory.
It was a reversal of fortune in particular for the offense following consecutive losses to Sacramento State and North Dakota — hence the curiosity.
Choate, the Bobcats’ fourth-year head coach, maintained that disposition Monday during his weekly news conference at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
“Probably really didn’t see that coming,” Choate said. “All three phases kind of clicked in that first half. Defensively, able to create some takeaways and create momentum, offensively capitalized on those immediately, and the floodgates just kind of opened.
“Just about whatever we did in the first half seemed to work, and it’s easy to call games like that.”
The trick for MSU (6-3, 3-2 Big Sky) — which moved up two spots to No. 12 in this week’s STATS FCS Top 25 poll — is to keep that momentum intact as it prepares to travel to play Northern Colorado (2-7, 2-3) on Saturday at Nottingham Field in Greeley, Colorado.
Part of Monday’s media discussion focused on sophomore quarterback Tucker Rovig, who threw for 197 yards and two touchdowns (and caught another) against overmatched Southern Utah as part of unit-wide offensive resurgence before Choate and the coaching staff called off the dogs in the second half.
Rovig showed greater command in contrast to the North Dakota game, when he threw for just 77 yards in a 16-12 loss.
Choate said Rovig continues to make incremental improvements as the season progresses.
“He and I had a meeting this morning — and Casey (Bauman) and Ruben (Beltran) as well — and just kind of went through the game,” Choate said. “About 12, 15 plays I’m just like, ‘Hey, this is awesome. This is what I’m talking about here.’
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“Looking off the safety, pulling him to the left, throwing the ball to Jaden (Smith) to the right. Great job up and down throwing the mojo (route) that we hit Derryk Snell on to get some momentum on a drive. And then I’m like, ‘Now what the heck is this?’ And so we still have those moments where it’s a really simple, easy read and throw and we’re just not operating it the way we need to.
“You want to talk about hitting on all cylinders, let’s remove those five to seven plays from his game where it’s a bad throw to an open receiver, the wrong read, not baiting a guy quite enough on a screen or something like that — there’s still a lot of nuances.”
Against Northern Colorado, Rovig and Montana State’s offense will face a team that ranks last in the Big Sky Conference in total defense while allowing 510.2 yards per game. The Bears’ rush defense ranks 12th in the 13-team league at 215.7 yards allowed per game.
On paper, it appears the Bobcats should be able to operate similarly to the way they did against Southern Utah.
But they don’t play these games on paper. And Choate knows that preparation and commitment to improvement is the only way for the Bobcats to (again) play their best football in the final month of the regular season.
“It’s not just the quarterback position,” he said. “That’s one of the things I talked about with our team (on Sunday). At this point in the season nobody stays the same. Nobody. You’re going to either get worse or you’re going to get better.
“The teams that make a playoff run and do well in November are the teams that get better. It starts with you as an individual and then it bleeds into the unit and then the team as a whole. It’s kind of crazy because (Rovig) does some really good things, and then there’s the head-scratchers a little bit. And then you think back and it’s probably the 12th game he’s ever played in in college football. Maybe not even that. I’d have to do the math.
“We want it right now, there’s no doubt, and we’ve got to continue to see the improvement, but I think that he’s operating within the offense better and better each week.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled to kick off at noon, and will be broadcast across the state on ABC/FOX stations and on SWX in the Billings area.
NOTES: Choate said Monday that senior CB Greg Filer will likely use his redshirt this season. Filer, a preseason All-Big Sky selection, suffered a left arm injury during fall camp and has appeared in just two games.