Montana State head coach Jeff Choate and defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak praised the abilities of South Dakota State star quarterback Taryn Christion all week leading up to Saturday’s matchup between the Bobcats and the Jackrabbits.
In Brookings, South Dakota, Christion showed the reason he is an All-American and one of the most accomplished signal callers in the history of both SDSU and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
And Montana State continued to feel the sting of having no real answer under center.
Christion completed 21-of-29 passes for 319 yards and found Cade Johnson for a school record four touchdown receptions to spur on South Dakota State’s 45-14 destruction of the Bobcats. SDSU rolled up 512 yards of total offense, building a 24-0 lead in the first half that swelled to 31-0 and 38-8.
The 31-point margin of defeat marks the largest by a Bobcat squad since last season’s 31-0 loss to Washington State the first game of the season. Before that, MSU’s worst lost came in Huntsville, Texas, a 49-13 rout at the hands of Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals of the 2011 FCS playoffs.
“South Dakota State is clearly very deserving of their ranking,” Choate said following the loss. “Great venue, tough place to play and we just didn’t respond. We just didn’t have our kids in the right place mentally to go out and compete against a very good team.”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Christion looked as sharp as one would expect from a four-year starter out of the gates, throwing three touchdown strikes to Johnson before the second quarter was half way through. Meanwhile, Montana State’s quarterback play sputtered with redshirt freshman Tucker Rovig making his first career start.
In the 2018 season opener, running back turned linebacker turned quarterback Troy Andersen did not complete a first half pass against Western Illinois. After halftime, he completed 12 passes and rushed for nearly 100 of his 145 yards, scoring two rushing touchdowns to guide MSU to a 26-23 victory.
Andersen broke his hand during the game. He could be seen before the game with a cast and heavy wrap on his left (non-throwing) hand. Choate said MSU planned on using Andersen for “12 to 15 plays” in spot situations. Andersen had a sack to end the first half. He had two carries for three yards overall.
Rovig, a 6-foot-5 former 3-star recruit from Boise, and the Bobcat offense managed just 44 total yards and one first down before halftime. SDSU entered the break with a 24-0 lead.
“I really thought Tucker did some nice things, even in the first half,” Choate said. “As I told the young men at halftime, bottom line is somebody else has to step up and make plays too. There were balls out there to be caught, plays there to be made. Between penalties and lack of execution, I just felt like we were very disjointed on offense for the entire first half.”
After intermission, MSU threw the ball down the field more often.
Willie Patterson broke off his defender on a post route, then hauled in a Rovig pass for a 42-yard gain on MSU’s first offensive possession of the second half. Two plays later, junior Kevin Kassis snared a lofted Rovig pass for a 33-yard gain to the SDSU 2-yard line. Redshirt freshman Maleek Barkley used a sweet hesitation move to score a touchdown, the first of the Arkansas transfer’s career. That broke MSU’s shutout and cut the lead to 31-8.
On the next Jackrabbits’ possession, Christion hit Adam Anderson for a 51-yard gain to the MSU 2 to set up Mikey Daniels’ two-yard TD run.
MSU again answered as Kassis broke off All-Missouri Valley cornerback Jordan Brown on a hitch and go route. The captain hauled in a slightly underthrown Rovig pass for a 40-yard gain up the Bobcat sideline. Rovig, who finished 13-of-25 for 164 yards, found senior tight end Connor Sullivan for a 19-yard gain then threw a three-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Lance McCutcheon. The first scoring pass of Rovig’s career came on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t able to get any momentum going in the first half, very disjointed,” Choate said. “Defense kind of hung in there, gave us a chance to stick around. In the second half, those guys were gassed. When the offense finally got some things going, we weren’t able to capitalize on the other end.”
Montana State ran just seven plays the rest of the game. Rovig’s next pass was intercepted by Joshua Manchigiah, the second pick of the day for the Bobcat quarterback. MSU went 3-and-out on its last two possessions.
“It was going to take a very clean game for us to have a chance to win this game given some of the circumstances,” Choate said. “That was probably the most disappointing thing. We played so clean in Game 1 and gave ourselves opportunities to win that game. Here, it was almost the exact opposite.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.