BOZEMAN — Between a blowout loss on the road and head coach Jeff Choate having to undergo an emergency appendectomy upon returning home, it’s been an eventful week at Montana State.
But the Bobcats get a chance to hit the reset button Saturday against Wagner, a non-league foe out of the Northeast Conference traveling more than 2,200 miles from Staten Island, New York.
MSU (1-1) is coming off a 45-14 spanking at the hands of No. 3 South Dakota State, a game in which Troy Andersen was restricted with an injured left hand and relegated to spot duty at running back and linebacker. The Bobcats’ offense put up just 29 rushing yards and 193 yards of total offense with Tucker Rovig making his first career start at quarterback.
Defensively, Montana State surrendered 512 yards. Jackrabbits QB Taryn Christion, showing the value of a veteran signal-caller, accounted for five touchdowns.
“No one wanted to go coach poorly and play poorly and come out of there licking our wounds, but we did, and we’ve just got to move forward,” defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak said.
Count linebacker Jacob Hadley among those trying to bounce back from the Bobcats’ shaky defensive effort last week. Hadley, the starter at the strong-side position, spoke Wednesday about his performance during the first two weeks, which marked his first live action in almost two years.
“I’m a little rusty, honestly. I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect going into it, but that’s just something I’ve got to keep working on,” said the sophomore from Billings Central. “Just little stuff like alignments to offensive formations.
“Honestly, those pre-snap alignments really set you up for the success you can have on a certain play, and there’s been multiple instances in both games where I’ve been off by a yard or two, and it takes me out of plays.”
The Bobcats’ defense was exposed on the outside by both SDSU and Western Illinois in Week 1, and improper alignment, both Choate and Gregorak said, was a big reason why.
Choate said the defensive coaches are now taking nothing for granted, even with something as simple as positioning on the field.
“That was one of the main messages I had for our staff this week: Make no assumptions,” Choate said. “If they’re supposed to be in a two-point stance, you tell them they’re in a two-point stance. If they’re supposed to have a line on the plus-49 yard line with their left foot, you make sure that their left foot is on the plus-49 yard line.
“Every single detail of our alignment and our assignment needs to be critiqued, needs to be detailed up, and they need to understand the importance of doing the small things correctly.”
Hadley, at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is playing at his third position since coming to MSU in the fall of 2016. But he has played in just five total games thanks to wrist, ankle and knee injuries.
Hadley started his career at safety but was shelved following the first three games of the 2016 after undergoing surgery. He was going to figure prominently last year at the rush end position but blew his ACL on the final day of spring drills.
Now at strong-side linebacker, his importance to MSU’s defense can’t be understated this season, especially with fellow LB Balue Chapman out indefinitely with a right leg injury.
By all accounts, Hadley continues to knock the rust off.
“Jacob’s a great kid and I think he’s just getting back in the swing of it,” Gregorak said. “I think he’s still getting his feet wet a little bit in terms of learning the defense, learning the techniques. You’re talking about a large-bodied man that’s been laid up for the last year and half and is just learning the position.”
Said Hadley: “That Western Illinois game, especially for me, the alignment stuff was tough. I thought (against) South Dakota State I did a better job. They didn’t run as much fly stuff as we were anticipating just from how poor of a job we had done the week before, but I don’t think it will be a problem going forward.
“I hope Wagner runs the fly sweep. We’ll be there. We know that’s something we’ve had to work on and I think we’ve taken care of it.”
Spotlight on: Ryan Fulse
Choate referred to Wagner running back Ryan Fulse as a legitimate All-America candidate and one of the best players in the Northeast Conference. He will be in MSU’s sights on Saturday.
Fulse, who stands 5-11 and weighs 195 pounds, rushed for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, his first season with the Seahawks after transferring from Monroe College. He had 271 yards and three TDs in a Week 1 win over Division II Bowie State, but was limited to 47 yards last week in a loss at FBS Syracuse.
Choate said he expects Fulse to get somewhere between 25-28 touches, and that the Bobcats must be dialed in defensively to account for the ways he can hurt opponents.
“He bounces the ball a lot,” Choate said. “I’d say they’re a pro-style offense, is how I would describe them. If there’s penetration up the middle on an inside zone play, he’s got the ability and the speed to get to the edge, and a lot of his explosive runs come that way.
“We’ve got to have good, sound edges to our defense. I’m sure we’ll see some things that have hurt us in the first couple games, the fly sweep being one of them. They’re going to test our weaknesses. That’s what football is.”