Montana State coach expecting true test from Fighting Hawks
GRAND FORKS--With a hodgepodge nonconference schedule featuring Division II Western Oregon, FCS Bryant and FBS Idaho, Montana State first-year coach Jeff Choate is looking at his Big Sky Conference opener against the University of North Dakota at...
GRAND FORKS-With a hodgepodge nonconference schedule featuring Division II Western Oregon, FCS Bryant and FBS Idaho, Montana State first-year coach Jeff Choate is looking at his Big Sky Conference opener against the University of North Dakota at 3 p.m. Saturday as a litmus test of the 2016 season.
"The true test is this week," Choate said. "This is a team that probably should have been in the playoffs a year ago."
The Bobcats, 2-1, are trying to overhaul their identity under Choate, who took over in the offseason for Rob Ash.
Montana State struggled defensively a year ago, evident in UND's 44-38 home win over Montana State last Halloween.
Against MSU, UND All-American running back John Santiago rushed 30 times for a career-high 230 yards and three touchdowns. Brady Oliveira added 167 rushing yards on 12 carries. In total, UND ran for a season-high 426 yards.
The defensive tide may be turning in Bozeman, though. Through three weeks, Montana State leads the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense at 14.7 points per game. MSU's defense is led by first-year coordinator Ty Gregorak, who previously coached at Montana.
The Bobcats lead the Big Sky with seven interceptions, including three by John Walker, a transfer from Colorado who briefly was committed to UND in the offseason.
Choate said he watched UND's game against Montana State from a year ago and expects a similar team.
"I don't see them being a lot different," Choate said. "I think they built a program the right way. They recruit to an identity. I don't think they're going to be pulling a rabbit out of a hat when they come to Bozeman. They just play tough, sound football."
Choate took note of UND's tight losses, a 13-9 setback in Week 1 against Stony Brook and a 27-26 loss at Bowling Green.
"They've scored 82 and opponents have scored 84," Choate said. "They're a coin flip away from being a 3-0 outfit. Coach Schweigert has done a tremendous job. I think they're well-conditioned and well-disciplined."
Montana State's starting quarterback in 2015, Dakota Prukop, transferred to Oregon. The Bobcats now implement a two-quarterback attack.
Tyler Bruggman, a junior, is MSU's pocket passer. He spent the 2014 season at Louisville and the 2013 season at Washington State. This year, he's averaging 176 passing yards per game and has thrown six touchdowns.
Freshman Chris Murray is MSU's running quarterback. He's 4-for-7 for 54 yards through the air and ran 18 times for 78 yards.
MSU, which will be playing its homecoming game against the Fighting Hawks, expects running backs Gunnar Brekke and Chad Newell-who have both missed games this year with illness and injury-to be ready to go for the league opener.