BOZEMAN — One call and that’s all.
It’s a unique way to characterize Troy Andersen’s impact in Montana State’s offense, but that’s how Bobcats running backs coach DeNarius McGhee described it during an interview Tuesday afternoon.
Translation: At any given moment Andersen has the ability to take a single play-call and turn what might otherwise be a difficult or arduous drive into a one-play explosion. Obviously, McGhee sees the same thing everyone else sees.
“Troy is a ‘one-hitter quitter.’ That means one play, touchdown,” explained McGhee, who transitioned to running backs coach in the offseason after spending last year as MSU’s quarterbacks coach. “When he gets into the open field, I don’t think there are many safeties in the Big Sky that are going to catch Troy from behind.
“We saw it against numerous teams. He’s proven that he can do it.”
As a true-freshman running back in 2017, Andersen showed legitimate game-breaking qualities. The speed (and power) with which he ran, the vision, the balance, his strength while hitting the hole, it all added up to 515 rushing yards, six total touchdowns and a significant 5.7 yards per-carry average.
At season’s end, Andersen was named the Big Sky Conference’s freshman of the year.
Still, Andersen was recruited to MSU to play defense, and he found himself on the field at linebacker, too, where he totaled nine total tackles and a sack. During spring practice earlier this year, the former Dillon star worked primarily at strong-side linebacker.
How does McGhee interpret Andersen’s defensive prowess?
“He’s similar,” McGhee said. “He’s good off the edge one-on-one with the tackle. It’s very hard for tackles to get in front of him because he’s so fast. He’s really long, therefore he can extend and keep offensive linemen off of him. He can cover receivers or a tight end man-to-man, and that brings an entirely new element to the game.”
What a conundrum.
The questions that lingered throughout the 2017 season seemingly remains. Is Andersen (listed at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds in 2017) best suited to play offense or defense? Or should he continue in the dual role he assumed last season?
Third-year Montana State coach Jeff Choate isn’t prone to tipping his hand, but even he admitted that Andersen playing linebacker during the spring was partly experimental.
Choate’s opinion about spring ball is no secret — he believes the process is antiquated and that it needs to be reexamined altogether. So why not shuffle the deck a little?
“You get no rings, you get no trophies, all you get is guys injured in the spring,” Choate said. “I just don’t have the mindset that we’re trying to ‘win’ spring ball. What do you get for it?”
Choate's plan for Andersen, then, was to line him up exclusively on defense in a learning capacity so he could fully absorb the system for those times when he will be on the field at linebacker. The move, Choate said, wasn’t permanent.
“It was kind of like, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can get Troy ready to go on defense,’” Choate said. “Well, clearly Troy needs to be on the offensive side of the ball, but at some point in time I’d like to have the luxury of playing him on defense.
“And he is talented enough to do both. He did it as a true freshman, why can’t he do it as a sophomore? But we wanted to give him the opportunity to really sink in and learn the defense, and once Troy knows it he’s not going to lose it.”
Excluding Andersen, the meat of the Bobcats’ running back corps consists of Logan Jones, Indiana transfer Tyler Natee, ex-wide receiver Karl Tucker II and the like. Choate also mentioned incoming freshman Isaiah Ifanse, the Gatorade player of the year in Washington, as a potential difference-maker out of the gate.
By the same token, MSU shored up depth on its defensive edges with transfers Bryce Sterk at end and Dante Sparaco and Daniel Hardy at the “Buck” rush-end spot, which affords the team the opportunity to move the nomadic Jacob Hadley back to strong-side linebacker, the same position at which Andersen played during the spring.
The way it all lines out depth-wise — and to hear McGhee tell it — the prudent thing may very well be to continue to take full advantage of Andersen’s dynamic skill set.
“Having Troy Andersen (at running back) would be great because he is a difference-maker with his speed, with how long he is, with his balance, with his natural vision on the outside,” McGhee said.
But he continued:
“I don’t want to hype (Andersen) up too much, but he can do many, many different things. Imagine this — what if you took Troy and you cloned him? What if you had five Troys? You could put them anywhere.”
The Bobcats will continue to evaluate Andersen’s role when fall camp commences.
Choate said players are scheduled to report Aug. 2 and that the team will conduct its first practice the following day. Choate said the Bobcats have penciled in 24 camp practices.