BOZEMAN — The player on which Montana State’s defense is fixated the most this week is Norfolk State junior quarterback Juwan Carter, a dual-threat athlete with the ability to make plays on the ground and through the air.
The 8th-ranked Bobcats (2-1) are coming off a 23-14 victory at Western Illinois, and they have no intention of stumbling — not with their Big Sky Conference opener against Northern Arizona looming next week.
Carter leads the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference with seven touchdown passes and ranks third in pass efficiency. He also ranks third in the league in total offense.
Bobcats coach Jeff Choate compared Carter to one former MSU quarterback that everybody knows.
“I told our guys that he’s kind of a shorter Chris Murray,” Choate said. “He creates outside the offense. He’s a problem. We haven’t played a guy like that this year.”
Murray, of course, accounted for 4,359 yards of offense and 43 total touchdowns in 16 games as MSU’s starter before leaving the program this past spring due to academic ineligibility.
Choate said the similarities between the two are evident. Carter even wears the same No. 8 that Murray did at MSU.
“He’s their leading passer, their leading rusher, and in the red-zone and short-yardage situations you’re going to have to defend him. And that’s whether the play breaks down or it’s designed quarterback runs,” Choate said.
“He’s slick. He’s not a big guy, listed at about 6-foot, 175 pounds, (but he) runs well. He can extend plays and create chunk plays down the field both with his legs and his arm.”
During the MEAC’s weekly coaches teleconference on Tuesday, Norfolk State coach Latrell Scott said last week’s 46-7 loss at FBS Coastal Carolina was “one of the worst team performances that we’ve had,” and that the Spartans (1-2) must be more efficient.
Carter will have a role in however that plays out.
“We’ve got to be able to stay on the field on offense,” Scott said. “Us not being able to stay on the field this past week, that hurt us. When you’re leaving (the defense) out there for so long eventually something is going to break.”
Bobcats linebacker Daniel Hardy said that while MSU will have to pay close attention to Carter, its success will still come down to defensive responsibility.
“Same as usual. Everybody has to do their job, take care of their 20 square feet,” Hardy said. “If everybody does their part I think we should be good.”
By contrast, Bobcats quarterback Casey Bauman has been adequate if unspectacular through three starts. Entering this week, the 6-foot-6, 235-pound redshirt freshman has completed 48.6% of his passes for 405 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Bauman’s accuracy has varied, and Choate said they’ve pinpointed some inconsistencies with his mechanics.
“Weight transition is a big thing for him. If he’s throwing and he’s not transitioning his weight to his front foot, the ball is going to have a tendency to dive because he has such a high delivery point,” Choate said. “The other thing is, I think he’s squeezing the ball too hard. When you kind of choke the ball, oftentimes it’s not going to come out as clean.”
But Choate also pointed to what’s been most positive.
“It’s easy to criticize the quarterback. I get that,” Choate said. “But here’s what that guy’s done for us: He hasn’t thrown one interception. He’s taken, what, one sack in three games? He’s been very, very smart with the football.
“I really commend him for staying within himself, making good decisions with the football, valuing the football for our team, and I think those are things that we can build on.”
Linebacker Troy Andersen was visibly limping on more than one occasion at Western Illinois as he continued to play linebacker while maintaining a role in the offensive backfield. The Leathernecks bottled up Andersen, holding him to zero rushing yards.
When asked, Choate said it’s important for the Bobcats to try to preserve Andersen the best they can, especially with the eight-game Big Sky Conference stretch in front of them.
But what that exactly means remains to be seen.
“I think we’ve got to look ahead to this conference slate. We play seven games before we get a bye,” Choate said. “You can see what’s coming. This league is going to be a bear. It’s going to be really, really challenging. I’m not so sure that this isn’t best league in the (FCS) right now.
“I want our best when your best is needed. That’s when we really start putting all the chips on the table.”