Courtesy: Montana State Sports Information
Chris Murray threw for 141 yards and a touchdown and three true freshmen running backs combined to gain 179 yards rushing, but Montana State's defense forced three turnovers in the team's final scrimmage of the preseason in Bobcat Stadium on Saturday.
Second-year head coach Jeff Choate called the session "very similar in an inverse way to scrimmage one. In scrimmage one we put (the offense) in that backed-up situation and they immediately had the right edge, the right level of focus, performed exceptionally well. Today I thought the defense rebounded."
Montana State's defense forced a three-and-out on the day's first possession, and on the next set of downs Bryce Alley picked off a Tucker Rovig pass deep in defensive territory. The next drive ended when Chris Murray found Kevin Kassis for an 18-yard gain, but Brayden Konkol stripped the ball and Khari Garcia recovered. The scrimmage's final play came when Walker Cozzie quelled a potential scoring drive with an interception of Murray at the goal line.
"We had a couple red zone turnovers, kind of uncharacteristic of Kevin Kassis on the one over route where we kind of got a drive going," Choate said. "We can't do that in the red zone. Chris forced that ball (on the interception), I think he was pressing a little bit today. There were some communication things we have to get cleaned up on the offensive side of the ball."
The Bobcat offense got rolling thereafter, converting all four field goal attempts and converting three touchdowns. While the only rushing score was 50-yard scamper by Murray, who finished with 74 rushing yards, the ground game fueled the offense for much of the afternoon. "I was very pleased with the run game in general," Choate said. "I thought the offensive line did a nice job in the run game."
Three newcomers provided the spark. Tyrel Burgess gained 58 yards on nine carries, Troy Andersen rambled for 55 yards on six carries, and R.J. Fitzgerald, playing primarily against other young players, gained 66 yards on six carries. Anthony Pegues (23 yards), Edward Vander (six yards) and Logan Jones (four yards) also contributed from the running back spot.
Choate said he likes all the players in his stable of running backs, and called the top line of the depth chart inconsequential. "I don't care who starts," Choate said, "I want finishers. I know it matters to players, I was a player once and that's a little bit of an ego thing, but I think Michael (Pitre, MSU's running backs coach) has done a really good job explaining how we're going to operate (at running) and to pick each other up. We're going to need them all."
While the offense and defense each had moments of success during what Choate calls "the ebbs and flows of fall camp," Montana State's kickers have performed well throughout. Senior Luke Daly has been spectacular as a place-kicker, and has shown brilliance at times as a punter. Meanwhile, second-year sophomores Gabe Peppenger (kicker) and Jered Padmos (punter) have also shown well.
"Our punting was excellent" on Saturday, Choate said. "I thought those guys did a really nice job today, both place-kicking and punting. The reality of it is, we look at what's best for the individual as well as what's best for the team in the long run. We've got kind of a unique situation there, where we have two really good kickers and they both have performed well. There might be one day where one's ahead of the other or vice versa, but at the end of the day Gabe has a redshirt left. If Luke can be the guy, that benefits all of us. That's what I would like to see happen is for him to assert himself and be the guy. I know he has the talent. If he can consistently perform that gives us the luxury of keeping Gabe in our pocket."
The Bobcats participate in what Choate calls a "light little cleanup practice" on Monday, then work through game week-type practices on Tuesday and Thursday. Practice is light on Friday, the team conducts a closed mock game on Saturday geared mostly toward logistical and situational considerations, then begin game-week in earnest on Sunday, August 27.
"What we have to do," Choate said, "is get our team, all 68 or 70 guys, whoever gets on that plane to Pullman, to play together with an edge. It's no longer offense against defense or vice versa, it's about the Bobcats. I think we've seen some good, positive things from both sides of the ball throughout camp, but by and large it's over now. We'll have a nice little cleanup practice Monday, then it's (time to) game plan for Washington State."