BOZEMAN — Montana State coach Jeff Choate said it all week.
In order for the Bobcats to reclaim their mojo, they needed to distance themselves from the tepid play calling and execution that plagued them one week prior in a loss at North Dakota. Simply put, the team needed to take advantage of its opportunities and play and coach with one purpose — to win.
MSU had lost two straight coming into Saturday’s home contest against Southern Utah, which included a discouraging setback to Sacramento State on Oct. 12. But the Bobcats put an end to their skid by answering Choate’s call.
With offensive coordinator Matt Miller positioned on the sideline for the first time this year rather than in the booth above — an effort to improve communication between coaches — the Bobcats scored touchdowns on six of their eight first-half possessions on the way to a 42-7 victory.
It was one of the most efficient first-halves in program history, and tied for the fifth-most points MSU has ever scored in a game before halftime. Running back Lane Sumner scored two first-quarter touchdowns on the ground and quarterback Tucker Rovig passed for two other scores to prop up the Bobcats early.
MSU didn’t score in the second half, but the game was in hand by then.
“Playing aggressive, playing to win, calling the game to put the pressure on the defense, I thought (Miller) did a nice job of that,” Choate said.
“It changed the game, clearly. It made things a little less consequential perhaps in the second half, allowed us to be a little conservative (and) rest some guys. So that was very refreshing. Our energy was very good from the jump. That momentum carried through and we made some plays.”
Rovig found tight end Derryk Snell for a 9-yard gain on MSU’s third offensive play, which signaled a bit of a new wrinkle for the offense.
Snell, a redshirt freshman from Anchorage, Alaska, factored heavily into the passing game in the first half. He later caught a 23-yard pass from Rovig down the sideline, which helped produce a 2-yard touchdown run by Sumner and a 7-0 lead.
Snell caught his first career touchdown pass on a 10-yard throwback toss from Rovig across the formation to put MSU ahead 28-0 in the second quarter.
“It was nice to see the tight ends get a touchdown catch. It’s been a while since we’d done that, so that was awesome,” Choate said.
Montana State’s tight ends came into the game with just three total pass receptions, all by Snell.
“He’s got really good ball skills. He’s a talented young man,” Choate said of the 245-pound Snell. “We always carry things in the game plan, but we kind of prioritized getting those called early in the game this week.”
Troy Andersen’s defensive ability was on full display in the first half, as the junior linebacker had both of his sacks before halftime. He later made his first career interception.
“Troy’s always around the ball. He’s flying all over the field, making plays in the backfield, in the quarterback’s face,” said fellow linebacker Josh Hill, who forced a fumble. “He’s such a dynamic player that he’s able to do a lot of those different things that we need him to do on defense.”
But he wasn’t the only one who thrived. Lineman Chase Benson had a pair of sacks while Amandre Williams added a sack and an interception. As a defense, MSU had five QB sacks and made 14 tackles for loss.
The Bobcats forced four turnovers in all, and the offense turned those takeaways into 14 points. Defensive back Ty Okada recovered a fumble that was forced by Blake Flovin in the fourth quarter on SUU’s final drive.
Snell was one of three MSU players to score their first career touchdown on Saturday. The others were true freshman receiver Jaden Smith and junior wideout Tyrone Marshall.
Smith, from Kennedale, Texas, sprinted wide-open down the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown from Rovig to make the score 21-0 in the first quarter. Marshall, a transfer from Harbor City, California, found the end zone on an 18-yard end-around run to make it 35-0 midway through the second.
“We had some things in the game plan for each one of those guys and it was nice to see them execute,” Choate said.