Southern Utah football heads east to Bozeman for a contest against the No. 14/15 Montana State Bobcats on Saturday Nov. 2. Gametime is set for 12 p.m. MT on Root Sports, and the game will be Root Sports game of the week.
The T-Birds (2-7, 1-4) are coming off a cathartic win against Idaho State. The offense exploded for 59 points, the most the team has scored since they put up 62 against the Bengals in 2000.
Montana State (5-3, 2-2) are coming off consecutive losses to Big Sky opponents. The Bobcats fell to Sacramento State in Bozeman 34-21 before their bye week. Then, they lost to North Dakota 16-12 on the road.
Las Vegas betting odds opened with Montana State as a 13 point favorite.
The Thunderbirds have not yet won on the road this season, but showed major signs of life against Idaho State.
Carlton Johnson had two interceptions in that game, including one returned for a touchdown. Johnson earned Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance.
Turnovers have played an important role in SUU’s best performances this season. Johnson got an interception on the first play of the game against ISU, the defense forced four fumbles in their heartbreaking loss to Cal Poly and forced two turnovers in their win against Stephen F. Austin.
While the defense has struggled to contain opposing offenses, they have a group of playmakers who can swing the momentum of the game by taking the ball back.
MSU has only given the ball up seven times this season, tied for No. 8 in fewest turnovers in the FCS. That comes as a product of one of the nation’s best ground attacks. The Bobcats are No. 10 in the FCS with 243.5 YPG.
That comes in contrast to one of the nation’s worst passing offenses, averaging just 168.5 YPG.
Montana State wants to hand the ball off to senior running back, Logan Jones, and let him barrell forward. Their second most used receiver, Travis Jonsen, is averaging nearly as many YPG on the ground (48.4) as he is receiving (54.9). The Bobcats love to run the football.
They’ve done so with great success. They have a top 50 scoring offense AND a top 50 scoring defense. Montana State are tough on both sides of the ball.
Southern Utah has a polar opposite offensive approach. The T-Birds love to get out and move the ball. SUU runs 77 plays per game. Montana State has only run more than 77 plays twice this season.
SUU’s passing offense continues to climb the FCS ranks. Sophomore QB Chris Helbig has led them to the No. 23 spot in passing offense nationally, and has 2,284 yards on the season to go along with 13 touchdowns.
The run game has not been as consistent, but they picked up 233 yards on the ground against ISU, so there’s been some signs of life.
Stats aren’t too friendly toward the defense, but they have improved with each game. The defense looked downright ferocious at times against Idaho State, but face a tough challenge against MSU’s prolific running attack.
Montana State has climbed as far as No. 6 in the STATS FCS poll, but has fallen to No. 14 after consecutive conference losses.
The teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of momentum, approach and record. The T-Birds face a more proven and talented squad, but if there was ever a recipe for a road upset against a ranked opponent, this is it.
Montana State could barely muster 12 points last week and 21 points the week before. They are fighting for their playoff hopes, as one more loss will likely put them out of contention. If Helbig and the T-Birds can find a way to move the ball, SUU might have a chance to outrun MSU.
If the Bobcats can bog the game down with long, run-heavy drives, SUU will be in trouble.
With a long awaited bye week on the horizon, SUU need to remain focused in order to get the win. They only have three more chances to win in 2019.
Kickoff will be at 12:00 MT and the game will be broadcast on Root Sports regionally and the Audience Network.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz