BOZEMAN — If points come at a premium Saturday during Montana State’s stiff road test at No. 7 Weber State, Jeff Choate hopes it holds true for both teams. For the Bobcats, offensive execution will be under a microscope.
During his weekly news conference on Monday, MSU's third-year coach could not have been more complimentary of Weber State’s defense, which held Eastern Washington to a mere two field goals during a 14-6 victory last week.
Granted, EWU was again without star quarterback Gage Gubrud, who missed his second consecutive game with a foot injury, but it was a high achievement for the Wildcats nonetheless.
“I think they have an elite defense right now,” Choate said. “Probably look more like a Mountain West defense than they do a Big Sky defense. They are big, they have great team speed, extremely athletic and a lot of experience.
“They’ve been dominant. Absolutely dominant.”
Choate said MSU’s offense, then, will need to maximize its possessions and take full advantage of its opportunities against a team that is giving up a league-low 21.7 points per game and is tied for the national lead with a plus-10 turnover margin.
During last week’s 24-23 nail-biting victory over Idaho, Andersen struggled to complete a series of short passing plays and finished 11 for 21 with 91 yards. So the Bobcats changed their approach.
“Troy had actually had probably his best week (in practice) throwing the ball, and that was not something he did well on Saturday,” Choate said. “Really in the second half, we kind of made a conscious decision, rather than throw the quick game — because they were playing a lot of off coverage that should have been available to us and we just weren’t accurate doing that — we were probably better off throwing the ball deep.
“If you’re 50-50 on a hitch and you’re 50-50 on a post, take the post. We were a little bit more aggressive with our play-calling and we did hit one down the field to Lance (McCutcheon), and that did set up a score.”
Choate talked at length about the Bobcats’ quarterback situation now that the team is without redshirt freshman backup Tucker Rovig, who is out for the season with a left foot/ankle injury.
Andersen, a sophomore who originally came to MSU to play linebacker, is the unquestioned starter, but MSU is now just one play away from having to use freshmen Casey Bauman or Ruben Beltran, neither of which has taken a live snap.
Andersen has already missed time this season with a left hand injury, and has taken a lot of big hits due to the nature of the Bobcats’ QB-centered running game.
“We’ve got two true freshmen and a converted linebacker" playing quarterback, Choate said. "I’ve probably felt better about depth at that position at some other time. But I think Bob (Cole, the quarterbacks coach) has done a nice job of working with those guys and getting them to where they need to be.
“Obviously, if we had Tucker I’d feel much better about things, but those freshmen will be ready to go. We’re not going to ask them to do everything in the world.
“One of the things I ask them, ‘I want to see the plays that you like. Let’s go through them. What are the plays that you like?’ So we know if we do get into a situation where we’ve got to play them, we’re kind of putting them in a position where they’re comfortable with what we’re doing.”
Bauman is now listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Andersen. A 6-foot-6, 225-pound product of Nooksack Valley High School in rural northwest Washington, Bauman is more of a true pocket passer with the ideal arm strength to stretch a defense.
Beltran, a state championship-winning quarterback from Centennial High in Peoria, Arizona, is more elusive with his legs.
And if need be, the Bobcats still have wide receiver Travis Jonsen, who was a four-star dual-threat QB originally recruited by the University of Oregon out of Servite High School in southern California’s touted Trinity League.
The hope for MSU, obviously, is that Andersen will weather the hits and remain the signal-caller. But you have to prepare for contingencies, especially considering the physical nature with which Weber State plays defense.
“Ruben is very cerebral and is kind of a football junkie. Very accurate, savvy kid, can get himself out of trouble with his feet, not afraid to run some of the quarterback run game,” Choate said. “And Casey, they call him Big Ben. He’s got some arm talent like nobody’s business.
“He played smaller-school ball, so the progression to playing Division I football has been a little different, but I’ve seen a noticeable change in terms of his preparation.
“I think he’s understanding how to be a student of the game, and the guy that’s probably mentored him the most is Tucker Rovig. Kind of, ‘I made that mistake when I was a freshman, here’s how you need to do this.’ Those guys have done a nice job.”