Montana State head football coach Jeff Choate didn't equivocate when talking about Weber State's defense earlier this week.
“I think they have an elite defense right now,” Choate said, as reported by 406mtsports.com. “Probably look more like a Mountain West defense than they do a Big Sky defense. They are big, they have great team speed, extremely athletic and a lot of experience. They’ve been dominant. Absolutely dominant.”
Weber State's defensive exploits are now well-documented. The Wildcats lead the country in turnovers forced overall and per game, and lead the Big Sky in fewest points and yards allowed per game.
But the Bobcats (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) present a whole new challenge to the No. 7 Wildcats (4-2, 2-1), largely in part to a cascade of quarterback issues.
Incumbent, two-year junior starter Chris Murray left the picture in July because of academic issues. Redshirt freshman Tucker Rovig played four games, throwing 42 of 68 for 584 yards and four touchdowns, but is now out for the season with a leg injury.
That brings the Bobcats to Troy Andersen, who signed to Montana State as a linebacker but converted to running back last season and rushed for 515 yards.
Now, Andersen leads a run-heavy attack from the signal-caller spot. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore has already eclipsed last year's rushing total (517 yards) by averaging 7.0 yards per carry, 103.4 rushing yards per game and punching in seven touchdowns.
"He’s fast and he’s big. I don’t even know who to compare him to," WSU head coach Jay Hill said. "He poses a lot of problems because he throws it well. They want to run him first … but he throws it well enough to make you respect it. He’s a great runner."
In last week's 24-23 win over Idaho, Andersen racked up 159 yards on the ground, including two of his team's three touchdowns — scampers of 35 and 60 yards.
Passing the ball, he was 11 of 21 for 95 yards in that game.
Montana State's best shot to spring an upset: keep taking care of the ball, despite Weber State's ballyhooed ballhawks. The Bobcats have lost only six turnovers — one fumble, five interceptions — in six contests this season.
Other than using what has become a survive-and-adapt offensive scheme, MSU much resembles Weber State in its commitment to grinding up opponents.
"Coach Choate has done an unbelievable job up there, in my opinion, of getting that toughness and physicality into that program," Hill said. "Obviously, we want to break away and have a big game and play great in all three phases, but we know it’s going to be a physical game."
No. 7 WSU hosts the Bobcats (4-2, 2-1) at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20. The game will air exclusively on AT&T Sports Network (in Utah) and ROOT Sports Northwest. It will not be streamed online. Steve Klauke and Jerry Graybeal have the radio call on 1430 AM KLO.
Montana State leads the all-time series 30-22-1 with a 15-12 advantage in Ogden. Hill is 2-1 against the Bobcats, including consecutive wins of 45-27 and 25-17.
The two schools are charter members of the Big Sky and have played each other in all but two seasons since 1963 (in 2012 and 2015).
ODDS & PREDICTIONS
Betting service 5Dimes has Weber State as a 13-point favorite in this game. Combining that with the over/under of 42, that line expects a 27-14 score.
Jeff Sagarin maintains a computer prediction and rating model for college football (once used in the BCS formula) that includes both FBS and FCS teams. Ratings can be used to mathematically provide a prediction for the game.
Weber State rates at No. 111 (out of 255 Division-I teams) and Montana State is No. 160. Using the associated ratings and values for home-field advantage, Sagarin’s formula favors WSU by 13 points.