BOZEMAN — Behind a physical, jolting push from a rapidly progressing offensive line, Troy Andersen and Montana State’s first-string offense plowed into defensive territory on its first two possessions in front of roughly 500 on Bobcat Stadium on Saturday night.
Both trips inside the 20-yard line were thwarted by a slew of mishaps. With a rebuilding offense struggling to find a rhythm, Andersen — MSU’s do-everything sophomore and the reigning Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year — stripped off his red non-contact jersey and promptly sent a jolt through the stadium.
Going against a defense featuring players battling for backup and third-string roles, Andersen again pressed the edge like he had half a dozen times before. But this time with no red jersey, a tag wasn’t good enough for the officials to blow the whistle, Instead, the breathtaking former state champion sprinter who has played Division I snaps at running back and linebacker already in his career showed the elite athleticism that might make him Montana State’s answer under center.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Dillon product bounced off a would-be tackler, high stepped past the last line of defense and turned on the burners, exploding to a 55-yard touchdown, the first trip to the end-zone for the top offense Saturday night.
“I think Troy was a little bit geeked up today,” Montana State head coach Jeff Choate said. “He’s a thoroughbred. Finally, I said, ‘let’s make him live’ and what does he do?
“That is a lesson to us that he is going to bring a lot of energy on his own. I know he comes across as a very low-key kid but he’s a highly competitive kid and he gets really, really juiced in competitive situations.”
Right after crossing the goal line, the normally quiet and humble Andersen was visibly pumped, yelling “make me live, see what happens!” While Andersen continues to find his consistency throwing the football — he hasn’t played quarterback since the 2016 season, his senior year at Beaverhead County High — the ability to run between the tackles and the open field should still be among the best in the league regardless of how he gets the football in his hands.
“I was excited to take (the red jersey off),” Andersen said. “I haven’t been live all fall camp. The defenese, sometimes when they tag off they think they get me but we have a few more yards in us. To take it off and be able to break a long one was fun.”
On the first drive Saturday, an 11-play march that reached 21 yards from the end-zone, got derailed first by a sack by junior defensive end Marcus Ferriter, then a pass breakup at the line of scrimmage by redshirt freshman Tadan Gilman, then by a false start by an offensive lineman. The possession ended with no points. Junior kicker Tristan Bailey missed a 43-yard field goal, his third straight miss in scrimmage situations during Montana State’s fall camp.
On the next possession for Andersen and the first-team offense, true freshman running back Lane Sumner got the Bobcats into their up-tempo attack by sparking the drive with a 20-yard run to midfield. Andersen threw a 15-yard strike to junior Kevin Kassis, true freshman Isaiah Ifanse bulldozed his way to an eight-yard gain on a slick jet sweep play and Andersen hit fellow quarterback-turned-wide receiver Travis Jonsen on an inside screen play for the second time on the drive to move the ball inside the 10.
The offense lined up in a “super-I formation” with Ifanse, junior Karl Tucker II and Jonsen all in line behind Andersen, who lined up behind redshirt freshman Zach Redd from a pistol formation distance. Andersen ran a triple option, faking to Ifanse before pressing the edge and eventually pitching to Jonsen. The pitch went awry and was recovered by junior defensive end Derek Marks.
“Offensively, here was my knock: we had four false start penalties and it wasn’t just that we had false start penalties,” Choate said. “We had one in the red-zone. We had one in the two-minute drill. Those are really hard to overcome and those are extremely frustrating.
“We were moving the ball down the field on the first drive, blow a protection, then we have a false start back-to-back. That clearly was not a positive for us. We had two turnovers and one was in the red-zone and one was in the two-minute drill. Often, it’s not if you make mistakes but when you make mistakes that can really hurt you.”
The second drive with the first flights saw a revamped offensive line pave the way. Redshirt freshman right tackle Connor Wood limped to the sideline with an undisclosed injury, causing for a quick reshuffling after the first series. Sophomore right guard Lewis Kidd bumped to right tackle, senior center Alex Neale bumped to right guard and southpaw Redd entered the lineup at center.
That unit won the battle in the trenches, at least on that drive, knocking MSU’s strong and veteran defensive line on its heals consistently during the second straight 11-play drive.
“Lewis was playing his natural, he’s been playing right tackle forever so we put him in and rolled,” Choate said. “Really on the offensive line, I think we have seven guys, I do. You’d like to have eight but sometimes you only have five so we will take it. I think Jake Sessions has had a good enough camp that we won’t be terrified to put him in a game. Feel very good about Zach Redd, very good about Connor Wood and the other four who have been starting since early on.”
Aside from the first two duels between the first-string offense and defensive units, the rest of the action was a mishmash of players. Young players, including redshirt freshman quarterback Tucker Rovig and true freshman QBs Casey Bauman and Ruben Beltran took most of the snaps.
Jonsen, a former 4-star recruit who spent a season at Oregon before spending last season at Riverside Community College, did not take a snap at quarterback. Choate said Jonsen is still struggling with lingering effects from the broken foot he suffered last winter that cost him all of MSU’s spring practices. Jonsen did catch two passes for 21 yards during the starting offense’s second possession, although he wore a red non-contact jersey.
Andersen missed some throws yet finished the day 10-of-16 for 96 yards. Greg “Munchie” Filer III, a transfer from Compton College, had a big hit to stop redshirt freshman slot receiver Willie Patterson for no gain, then intercepted an under thrown Andersen out, getting up off the turf and cruising 30 yards for a touchdown, the lone defensive score of the day. Andersen rushed 10 times for 64 yards but likely would’ve had twice that had he been “live” the entire scrimmage.
“We can tell on film if he would’ve gotten loose and you kind of know if a guy is just waiving at him,” Choate said. “It’s the combination of size and speed. The defense is always saying ‘if we don’t make him live, how do we know if we’ve got him down’ and the offense is like, ‘you don’t want him live because you are not going to get him down.’”
Rovig completed 7-of-10 passes for 63 yards and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Connor Sullivan, an Ennis product who beat sophomore linebacker Jacob Hadley in man-to-man coverage. Rovig also threw an interception to sophomore safety Luke May, a Whitefish product who came to Montana State as a quarterback.
Bauman, a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder from Nooksack Valley, Washington, proved the praise of his arm strength the last two weeks is certainly warranted. He completed 7-of-11 passes for 73 yards, throwing dart after dart with an arm stronger than any seen in a Bobcat jersey this decade.
Although the young quarterbacks held their own against a Montana State defense that gave consistent effort throughout, the offensive star of the day was Maleek Barkley, a redshirt freshman who transferred from Arkansas in the off-season. The half-brother of former MSU All-Big Sky running back and kick returner switched to running back out of necessity — former Indiana transfer Tyler Natee has not been seen at practice since mid-week last week and was not in attendance on Saturday — and showed the raw talent that helped him rush for more than 2,000 yards his last two seasons at Austin, Texas powerhouse Lake Travis High.
Barkley’s first resulted in a 42-yard touchdown, the first trip to the end-zone by any Bobcat on the day. He ended the evening with 10 carries for 74 yards. He also caught two passes for 22 yards.
“He has no idea what he’s doing but you give him the ball in the open field and he’s a problem,” Choate said. “IF we can get him going in the right direction, he might be able to help us a little bit.”
Ifanse, the former Washington Gatorade Player of the Year, continued making his case to be MSU’s starting tailback, converting short-yardage situations while also showing his vision and explosiveness sin space. He had five carries for 26 yards and caught a 23-yard pass.
“I love the way he finishes runs,” Choate said. “He’s a physical runner. He’s not a big guy when you get up next to him but he is bowlegged and compact and he definitely finishes. I love that about him.”
Despite the offensive yardage total — MSU rushed for nearly 250 yards before sacks and threw for 263 — the defense made it’s fair share of plays. All told, MSU’s defense notched six sacks, including two by Byron Rollins, a sophomore who spent the last two years on an LDS mission. Ferriter, senior end Tyrone Fa’anono, senior tackle Zach Wright and redshirt freshman tackle Kyle Rygg each had sacks as well.
“Offensive line played really good too and we keep competing every day,” Fa’anono said. “Today was nothing different. It was nice to come out here, compete one more time before we get into the season.
“We are getting better with our hands. This summer, we worked really hard doing extra stuff after Coach Wilcox’s workouts. Hopefully, we can get to the quarterback more this year.”
Following his opening miss, Bailey hit a pair of 22-yard field goals. Redshirt freshman Jacob Byrne ended the scrimmage with a 28-yard field goal.
The Bobcats will have a day off Sunday. Monday will be a “polish day”, Choate said, and the “kids will have their role call meetings with their coaches tomorrow.” Tuesday will be a “bonus practice” before a day off on Wednesday that will include MSU’s annual talent show. MSU’s game week begins Thursday leading up to the August 30 opener against Western Illinois under the lights at Bobcat Stadium.
I think we are almost there,” Andersen said. “We had a few missed assignments, a few self-inflicted errors, turnovers, the off-sides, but if we get those cleaned up, I think we can make an impact and be really good.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.
MONTANA STATE SCRIMMAGE STATS
RUSHING: Maleek Barkley 10-74-1, Troy Andersen 10-64-1, Isaiah Ifanse 5-26-0, Karl Tucker II 5-12-0, Shane Perry 5-25-0, Lane Sumner 4-23-0, Justin Cauley 3-5-0, Casey Bauman 2- -3-0, Tucker Rovig 3- -5-0, Coy Steel 2-16-0, Ruben Beltran 1- -6-0.
PASSING: Troy Andersen 10-16-1, 96, 0; Tucker Rovig 7-10-1, 63, 1 TD; Casey Bauman 7-11-0, 73, 0; Ruben Beltran 5-6-0, 31, 0; Kevin Kassis 0-1-0.
RECEIVING: Kevin Kassis 2-12-0, Isaiah Ifanse 1-23-0, Mekhi Metcalf 3-20-0, Maleek Barkley 2-22-0, Peyton Hanser 3-23-0, Karl Tucker II 1-4-0, Travis Jonsen 2-21-0, Coy Steel 3-18-0, Johnny D’Agostino 2-19-0, Logan Kleinhans 1-12-0, Willie Patterson 3-31-0, Lance McCutcheon 1-12-0, Connor Sullivan 1-18-1, Lane Sumner 1-3-0, Mark Estes 1-11-0, Koby Duru 1-5-0, Shane Perry 1-11-0.
DEFENSIVE SPECIAL STATS: Sacks – Byron Rollins (2), Marcus Ferriter, Tyrone Fa’anono, Zach Wright. Other Tackles-for-Loss – James Williams, Kyle Rygg; Fumble Recovery – Balue Chapman; Interceptions – Greg Filer III, Luke May.
Maleek Barkley 42 run (Tristan Bailey)
Tristan Bailey 22 FG
Troy Andersen 55 run (Tristan Bailey)
Connor Sullivan 18 pass from Rovig (Kevin Kassis)
Tristan Bailey 22 FG
Jacob Byrne 28 FG