BOZEMAN — Montana State fell victim to Kennesaw State’s triple option offense Saturday in what was a unique November matchup — in more ways than one.
First, this was the latest in any schedule that the Bobcats had stepped out of conference for a game in 20 years. The last time was Nov. 8, 1997, when Cal Poly — not then a member of the Big Sky — beat MSU 20-19 on, ironically, a late-game field goal.
Secondly, Kennesaw State’s offensive style is like nothing the Bobcats have seen or will see this season. The only team in the league that runs a similar offense, incidentally, is Cal Poly. The Bobcats haven’t played the Mustangs since the 2014 season.
Perhaps the No. 1 thing the Bobcats took away from their 16-14 loss to the 25th-ranked Owls was the experience of going toe-to-toe with another ranked team — their sixth such opponent of the year so far. MSU is 1-5 in those games this season.
Montana State travels to Northern Arizona next week before hosting Montana in the 117th Brawl of the Wild on Nov. 18 at Bobcat Stadium.
“I don’t know that there’s any value in this schematically,” Choate said. “You don’t get banked reps against the style that you’re going to see against Northern Arizona or Montana.
“I think maybe there is some similarities to Northern Arizona defensively and what (the Owls) do. They’re a high-pressure unit, they have good team speed and aren’t an overly big unit. Maybe there will be some things protection-wise that we can clean up that we didn’t do well in this game that can give us some banked reps on against NAU.”
Record-wise, the Bobcats are now 4-5 overall and 4-2 in the Big Sky. Northern Arizona lost its first conference game of the year Saturday at Montana, 17-15.
MSU will try to regroup and jump back into conference play, and there’s still a lot to play for.
“You’ve got to get this taste out of your mouth,” running back Logan Jones said. “We’ve just got to come back (Sunday), watch the film, get ready for NAU, just prepare like it’s a normal week and just do the best we can in everything we do. That’s all we can do.”
Growing up fast
This is only the third season in which Kennesaw State has sponsored football, but already the program is flourishing under coach Brian Bohannon.
The Owls did not turn the ball over during Saturday’s win, and sealed the game with a defensive takeaway when safety Taylor Henkle intercepted Chris Murray near the boundary with 1:16 remaining. They are now plus-15 in turnover margin, which is one of the top totals in the country.
KSU, of the Big South Conference, has won eight consecutive games and has its sights set squarely on an FCS playoff berth.
“It's a big win for us. A third-year program going across the country to find a way to win is exciting," Bohannon said. “I had a feeling it would be one of those knockdown, drag-it-out games, and it was. It was a hard-fought game, and they have a good football team. We found a way and that's what I'm most proud of."
Within the triple option scheme, quarterback Chandler Burks rushed for 149 yards on 34 attempts, both career highs. As a team the Owls had 349 rushing yards, making it the seventh time this year they have surpassed the 300-yard barrier.
Point of attack
Against the triple option, a defense must key on three aspects: the fullback dive, the quarterback keeper and the running back pitch.
Though Burks kept the ball on 34 of 74 running plays, the Owls remained committed to the dive. Fullbacks Jake McKenzie and Bronson Rechsteiner, who average 214 pounds between them, combined for 31 attempts.
That allowed the Bobcats’ defensive line to rack up some big defensive numbers. Nose tackle Tucker Yates had eight tackles, while end Derek Marks made 7½ stops.
In all, MSU defensive linemen combined for 29 tackles. But that was of no consolation afterward.
“We just tackle the dive every time,” Yates said. “I thought we did an OK job of that. Apparently it wasn’t good enough.”
Choate praised the effort of the line, which has been the No. 1 strength of the defense through nine games. But he also echoed Yates’ sentiment.
“Those guys were as advertised,” he said. “They played very, very well against a challenging style. But unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
Choate added: “It’s about scoring. If we hold a team to 16 points you’d like to think we’d have an opportunity.”