LUBBOCK, Texas — With a flick of Casey Bauman’s wrist, Coy Steel made his first big impact as a member of the Montana State receiving corps.
Trailing by 14 points early in the second quarter, Steel streaked open through the Texas Tech defense and hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Bauman, giving the Bobcats their first points of the season.
And while it was the only big-play highlight for MSU’s offense in a 45-10 loss Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium, it was a significant moment for both Bauman and Steel because it marked each player’s first collegiate touchdown.
For Steel, a 5-foot-8, 177-pound sophomore, it was the manifestation of the work he’s put in since arriving to Bozeman as a walk on from Sheridan, Wyoming.
It was just his second career catch, but it showed that Steel has a place among MSU’s pass-catchers.
“That was awesome,” Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said after the game. “I think the players were more happy for him than anybody else.
“He's a true grinder, former walk-on, has earned a partial scholarship. He's had some tough things go on in his personal life over the last couple years and he's just a great team guy.
“You see a smile on my face when you say his name. I'm just really happy for Coy and I know he's going to continue to produce for us.”
The air temperature at kickoff was 95 degrees, but one member of Texas Tech’s sports information staff said he saw a thermometer on the field reading as high as 140.
“It was definitely hot out there,” MSU safety Brayden Konkol said. “It’s something we're not used to but it wasn't like it was game changing.”
As planned, the Bobcats rotated a lot of guys in and out in order to combat the heat and stay as fresh as possible. A few players — namely linebacker Troy Andersen, edge defender Amandre Williams and nose tackle Jason Scrempos — were felled by cramps in the second half.
It didn’t go unnoticed by first-year Red Raiders coach Matt Wells.
“I think that's something that we feed on,” Wells said. “We want to play fast, we want to be physical up front, we want to continue to put the pedal down. And I think as soon as you can see your opponent tired and tapping his helmet and needing a break, I think it gives you a little bit more internal motivation as an offensive player.”
“We call it ‘Tap ‘em out TTU,’” said Tech quarterback Alan Bowman, who threw for 436 yards and two touchdowns. “That's kind of our offensive motto. So if anybody falls down for a cramp or taps their helmet, that’s when we get all excited and we want to go so fast where they can't even stand up anymore.”
The Red Raiders, though, weren’t immune to cramping late in the game. And that didn’t go unnoticed by Choate.
“They were on us, thinking our guys were tapping out in the second half,” Choate said. “Well I'm like, ‘Hey, we practiced in 75 degree weather all fall camp.’ So I think that was legitimate that we had some guys cramping.
“And then I kind of thought it was ironic, they had some guys cramping, too. So I thought our Montana boys held up pretty well.”
Texas Tech’ offensive tempo was troubling for the Bobcats. The Red Raiders ran 95 total plays to the tune of 691 yards. It was especially evident early, as MSU struggled to put up much resistance on consecutive 11-play touchdown drives.
While the players felt the pressure, defensive coordinator Kane Ioane, in his first game back with Montana State after a two-year stint as a quality control analyst at the University of Washington, was also forced to keep pace with his play calling.
Choate said Ioane held his own while trying to match speed — and wits — with Red Raiders offensive coordinator David Yost.
“He did a good job,” Choate said. “There's really only probably a handful of plays in the entire game where we didn't get the call in quickly, I thought.
“We talked about kind of having a Rolodex mentality and just going to our calls, not worrying about what the formation was, just get it to the guys and let them play. And I was pleased with Kane's performance in that area.”