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Offense flails, Weber State football loses 13-7 to Montana State

By Brett Hein - | Oct 15, 2021

Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive linemen George Tarlas (44) and Jared Schiess (91) tackle Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse (22) during a game Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

OGDEN — Montana State picked up only three first downs in the second half Friday at Stewart Stadium, but all three were monumental.

The first came after a fumble from Weber State quarterback Bronson Barron gave MSU the ball at midfield with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, and set up a 46-yard field goal from Blake Glessner to put the visiting Bobcats up 10-7.

The second came just minutes later after Dontae McMillan fumbled the ball away for the second time in two WSU offensive plays. Two Isaiah Ifanse rushes netted 13 yards and a first down, setting up Glessner for a 32-yard field goal and a 13-7 MSU lead.

The third came with 1:23 remaining in the game after Weber punted the ball away with two timeouts left, and quarterback Matt McKay fought for 14 yards and a first down to ice the game.

Despite outgaining MSU and holding the high-powered Bobcats to 222 yards, Weber State suffered its fourth consecutive home loss in a 13-7 decision.

Freddie Lacey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State linebacker Sherwin Lavaka, right, hits Montana State quarterback Matt McKay (1) as McKay throws a pass Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

Weber’s offense outgained MSU 269-222 but floundered after a statement drive to open the game.

“Something’s got to change. This isn’t us, we know this isn’t us. We’ve just got to look inward and figure out what needs to be fixed,” WSU senior linebacker Conner Mortensen said.

“Just look inside and see what we can do, each and every player on the roster,” added the freshman Barron. “We need to make changes, and it will happen.”

At 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the Big Sky, WSU now faces the prospect of needing to win out over its final five games to make the playoffs. For now, the unprecedented five-year streak of making the playoffs is not broken, but things very likely broken include four straight Big Sky championships and a runaway school record of 52 consecutive weeks ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25.

Weber State took the ball to open the game at its own 3-yard line after an odd kickoff that saw the ball bounce off Rashid Shaheed and out of bounds.

Freddie Lacey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State defensive linemen Mitchel Maxfield (39) and Jared Schiess, left, corral Montana State running back Isaiah Ifanse center, during a game Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Stewart Stadium in Ogden.

What happened over the next nine plays made No. 9 Montana State (6-1, 4-0), for the moment, look like pretenders who feasted to a 5-1 record against a soft schedule.

The opening play was an inside route Shaheed took upfield for 17 yards. Ty MacPherson caught consecutive balls of 13 yards. Jon Christensen took a check-down route at the sideline upfield for 28 yards.

Then, in the debut of a new formation that saw two tight ends and Kris Jackson at fullback, Josh Davis took consecutive rushes of 10 and 9 yards to the left side and punched in a touchdown.

Nine plays, 97 yards, 4:22 off the clock, and No. 19 Weber State led 7-0.

But after one possession of 97 yards, the next 12 possessions netted a total of only 172 yards, or 14 yards per possession.

“This obviously comes down to not being as good as we need to be offensively,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “Offense looked like a big-time group the first drive … and then nothing after that.”

Montana State, who ended up looking very much like a top-10 team, answered on its second possession of the game thanks to a pair of big, non-Ifanse runs: Elijah Elliott ran downhill for a 26-yard gainer up the middle, and backup QB Tommy Mellott took a run 20 yards to the Weber 8, setting up an eventual McKay 1-yard scoring sneak on fourth down to tie it 7-7.

With 1:53 left in the first quarter, all of the game’s touchdowns had been scored and the ball would only enter the red zone one more time after WSU’s second fumble.

For a time in the second half, the two teams traded seven consecutive three-and-outs as both defenses stood on their heads and it felt like the game was on a loop: Weber would punt near the MSU 10, and Montana State would punt it back somewhere near midfield.

“I thought the defense played absolutely phenomenal. They gave up the one drive but to hold that team to 222 yards, and hold that quarterback to 76 yards passing — very, very good. I’m very proud of the defense,” Hill said.

Weber had four possessions in the game start between its own 45 and exactly midfield, and got zero points out of them.

WSU’s last two possessions of the first half were undone by what was the first of five consecutive negative plays on first down:

— With about 7 minutes left in the half, a first down at the MSU 41 resulted in a loss of 2 yards when a handoff exchange was fumbled and Barron fell on it

— Starting a possession at the 50 with 3:43 left in the first half, Davis took a first-and-10 rush and was dropped for a loss of 2

— Weber’s first offensive play of the second half was a loss of 5 after Barron was taken down following what looked like another mishandled handoff attempt

— Three plays later on that drive, WSU had a first down thanks to a 14-yard Davis run but Barron was sacked for a loss of 12 yards

— And, finally, following the Barron fumble that led to MSU’s first field goal, McMillan fumbled after a 3-yard gain on WSU’s next offensive play

After Montana State took a 13-7 lead, offensive success was rare for either team.

Barron hit Randal Grimes for a 12-yard completion on a slant at the end of the third quarter, and connected with MacPherson for a 32-yard gainer across the middle that MacPherson turned upfield to the MSU 33.

MacPherson’s 32-yarder came with about 9 minutes left. Two plays later, Davis was helped off the field and put no pressure on his left leg after a rush for no gain, and WSU turned it over on downs after Barron fought out of a sack just to throw a prayer incomplete downfield.

WSU also had a first down on a fourth-and-2 pass to Justin Malone near the MSU 35 with 3:55 left, but Malone dropped it.

Perhaps Weber’s best would-be chance to score came with 10 minutes left when safety Braxton Gunther dropped a McKay pass thrown right to him at the MSU 25. A 25-yard field may have been enough for WSU to find the end zone one more time.

Barron took four sacks on the night but found himself with little time to throw on several other occasions, finishing 16 of 29 for 215 yards in his return from a knee injury suffered more than one month ago. Hill noted Shaheed was open for two sure touchdown receptions during the game but Barron did not have time to locate him or throw it.

Much of that pressure came against a standard four-man rush from Montana State’s defensive line.

“
In a way, I think we’re making offensive football too hard. Block the guy you’re supposed to block, throw the ball to the guy you’re supposed to throw it to, and — there were things in the run game, schematically, all night that needed to be better gains,” Hill said. “I don’t want to take away from what Montana State did because I thought they played very, very, very well. They didn’t make the mistake that hurt them. But there’s things there that we’ve got to execute better and we’re not.”

Hill again repeated his declaration that Shaheed should touch the ball more.

“I’ve said it over and over again, we’re not doing it. We’ve got to get him the ball more,” he said.

Shaheed had nine targets, catching four passes for 34 yards. He was the target of two early mistimed misfires from Barron, and for two low-probability fade routes, including one that was thrown to the goal line on fourth-and-2 from the MSU 30 in the second quarter.

Earlier this week, Hill noted he liked the schemes his coordinators were planning and thought it bore out, including the Jackson-at-fullback I-formation looks that initially went for big gainers.

“Montana State kind of lined up like we thought they would. There were some things we were doing in that package that we really liked, and that’s what I’m saying, we’re getting 3, 4 yards per carry and those needs to be gashes — 10, 12 yards per carry,” Hill said. “There’s some things that are just not creasing like we’re expecting them to crease right now.

“A lot of that’s just a little bit better execution, and some of it’s we’ve got to call it at the right times. You call the right plays at the right times against certain defenses and we’ve got to be better at that.”

Davis finished with 13 carries for 53 yards. McMillan had three carries for 15 yards, and Dave Jones ran five times for 13 yards. MacPherson totaled five catches for 95 yards and Hayden Meacham caught two balls for 24 yards.

Mitchel Maxfield led WSU’s stout defensive effort with eight tackles, combining with Doug Schiess for a sack. George Tarlas tallied a sack and seven tackles, and Eddie Heckard had seven tackles.

For Montana State, McKay threw 12 of 19 for just 76 yards after entering the game averaging 224 passing yards per contest. Ifanse, who averaged 110 rushing yards per game, totaled 81 yards on 25 carries.

Weber State again lost the turnover battle, giving up the two fumbles and creating no turnovers defensively.

“Overall, as a football team, you can’t play James Madison, UC Davis and now Montana State minus-7 in the turnover margin and think that’s going to work. You can’t,” Hill said. “First and foremost, we’ve got to figure that out.”

Needing five straight wins, Weber State’s playoff season starts now and with no forgiveness in a trip to No. 2 Eastern Washington at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.

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