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Weber State football will try to do what nobody has: stop Montana State’s run game

By Brett Hein - Standard-Examiner | Dec 1, 2022

Robert Casey, Weber State Athletics

Weber State football players take the field for a game against Montana State on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, at Bobcat Stadium in Bozeman, Mont.

It’s clear what’s on the minds of Weber State coaches and players heading into their rematch with Montana State, a second-round playoff matchup scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.

“Our main thing is just stopping the run and things will be pretty good for us,” WSU linebacker Winston Reid said.

Easier said than done.

While quarterback Tommy Mellott’s 273 yards on 32 carries wasn’t exactly normal in Montana State’s 43-38 win over Weber State in October, the general success of the run game (the Bobcats totaled 347 rushing yards) definitely is.

“Tommy Mellott got out on the edges too many times. He had three or four real big runs that were just devastating to what we were trying to do,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “We were not very assignment-sound in some of the things we were doing with the secondary and how we were managing him.”

Montana State averages 326 rushing yards per game this season. That’s second-best nationally, behind only an option-first Davidson team (332 per game) that attempted 11 more rushes per game than MSU did.

“We haven’t had very many guys run for the number of yards Tommy Mellott did against us in that first game, very few people have done that in my career,” Hill said. “So kudos to them, they came up with some really good schemes and Tommy had a phenomenal game, let’s be real. In those situations, in that circumstance, that guy played outstanding.”

MSU averages 6.6 yards per carry as a team and has six regular rushers over 6 yards per carry individually.

“They do a good job of finding mismatches in the run game. They do a great job of misdirection stuff, trying to get eyes going one way but the direction of the play going the other,” Hill said. “You can’t just be out there floating and thinking you’re going to run to the football and make a play. You’ve got to be very assignment-sound, you’ve got to be technically sound.”

Some of that creativity has included using both Mellott and Sean Chambers (708 yards, 17 touchdowns, 6.6 ypc) at quarterback, and sometimes putting them on the field at the same time. WSU expected Chambers to start at QB in its game in October with Mellott returning from injury; Mellott played from start to finish.

Some of it has also included putting wide receiver Marqui Johnson in the backfield to take handoffs late in the season. All he’s done is total 403 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on just 30 attempts (13.4 per carry).

That’s particularly impressive considering the Bobcats’ ranks of running backs were decimated from the start, and that roster of six rushers at 6 or more yards per carry does not include All-American-type talent Isaiah Ifanse. Ifanse, who is 200 yards from becoming Montana State’s all-time leading rusher, has not played this season due to injury.

But MSU’s first-round bye brings good news to his squad: a now-healthy Ifanse will play starting this week against Weber. He can play through the title game, should MSU reach it, redshirt the season and return next year due to the NCAA stipulation that allows football players to appear in up to four games and still redshirt.

As if the Bobcats’ run game could get any tougher.

Reid and Hill both bemoaned poor technique and tackling as factors that helped MSU find success in the first matchup: bad angles, missing assignments and more.

But only one team has really slowed down the attack, that being Oregon State. FCS teams have been left chasing the backs of jerseys — Montana’s good defense, reputationally at least, got diced up for 439 ground yards two weeks ago, for example.

Reid says being able to see more film through the rest of the season has helped, as did getting beat up in October.

“The last time we played these guys, we only had a (middle linebacker) inside. They wanted to spread us out and have the quarterback just run,” Reid said. “We’ve just got to stop the run, that’s all there is to this game.”

Stopping the unstoppable seems a tall task, but one Weber State’s defense has risen to in occasions past.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we need to do our job better than we did last time,” Hill said.


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