Week 9 Preview – #4 Montana State Bobcats

The UND Football team heads out to Bozeman, Montana this week to take on the #4 ranked Montana State Bobcats.  Gametime is set for 3:05pm CT.  UND (4-4) is coming off an emotional 40-34 win over the Montana Grizzlies.  MSU (6-1) is coming off a bye week.  The week prior they lost to #1 Eastern Washington 27-24.  The game will only be available for viewing via Big Sky TV.

Head Coach Rob Ash has done a remarkable job in turning the Cats into a national contender on a regular basis.  When he arrived they were reeling from multiple off the field incidents that tarnished the programs reputation.  The last two seasons they have made the FCS playoffs with records of 9-3 and 10-3, respectively.  They haven’t taken the title of best FCS program in the Treasure State from the Griz quite yet, but they are getting closer with every season.

UND Defense vs. MSU Offense

The Bobcats are going to show UND fans an explosive offense on Saturday – these guys can flat out score points.  On the year they are averaging 35 pts/game and 424 yds of total offense.  They are roughly 70/30 pass to run in how they gain their yardage.  The Cats run a version of the spread, utilizing the read-option out of the shotgun and also out of the pistol formation.  They appear to have multiple sets with at least 3 receivers in the game most of the time.  Their offensive appears to be similar to Montana’s in look but they are much, much more explosive than the Griz.  The UND defense will have their hands full trying to contain all the different looks that the Bobcats are going to throw at them on Saturday.

The offense is led by one of the top QB’s in all of FCS, Denarius McGhee.  McGhee is completing 68% of his passes on the season and has thrown for 269 yds/game and 14 TD’s vs. 8 Ints.  He has also ran for 157 yds and 4 TD’s.  He has an unbelievably strong arm and can pretty much make any throw but is more than willing to tuck it and run if the opportunity presents itself.  He is the straw that stirs the drink for the Cats and UND will need to have a plan for how to deal with him.

Word came out earlier this week that RB Cody Kirk, who had 1,351 yds and 14 TD’s in 2011, will be back in the lineup for this game after missing time due to an injury.  Kirk has 349 yds and 6 TD’s on the 2012 campaign.  RB Orenzo Davis is the other main back for the Cats with 330 yds and 4 TD’s.

The main receiving threat and one of the best WR’s in the Big Sky is Tanner Bleskin, who has gone for 47 catches, 607 yds and 3 TD’s on the season.  Bleskin, at 6’3″, will present a physical mismatch for most of UND’s defensive backs.  WR Jon Ellis is also a favorite target of McGhee with 32 catches for 350 yds and 4 TD’s.

Defensive Keys for UND:

  1. Defensive line play must play at the same level or higher as last week.  Ross Brenneman is set to return although we don’t know at what health level he is at.  They must hold the line vs. the decent Bobcat OL and allow the linebackers to fill the holes .
  2. Tackle.  Tackle.  Tackle.  MSU spreads you out and tries to hit any holes that may open up so there will be many times where it’s one-on-one with the running back.  UND’s tackling got slightly better in the past week and must continue to improve.
  3. Change up the looks that they give McGhee.  He can pick you apart if you give him time but he will take off if pressured.  His receivers are pretty good and will beat the UND DB’s if left alone consistently.  UND must try and confuse McGhee to make him think and thus slow down the entire offensive flow.

UND Offense vs MSU Defense

After coming off the Big Sky record-setting passing day against Montana, it would be easy to assume that the UND offense has found its way and identity for the rest of the season.  Some might say that UND should attack their opponents through the air and throw it 50-60 times each and every game and live with the results because it gives them the best chance to win.  Lee Corso might say “Not so fast, my friend”.

On the other hand, matchups can and will dictate the offensive gameplan from week to week.  Every team has to adapt and evolve to a variety of variables throughout any given season on a weekly basis.  So UND may look at the Bobcat defense this week and think they have to establish a running game.  After looking at MSU, you could argue either way and regardless of how UND’s gameplan plays out on Saturday, we won’t be surprised.

This is a matchup of the Big Sky’s top ranked UND offense (9th nationally) vs. the top ranked defense.  The Bobcat defense is only allowing 300 yards per game, with 230 of that coming through the air, and are averaging giving up about 24 pts/game.  Montana State brings a 4-3 base look on defense and will primarily play some halves, quarters and man from 2-high looks.  The front 7 for the Bobcats are fast and athletic and typically will get to the QB each game as shown with their 21 sacks.  They are led by preseason All-American and Big Sky All-Conference senior linebacker Jody Owens (#23).

So we know UND will throw the ball a lot.  The only question now is what type of balance will they have, if any.  Do they come out and chuck it around all game, or do they they have a 75/25 balance or 60/40 balance?  We aren’t really sure ourselves, but we can definitely justify whatever the gameplan ends up being.  We think there are opportunities to be had and we feel like the UND WRs can no doubt get open and get behind this Bobcat secondary.

Offensive execution and efficiency will be key – taking advantage and making plays when they are there to be had will be paramount.  The room for error in this game for the UND offense is very small.  Pass protection will have to continue to be solid in order to give Braden Hanson time in the pocket to look downfield.  We’ve noticed a lack of power in the running game lately, specifically with Mitch Sutton.  We aren’t sure if he’s hurt or if it’s mental, but he has just not run with the same conviction that he did in Sacramento – this has to improve.  OG Caleb Gillson needs to step up this week and play better as well, and he will have his hands full with the “shades” and “3-techniques” of the interior Bobcat DL.  Hanson also absolutely cannot make the turnovers that he did last week on the 2 interceptions he tried to force in there.  He needs to just take what they give and march it down if necessary (something he has typically always been good at this season).  We would like to see more screen game with the RBs this week on swing and slip screens and felt like that was ignored last week against the blitz-happy Griz defense.  It would be a nice tool to try slow down the Bobcat defense and keep them honest.

One unfortunate element to consider this week is that Montana State has had 2 weeks to prepare for UND after coming off their bye week.  That has happened twice now to UND with Northern Arizona being the other.  That extra week of preparation helps a ton, especially for an offense like UND’s.  On top of that, the Bobcats are coming off their only loss of the season when they last played – a 27-24 defeat in Bozeman at the hands of Eastern Washington.  Needless to say, they will be ready to play this week.


The Bobcats are #4 in the country for a reason.  They play good/great defense and can score at will.  The difference in this game will be the UND defense.  They need to try and force 4-5 punts out of the Bobcats and have their offense control the tempo with the short passing game.  If the MSU offense is on the field too much, it will get out of hand.  This is a tough game for UND coming off the emotional win over Montana and we need to see them beat a top-ranked team before we can pick them in this situation.

Montana State  39

North Dakota  33

8 Responses

  1. YoH0

    Great Oskie, fantastic analysis, right on the money. Your predict is prob right, BUT,
    emotional, gung ho play, can sometimes overcome the biggest odds.
    Thanks for the right-up.

    1. That is true and we really hope we are wrong, trust me! But, we cannot be blind homers all the time. This is the best FCS team they have ever played since going D1 and its on the road. Tough setup for UND but we, like you, hope they can overcome the obstacles and upset the Bobcats!

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Johnny

    If the weather is decent (maybe snow?), I think UND can pull the upset.

    Prediciton: UND throws it 50+ times and wins in another shootout (I hope). 42-37.

  3. Teeder11

    I’ve been concerned about UND’s punt returners ability to catch the dang ball of late regardless if it’s Mersereau, Jer or whoever…. we can’t put the ball on the turf on the PR against MSU and expect to hang.

  4. YoH0

    Teeder11, we are with you on that, too may drops and fums, but the last one was
    caused by an illegal hit, maybe you are not aware of.that. That of course is “part”
    of the problem, but nowhere near the BIGGEST part. Then again UND is new in
    this league, give the coaches and players some slack for now at “least!”

  5. Sioux Grad

    That may have been the worse performance I have ever seen from a UND football team. It starts at the top, and the leadership of this program is not in the right hands. Listen, I know quite a few players and the program needs a new coach. I am not speaking about strictly wins and losses. I am speaking about lack of discipline, coddling of players, lack of drug testing, decline in GPA, lack of effort, and what I saw on Saturday which is having a team absolutely quit. Let’s look position by position:
    QB: Hanson has ZERO mobility. Yes, he had a great game last week but that was against a BAD defense. I will take the heart and athleticism of Henderson anytime.
    RB: running game has been nonexistent for several weeks. I don’t understand the logic of pounding Miller on dive plays at 155 pounds.
    OL: Looked good against Montana but looked very mediocre against MSU. They need to get stronger and be more explosive off of the ball on run blocking.
    WR: This is the group that is very overrated in my opinion (outside of Hardin). There once again too many drops. Jackson, Townsend, and Galladay are not fast receivers. Apparently this group is the most “coddled” (see my earlier reference).
    DEFENSE: Not going to waste time going position by position because this is the worst tackling team I have ever witnessed. The D-backs can’t cover, the LB’s can’t tackle, and the D-line gets blown off the ball….bad combo!

    COACHING: As I mentioned, it starts at the top. The leader of this team has zero emotional leadership and no guts when it comes to making player decisions. A certain player was suspended against Montana for not going to class……yet after that slap on the wrist he is not only traveling against MSU but he is also starting. Mussman has surrounded himself with coaches who don’t are can’t coach (DB, WR, D-Coordinator to name a few position coaches). The effort in the 4th quarter against MSU is the biggest indicator of the program………no heart and no pride.

  6. Cal

    Sioux grad/Sioux letterman, your posts are beginning to sound like a disgruntled parent. I think skipping class only warrants a game suspension, if that is the reason he was suspended.

  7. Sioux Grad

    Nope Cal…….no kids to speak of. I am a disgruntled ex-player/graduate. Must be your kid if you think that was sufficient punishment. My opinion is that the program is going the wrong way…..period.

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