BROOKINGS, S.D. — Wearing a large white brace to protect a left hand injury he sustained last week, Troy Andersen was relegated to spot duty on both offense and defense during Montana State’s matchup Saturday night with South Dakota State.
Even with a healthy Andersen it may not have mattered.
In a potent display, the Jackrabbits showed why they are the No. 3-ranked team in the country by laying a 45-14 whipping on MSU at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. Senior quarterback Taryn Christion was the catalyst, throwing for 319 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a third-quarter score.
Late in the third, Christion eclipsed the 10,000 yard plateau for career offense, becoming just the second player in Missouri Valley Football Conference history to do so, joining Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown (2009-12).
The Bobcats’ defensive game plan did not call for many blitzes because they didn’t want Christion to exploit certain matchups.
But Christion showed his veteran savvy and instead took advantage of the extra time he had in the pocket.
“I’d rather have him sit in the pocket and beat us with his arm than scramble around, because when he’s scrambling that’s how a lot of big plays happen,” safety Brayden Konkol said, before conceding, “Granted, he made a lot of big plays in the pocket, too. He’s just a good player.”
“He’s a very experienced quarterback and he’s going to identify (blitzes) and find his matchups,” Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said. “Our goal was to make him make perfect decisions, and at times he did. I’m very impressed with his playmaking.”
The combination of Christion and receiver Cade Johnson was unyielding. Johnson already had 100 receiving yards and three touchdown catches by the end of the first half. Johnson finished with a school record-tying four TD receptions, and had nine total catches for 138 yards.
With the loss of star pass-catchers Jake Wieneke and Dallas Goedert from last year’s semifinal playoff team, Choate said he thought Johnson had the potential to be Christion’s next go-to receiver.
“Whether it be the fly sweeps or some of the shoot routes and things like that, I thought that those guys worked well together,” Choate said. “Clearly, those guys had a nice connection.”
The Bobcats, with Tucker Rovig making his first start at quarterback, had just one first down in the first half.
Choate said the plan was for Andersen to play roughly 12-15 plays, whether it be in at linebacker or carrying the ball on offense. Andersen, while at running back, ran just twice for three yards. On defense, he registered a second-quarter sack of Christion.
Choate said Andersen sustained his injury at some point during last week’s 26-23 victory over Western Illinois.
Rovig, who said Andersen provided him “great support” all week, started to hit some throws in the second half.
His best highlights were a 42-yard throw to Willie Patterson and a 33-yard pass to Kevin Kassis on the same drive in the third quarter, which resulted in a two-yard touchdown run by Maleek Barkley that avoided a shutout.
But the Jackrabbits countered on their next drive with a two-yard scoring run by Mikey Daniel, which was set up by a 51-yard bomb from Christion to Adam Anderson.
Rovig’s first career touchdown pass came early in the fourth quarter, a three-yard rollout throw to Lance McCutcheon that made the score 38-14.
“It’s not what I imagined it to be,” Rovig said of his first start. “I imagined coming out of this place with a smile on our face and walking out with a win. But we’ve just got to improve. I’ve got to improve as well.”
Rovig finished 13 for 25 passing. He threw two interceptions. There wasn’t much threat of a running game: MSU rushed for just 29 yards on 23 attempts.
The Bobcats finished with just 193 offensive yards and only six first downs. SDSU rolled up 512 yards, and its 45 points are the most scored against MSU in 24 games under Choate, who wasn’t dismayed by Rovig’s performance.
“I really thought that Tucker did some nice things, even in the first half,” Choate said. “As I told the young men at halftime, the bottom line is somebody else has got to step up and make plays too. There were some balls out there to be caught and some plays that were there to be made.
“Between penalties and lack of execution, I just felt like we were very disjointed on offense for the entire first half. That was a struggle for us.”
NOTES: MSU long snapper Logan MacDonald was disqualified in the second quarter for targeting while on punt coverage. By rule, MacDonald must sit out the first half of next week’s home game versus Wagner. … Johnson’s four TD catches marked the third straight season in which an SDSU player has caught four TDs in a game. … The attendance was announced at 14,614.