Montana State faces Vandals Saturday in the Kibbie Dome, where MSU hasn’t won since 1990
BOZEMAN, Montana – At this point it almost goes without being said.
“Another challenging opponent on the road, another top 10 team on the road,” said Montana State (6-1 overall, 3-1 Big Sky) football coach Brent Vigen in summing up his team’s next hurdle. “The one that’s in front of us is Idaho. They’ve obviously had a lot of success these last two years under Coach (Jason) Eck. They’re very prolific on offense and have played some really good defense at the same time.”
The Vandals (5-2, 3-1) host MSU at 2 pm Saturday afternoon in MSU’s fourth road showdown of the season against a team ranked in the top 10. Idaho hammered FBS entry Nevada 33-6 early in the season and captured a 36-27 win over Sacramento State, but dropped a 23-21heart-stopping home decision to Montana last time out. UI was open last weekend.
Idaho’s explosive offense puts up flashy numbers. The Vandals enter this weekend’s game 13th in the FCS in total offense, 20th in scoring offense, and 10th in first downs gained. “They definitely have some weapons on the offensive side that catch your eye,” Vigen said, and that begins with quarterback Gevani McCoy. Last year’s Jerry Rice Award winner as the top FCS freshman, McCoy leads the Big Sky in passing yards and is second in passing efficiency. Receiver Hayden Hatten is third in the league in catches and receiving yards per game, while Anthony Woods leads the Big Sky in total touchdowns.
The Bobcat defense counters with a league-best passing efficiency defense. Cornerback Jon Johnson and safety Rylan Ortt have each turned interceptions into touchdowns while Brody Grebe is third in the Big Sky in sacks.
The Vandals staunch defense stands second in the Big Sky in yards allowed and third in points allowed. Keyshawn James-Newby paces the team with six tackles-for-loss, including five sacks, with two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. Marcus Harris leads the team with six pass breakups and has one of the team’s four interceptions.
Montana State’s offense enters the weekend atop the FCS in scoring offense and rushing offense, and is second in yards per game. Quarterbacks Tommy Mellott and Sean Chambers have combined to score 14 touchdowns and throw for nine this season. Running backs Jared White and Julius Davis power the team’s run game, while deep threat Ty McCullouch adds a dimension to the team’s passing attack, supplementing the work of receiver Clevan Thoms Jr. and tight ends Treyton Pickering and Derryk Snell.
The Cats earned a 42-30 win at third-ranked Sacramento State last weekend, rolling up 448 yards and turning two interceptions into touchdowns (one on Jon Johnson’s pick-six). Quarterback Tommy Mellott scored two touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards, while Juluis Davis gained 110 yards on the ground.
“It didn’t come easy,” Vigen said. “We made a collection of plays through that game, and they did, as well. We made a collection of mistakes, and they probably did as well. What was rewarding for our coaching staff is to look at it and think physically we had the better side of that coin as far as how it played out in the fourth quarter. That’s a tribute to not just how we played on Saturday but the work our guys do in the off-season, the work with Coach (Sean) Herrin in the spring and the summer, and the work they do in-season.”
Teams across the nation and in all team sports have espoused a ‘next man up’ mentality, but the Bobcats put that into play last Saturday. With nickel Level Price Jr. and tight end Derryk Snell each lost in the hours before kickoff, Ryan Lonergan took over for Snell and Miles Jackson moved inside from his cornerback position to the nickel. “We had a couple guys step into positions they hadn’t been in, namely Ryan Lonergan and Miles Jackson, and I was pleased with how they performed in a new role,” Vigen said. “That’s what this team needs, guys to step in there when the lights are shining. They did a good job of that.”
The Cats play their first game indoors this season on Saturday, and their first Big Sky game at Idaho since 1994. The Bobcats own a pair of close wins in this series since UI returned to the Big Sky (20-13 in 2021, 24-23 in 2018), but the Vandals have won four straight home games against the Cats. That includes a 20-17 victory in the Kibbie Dome in the 2016 opener, when Idaho played as an FBS school. Montana State’s last win in Moscow was a 27-24 decision in the 1990 season opener.
Kickoff is 2 pm MT on Saturday, and the game airs on CBS stations around Montana and streams on ESPN+. Keaton Gillogly, RJ Fitzgerald and Dan Davies call the action on the Bobcat Radio Network.