Courtesy: Montana State Sports Information
In a scrimmage geared toward showcasing young players, the familiar stars burned the brightest.
Quarterback Chris Murray completed 10 of his 13 pass attempts, connecting on a pair of touchdowns, and senior receiver Mitchell Herbert caught three passes for 93 yards. Junior tight end Conner Sullivan caught a pair of touchdowns.
One of the day’s eye-popping plays came late in the 90-play session. Herbert came open down the middle, and Murray hit him in stride. Herbert finished the 68-yarder for a touchdown. “They were playing man,” Herbert said. “Kevin Kassis had a seam inside and I used him as a pick on the outside, came open up the middle, and luckily I had enough to get into the end zone.”
That play fused young and old veterans of MSU’s offensive struggles one season ago, and highlighted the promise of 2017. “I think he still has a tremendously long way to go to be the finished product that we would like him to be and that he wants to be,” Bobcat head coach Jeff Choate said of Murray. “But you can see the growth. The ball’s coming out, it looks like he’s throwing it with authority, he’s making more quick decisions, even when he’s escaping the pocket those things aren’t taking quite as long. It’s a continuous process with him and we’ll be as good as he allows us to be, because I do think we have some pieces around him.”
That begins with an experienced offensive line which made considerable physical gains in the last nine months. “I was really pleased with our first group offensive line,” Choate said. “I thought they did an excellent job in protection in some situations, I thought we operated in the two-minute drill with our ones really well.” Choate also praised a group of receivers he called “one of the most improved positions on our team,” and said he likes the mix of skills available at running back.
Two players with potential to contribute early in their Bobcat careers, true freshmen Troy Andersen (eight carries, 70 yards) and Tyrel Burgess (eight carries, 35 yards) led the team in rushing on Saturday. Transfer Edward Vander scored on a three-yard run, the team’s only rushing touchdown. Tight end Conner Sullivan, who made perhaps MSU’s biggest catch of 2016 late in the Cat-Griz game, caught two touchdowns passes, one from Murray and one from Brady McChesney.
The scrimmage began with a series of plays with MSU’s offense backed up against its own goal line, and it didn’t take long for the first unit to assert itself. Murray found Kassis for 44 yards on the first play, Logan Jones rumbled 31 yards on the next play, Andersen rammed ahead for four, then Keon Stephens caught a 14-yarder.
Senior linebacker Mac Bignell said he was disappointed that the defense “just didn’t come out with energy,” but Choate said the offense’s quick beginning was a function of the situational nature of that portion of the scrimmage. “I think it’s hard when you put guys in situations immediately because they don’t get into the flow of things, and you could tell defensively we weren’t ready to go. On Thursday it was just the opposite, the offense wasn’t ready to go and the defense had the upper hand. It was a little bit of give-and-take, the ebbs and flows of fall camp.”
Choate also said there were elements of the defense’s day to like. “I actually think Coach (Byron) Hout did a nice job bringing the right energy level on the sideline. As I told the young men after practice, there’s only one way to play defense and that’s with your foot all the way down on gas pedal and it on the floorboard. The veterans provided some energy for the young guys and encouraged them on a couple of stops on longer drives. There were some positive things. Everything’s a teachable moment, right? It’s not just about what goes on between the white lines. It’s about the energy and enthusiasm and how the guys on the sideline can pick up the guys on the field.”
The Bobcats return to practice Monday. The team’s final open scrimmage of the fall is next Saturday, and the Cats open the 2017 season on September 2 at Washington State.
RUSHING: Troy Andersen 8-70-0, Tyrel Burgess 8-35-0, R.J. Fitzgerald 7-23-0, Edward Vander 8-22-1, Logan Jones 2-34-0, Nick LaSane 3-7-0, Noah James 1-1-0, Kevin Kassis 1-5-0, Chris Murray 6- -16-0, Tucker Rovig 1- -1-0, Luke May 1-9-0, Callahan O’Reilly 1- -3-0.
PASSING: Chris Murray 10-13-0, 192, 2 TD; Brady McChesney 3-7-0, 25, 1; Tucker Rovig 7-11-0, 144, 1 TD; Luke May 1-2-0, 6, 0; Callahan O’Reilly 1-3-0, 4, 0.
RECEIVING: Kevin Kassis 4-55-0, Kapili Livingston-Lopez 4-19-0, Connor Sullivan 3-54-2, Keon Stephens 4-52-1, Mitchell Herbert 3-93-1, Willie Patterson 2-72-0, Jacob Byrne 1-6-0, Edward Vander 1-12-0.
SACKS: Chase Benson-2, Derek Marks-1, Elu Leota-1, Tadan Gilman-1, Tyrel Thomas-1, Balue Chapman-1.
OTHER TACKLES-FOR-LOSS: Derek Marks-1, Elu Leota-1, Chad Kanow-1.
PASS BREAKUPS: Ben Folsom-1, Braelen Evans-1, Jalen Cole-2, Khari Garcia-1.
FORCED FUMBLES: Jackson McCleery-1, Chad Kanow-1.
FUMBLE RECOVERED: Shawn Borges
Edward Vander 3-yard run (Luke Daly)
Gabe Peppenger 28 FG
Conner Sullivan 28 yards from Brady McChesney (Luke Daly)
Gabe Peppenger 40 FG
Keon Stephens 25 yards from Tucker Rovig (Luke Daly)
Conner Sullivan 13 yards from Chris Murray (Luke Daly)
Mitchell Herbert 68 yards from Chris Murray