BOZEMAN — In some ways, predictability is what hurt Montana State the most in its 34-21 homecoming loss to Sacramento State 10 days ago.
MSU’s typically abundant running game — which has recently been built largely around Travis Jonsen as a wildcat quarterback — was bottled up and the Bobcats stalled at inopportune times. On the other side of it, Hornets quarterback Kevin Thomson picked apart Montana State’s defense to the tune of five total touchdowns.
Bobcats coach Jeff Choate noted the offensive and defensive monotony in the aftermath of that loss, and planned for his team to do some genuine self-evaluation during the course of its bye week.
Choate said MSU undertook that cause as a necessity to make incremental adjustments.
“We dug in really hard and looked at us,” Choate said Monday during his weekly news conference inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. “Clearly every team develops tendencies and play-callers develop tendencies, and I think you’ve got to look at that and you’ve got to see it for what it is and recognize sometimes that those are the calls that are dictated by the situation.
“Everybody kind of is who they are midway through the season, anyway. You can’t really reinvent yourself. But I think you’ve got to be self-aware and know that, hey, in this situation we’ve been doing this a lot, and you’ve got to be willing to adjust. That was a big part of the emphasis.”
The No. 9-ranked Bobcats (5-2, 2-1 Big Sky) will put those tweaks to the test Saturday when they return to the field at North Dakota (4-3). The game kicks off at 11 a.m. Mountain time from the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
MSU had won five consecutive games prior to its loss to Sacramento State. Choate said there isn’t a need to make wholesale changes to what has worked in the past.
“The teams that separate themselves down the stretch are the ones that learn from their mistakes (and) clean some things up,” he said. “It’s not like all of the sudden we’re going to become a team that throws the ball 70 times a game and a team that blitzes 60% of the time.
“That’s not going to be the answer to us playing better.”
The Fighting Hawks, formerly of the Big Sky Conference, are in their final year as an FCS independent before they transition full-time to the more geographically friendly Missouri Valley Football Conference for the 2020 season. Nevertheless, the game will count toward Montana State’s conference record.
Bubba Schweigert-coached UND has won all three of its home games this season, including a 38-36 upset of UC Davis on Oct. 5. At the time, the Aggies were ranked 12th in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll.
“It’s a conference game for us, and I pointed that out to our players on Sunday to make sure they understand the significance of this game,” Choate said. “I also pointed out that there’s a couple teams that rolled out there to North Dakota and maybe not understood the importance of that and paid the price.
“So this is a huge, huge game for us. A huge game for us in terms of the way this season sets up, coming off the bye week, getting that taste out of our mouth from Sacramento State — who evidently is a pretty good football team.”
One issue Choate talked about was the health of his team, which has been spotty through the first half of the season.
Notably, running back Isaiah Ifanse has been in and out of the lineup with a lower leg injury. Ifanse, a 1,000-yard rusher last season and the team’s top tailback when healthy, has carried the ball just 37 times all year.
Meanwhile, linebacker Troy Andersen has also been dealing with a lower leg injury that he suffered in Week 2 against Southeast Missouri, and his role on offense has been less frequent than it otherwise might be. Andersen, though, has played through his ailment, except for the game against Norfolk State on Sept. 21 when he sat out.
Starting inside linebacker Michael Jobman was injured against Cal Poly and didn’t play against Sacramento State. There are others, too.
“At this stage, there’s certain guys that are just going to play with what they have and it’s probably not going to get a lot better until they get a couple of weeks off at the end of the season, quite honestly,” Choate said.
“We’re not unlike anybody else. Everybody’s got nicks and bruises and dings. There’s certainly some guys that we’d like to get back and we’re hopeful that’s going to happen, but it’s just a matter of time.”
Choate said he thinks Andersen is dealing with the same injury that Montana quarterback Dalton Sneed suffered last week in the Grizzlies’ road loss at Sacramento State.
“I’m speculating here,” Choate said. “Troy probably has the same injury that Dalton Sneed has. And it happened against SEMO, and the kid hasn’t missed a game except for the one that I held him out of.
“I don’t know that he’s going to get significantly better, but he’s one tough dude, I’ll tell you that.”