Montana State rushes for 332 yards, throttles UND
GRAND FORKS -- Quarterback DeNarius McGhee -- the heart of the Montana State football program -- picked up his teammates Saturday, recovering perhaps weeks earlier than expected after suffering a separated throwing shoulder earlier this month at SMU.
As a result, UND now will be forced to pick up the pieces of what could be a shattered football season after McGhee and the Bobcats routed UND 63-20 in the Big Sky Conference opener before 8,899 fans at the Alerus Center.
It was one of the worst home losses in UND history, a defeat that left North Dakota searching for an explanation of any kind after the game.
"This is not acceptable," UND running back Jake Miller said. "This is not us. We have to figure something out."
UND dropped its third straight home game -- something that hasn't happened since 1986. And the 63 points scored by Montana State were the most allowed at home by UND since that same season when Texas A&I-Kingsville blasted North Dakota 67-44 at Memorial Stadium.
"Giving speeches won't make us play any better; throwing chairs and screaming won't makes us play any better," said UND coach Chris Mussman. "It comes from within. How much does football mean to you? That's what everyone in our locker room has to answer."
It means a lot to McGhee, who was a surprise starter. In fact, the decision to start McGhee wasn't made until the Bobcats went through their walk-through practice at the Alerus on Friday night.
"We decided at 8 Friday night to start him," said Montana State coach Rob Ash. "(The doctors) never said it was an issue of how many days he'd be out. It was more a matter of how he felt.
"You can't ignore the fact that he makes a difference."
McGhee, the preseason Big Sky player of the year, played only two quarters. He didn't need to see the field in the second half after Montana State was up 42-7 at the break. In his two quarters, he completed 13-of-18 passes for 194 yards. He engineered five first-half scoring drives and came up with big completions the few times the Bobcats needed them.
Montana State also ran at will against UND. Cody Kirk rushed for 104 yards and five touchdowns -- all in the first half. And he wasn't the team's leading rusher; that distinction belonged to Shawn Johnson who had 134 of the Bobcats' 315 rushing yards. In all, Montana State finished with 586 yards -- an average of 7.2 yards per play.
McGhee's presence was huge for the Bobcats, who came in at 2-2 but still has major aspirations of winning a fourth-straight Big Sky title.
"I had a feeling he was going to play," Mussman said.
McGhee's teammates also were glad to see No. 9 back under center.
"He's a great leader; he brings so much to the game," said Kirk. "It's hard to match."
The accolades weren't saved only for the Bobcats' offense.
Montana State shut down UND's passing game and the team's top receiver -- all-American Greg Hardin. The league's leading receiver, who averaged 138 yards per game prior to Saturday, was held to zero catches.
"To me, that's the most remarkable thing that happened today," said Ash. "(Hardin) is a fabulous player; one of the best in the conference."
UND was held to 250 total yards, only 85 through the air.
Routs rarely have a turning point. If there was one for UND, it came in the second quarter. Miller's 14-yard scoring run cut the Bobcats' lead to 14-7. The crowd finally had a reason to take notice.
But on Montana State's ensuing drive, the Bobcats drove 75 yards in seven plays -- going up 21-7 on Kirk's 19-yard TD run with 8:08 left in the second quarter. The big play of the drive was McGhee's 16-yard pass to Kirk on third-and-9.
"That's been our problem all season," said UND linebacker Garrison Goodman. "The offense and defense aren't complementing each other."
And the game also had one weird moment. On a UND kickoff return, Jameer Jackson was bulling his way forward near midfield when -- during a scrum -- he was stripped of the ball. James Nelson came out of the pile with the ball and run 45 yards for a TD and 42-7 lead.
It was the type of day for UND.
"This definitely hurts," said Miller.
MSU 14 28 14 7 -- 63
UND 0 7 7 6 -- 20
MSU-Cody Kirk 7 run (Rory Perez kick), 10:30
MSU-Kirk 1 run (Perez kick), 8:10
UND-Jake Miller 14 run (Zeb Miller kick), 10:50
MSU-Kirk 19 run (Perez kick), 8:08
MSU-Kirk 5 run (Perez kick), 3:18
MSU-Kirk 25 run (Perez kick), 1:11
MSU-James Nelson 45 fumble recovery (Perez kick), :53
MSU-Jake Bleskin 8 pass to Chad Newell (Perez kick), 10:45
UND-Joe Mollberg 4 pass to Jameer Jackson (Perez kick), 5:43
MSU-Bleskin 23 pass to Tanner Bleskin (Perez kick), :25
UND-Alex Hickel 13 fumble recovery (kick failed), 10:52
MSU-Brandon Davis 11 run (Perez kick), 3:55
TEAM STATISTICS MSU UND
First downs 36 16
Rushes-yards 52-332 35-165
Passing yards 271 85
Comp.-Att.-Int. 22-29-0 8-21-2
Total yards 603 250
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-2
Penalties-yards 11-90 5-42
Punts-Avg. 2-37 5-46.4
RUSHING: MSU, Shawn Johnson 13-134, Cody Kirk 12-104, Brandon Davis 7-51, Gunnar Brekke 8-32, Chad Newell 4-22, DeNarius McGhee 4-(minus 31). UND, Jake Miller 17-93, Jameer Jackson 7-43, Jer Garman 6-32, Joe Mollberg 1-8, Ryan Bartels 4-(minus 11).
PASSING: MSU, McGhee 13-18-0, 194; Jake Bleskin 9-11-0 77. UND, Ryan Bartels 6-13-1, 62; Joe Mollberg 2-8-1, 23.
RECEIVING: MSU, Tanner Bleskin 6-147, Jon Ellis 6-29, David Dash 3-34, Chad Newell 2-19, Shawn Johnson 2-8, Cody Kirk 1-16, Manny Kalfell 1-15, Shadeed Crockett 1-3. UND, Blair Townsend 4-40, Kenny Golladay 2-36, Jackson 2-9.