Weber State football welcomes one more home test in Montana State
For the fourth straight home game, Weber State football will host a ranked team inside Stewart Stadium when the No. 19 Wildcats (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky) kick off against the No. 9 Montana State Bobcats (5-1, 3-0) at 8 p.m. Friday.
Given the remaining schedule, Friday’s game is perhaps not technically an absolute must-win, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of it to Weber State’s playoff arithmetic.
“I think coach (Jay) Hill put it in the best words, of just getting back to ourselves. We made some mistakes in previous games … where we shouldn’t have,” offensive lineman Noah Atagi said. “That Cal Poly game just brought us back to our mojo of what we do as a Weber State football team.
“Seeing what we can do against a ranked opponent on Friday night, I think we’re all ready for the challenge. It’s something we’ve been waiting for for a week now and we’re just ready to let loose.”
Hill added: “Bottom line, this is a real team coming in here. We’ve got to play great. It’s no different than we expect to have to play when we’re playing the upper echelon of this conference. You have to play great to win.”
Aside from turnover margin, where MSU is plus-10 and WSU minus-4 this season, plenty of eyes will be on quarterbacks and running backs.
For the home team, second-season freshman Bronson Barron returns to start under center after missing a bit more than three games due to an MCL knee injury suffered early in the second half on Sept. 11 at Dixie State.
“I expect him to play great,” Hill said. “When you come back from an injury like that, you’ve got to get your mind back right that the injury isn’t affecting you, timing with wideouts and all that stuff. I would say he’s on track for where we need him to be.”
To this point in 20 quarters of football, Barron has played roughly six quarters, junior Randall Johnson about four, sophomore Kylan Weisser nine, and freshman Creyton Cooper one.
“I think the biggest thing is just the change in voice that’s behind us, so we know the cadence and just their timing of everything,” Atagi said of the carousel’s effects on the offensive line. “It’s just the recognition of the voice. As an O-line, we feel confident because we’re just confident in ourselves and what we’re doing in the play. So it’s mostly us just building up whoever’s behind us.”
Weisser’s broken fibula two weeks ago means Johnson is back to No. 2 duties as Barron returns to action.
For Montana State, junior and NC State transfer Matt McKay seems to have unlocked a diversity of offensive success for new head coach Brent Vigen.
McKay throws for 224 yards per game at 68% completion with a 12-to-1 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. He’s gained about 200 yards rushing on run plays (removing sacks from the equation), and joins with Isaiah Ifanse (110 rushing yards per game) and receiver Lance McCutcheon (96 receiving yards per game, 19 per reception) in a three-leader attack.
“They do a lot of the RPO stuff and I think he’s made really good decisions so far this year. He throws it accurately,” Hill said. “And they have a good, solid run game that makes you have to load the box so the looks out on the perimeter are a little easier, I believe, because teams have to load the box to take away Ifanse. (McKay) has done a good job.”
Montana State’s rushing attempts overwhelmingly go to Ifanse (108 carries) or McKay (42), with Elijah Elliott chipping in 40 yards per game on 39 total carries. They combine to account for 76% of MSU’s rushing attemtps.
It’s more varied for Weber. With the skill of Dontae McMillan, coaches have been more cautious with Josh Davis when he gets banged up, which has resulted in him sitting out about seven of the season’s 20 quarters to this point.
Davis still leads the team in attempts (49) with McMillan (48) leading the team in efficiency at 6 yards per carry. QB runs have been more pronounced under offensive coordinator Matt Hammer, with Weisser (22 attempts), Johnson (19) and Barron (16) accounting for more carries than Kris Jackson (15) and Damon Bankston (11).
Hill said offensive improvement will come as the Wildcats increase their points per drive, which means finishing yard-producing drives that have gone empty too often this season.
“I want to see us run it effectively. I want to see us throw the ball with a high completion percentage and also yards per attempt has got to be a little bit better than what it’s been this year,” Hill said. “I like the game plan the coaches have come up with right now.”
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Jeff Sagarin, longtime college football computer ratings guru, ranks all of FBS and FCS together. His system ranks Weber State 128th nationally and Montana State 114th.
Using his prediction formula and accounting for home-field advantage, Montana State is favored by 0.5 points — essentially a pick ’em.
An early cold spell hit at the same time ESPN decided to move the game to a Friday night, which will make for a chilly time at Stewart Stadium. The 8 p.m. kickoff is about 75 minutes after sunset and the forecast temperature is 46 degrees, dipping to around 42 by game’s end.
TV & RADIO
ESPN chose this game as one of the two Big Sky Conference matchups this season to air on cable television instead of on ESPN+ streaming. This game will be broadcast on ESPNU with Mark Neely and Tom Ramsey on the call.
For online streamers, the game will only be available through the ESPN app or watchespn.com for those who have ESPNU as part of their cable or satellite subscription; it will not be available through an ESPN+ subscription.
For the WSU radio call, Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal will call the game on 103.1 FM and 1031thewave.com.