BOZEMAN — You could hear the disappointment in Jeff Choate’s voice Monday as he analyzed Montana State’s most recent loss, a 24-17 defeat Saturday on the road to Idaho State.
In Choate’s estimation, the Bobcats let a golden chance at victory slip out of their grasp.
There was an uptick in production from previous weeks under the aggressive direction of new offensive coordinator and first-time play-caller Matt Miller, but MSU still suffered from poor execution in key moments.
Choate lamented the Bobcats’ second possession, during which they moved the ball to the Idaho State 7-yard line but came away with no points. Leading by a touchdown, it was a squandered chance to increase the lead.
Two penalties, a dropped pass in the end zone by tight end Curtis Amos and a missed field goal by reliable kicker Tristan Bailey ended that possession.
In all, the Bobcats had four drives of 10 plays or more, three of which went 70-plus yards, but only scored once.
“Just really frustrating,” Choate said during his weekly news conference. “We had a chance to go up 14-0. You’re thinking a two-score lead, this is pretty good in the first quarter against this team, and you end up with no points.”
It was the start of a run of eight consecutive scoreless drives. Meanwhile, Idaho State ran off 24 unanswered points and was ultimately able to fend off the Bobcats’ fourth-quarter surge.
The loss put Montana State at 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the league, and cut deep into its postseason hopes — though Choate isn’t focusing much on playoff jockeying with Cal Poly (3-5, 2-3) and its effective triple-option ground attack visiting Bobcat Stadium this week.
On the heels of a one-point win over Idaho, a 10-point loss at Weber State and a seven-point defeat to ISU, the Bobcats have accepted some hard truths.
“We had a brief conversation about (the playoffs) but we moved forward quickly,” he said. “We talked about what the mission is right now. The reality is we’re a .500 ball club; we’ve dropped two in a row.
“I knew going into this season that three-game stretch was going to be a bear. We needed to go 2-1 in that stretch to really put ourselves in a position to control some things down the stretch and we didn’t do that. We were 1-2.
“We played three really good football teams, three competitive games, and now we’ve got to go do it again.”
Choate sung the praises of MSU’s defense for its performance against Idaho State. He said the Bobcats were successful in confusing quarterback Tanner Gueller. Choate also spoke highly of the efforts of cornerbacks Jalen Cole and Greg Filer III in shutting down big-play receivers Mitch Gueller and Michael Dean.
The Bengals came in averaging better than 40 points and 543 yards per game. They finished with just 391 yards. MSU’s offense, meanwhile, put up 425.
This week, Cal Poly presents a different kind of challenge. The Mustangs are an option team that leads the Big Sky Conference in ground yards, paced by veteran fullback Joe Protheroe, who tops the league in rushing at 1,152 yards.
With the playoffs likely out of reach, the Bobcats can still have their first winning campaign since 2014 and give their coach his first such season since being hired at MSU in December of 2015.
Choate said the team doesn’t harbor any delusions of grandeur with three games remaining on the schedule, but he also said the Bobcats will continue to compete hard until they reach the finish line.
“You have to be honest: Here’s what we did well, here’s what we didn’t do well, here’s who we are, here’s where we are,” he said. “And then you hit the reset button and say, ‘Here’s the next challenge, here’s the next opportunity that you have and here’s what we have to do to be able to have success.’
“Positive people don’t dwell on negative things. You’ve got to look at it from an honest perspective, you’ve got to own the mistakes that you made, and then you’ve got to be able to say, ‘Here’s where we’re going now.’
“I’ve got a little more experience doing that around here than I’d like, but our guys will be ready to play.”
NOTES: Choate said LBs Jacob Hadley and Chad Kanow are out indefinitely due to injuries. On Sunday, MSU announced that WR Willie Patterson is also sidelined for the foreseeable future. Hadley, Kanow and Patterson join a list that already includes QB Tucker Rovig, RB Tyler Natee, WR Jabarri Johnson and LB Josh Hill.