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Montana State offense thrives during first spring football scrimmage



BOZEMAN — Montana State’s offense turned conventional wisdom upside down Saturday.

Defying the thought that defense is generally ahead of offense early in the spring, the Bobcats churned out 600 yards and eight touchdowns on 62 scrimmage plays in the first live scrimmage of the spring.

The 9.7 yards per play came against a defense hampered by a thin defensive line, but with quarterbacks not protected from full contact it was enough to catch first-year head coach Brent Vigen’s attention.

“I thought generally speaking (the quarterbacks) handled that well,” he said. “I thought we completed the ball fairly well, especially as the scrimmage went along, and I thought we had the opportunity to make some plays as it went along. So I thought they played better as (the scrimmage progressed). Matt (McKay) had the biggest share of the (quarterback) reps, and it’s apparent he can make plays with his athleticism. That showed up. But I felt walking off the field like he made some plays with his arm as well.”

A junior transfer from North Carolina State, McKay completed 10 of his 14 passes for 132 yards and a 34-yard touchdown pass to senior Lance McCutcheon that closed the day’s work. McKay also carried eight times for 30 yards. The other quarterbacks proved adept at moving the ball as well.

Sophomore Casey Bauman finished 3-for-4 passing for 71 yards with a touchdown. Tucker Rovig was 4 for 5 for 43 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Blake Thelen completed three of his four passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. While Tommy Mellott didn’t complete either of his two passes, he rushed for 16 yards on two carries.

“It was the opportunity for them to be live,” Vigen said of his quarterbacks. “We won’t do that often, but it’s important that they can function within the confines of not being protected. I thought they handled it well.”

The first opportunity to evaluate the running game also proved positive.

“I thought the running backs ran hard and broke tackles,” Vigen said. “Isaiah (Ifanse) and Jaharie (Martin) in particular (broke tackles). … Elijah Elliott has some open-field ability that showed up today.”

Ifanse ran for 30 yards on seven carries, while Martin gained 68 on six attempts. McKay galloped for 30 yards, Lane Sumner ran for 19 yards on four carries and Elliott gained 23 yards on six carries. Freshman Minaya Olivo gained 77 yards on three carries, including a 62-yard touchdown. Garrett Coon carried four times for 14 yards, and Cole Oster carried once for seven yards.

Vigen said the offense’s success begins up front.

“Obviously credit has to go to the offensive line,” he said. “That takes a little more film dissection to see who stood out there, but it’s apparent they must’ve been doing some things right.”

While the defense didn’t score or take the ball away from the offense, it did provide highlights. Kyle Rygg logged a sack, while Daniel Hardy, Callahan O’Reilly and Nolan Askelson also made tackles on plays behind the line of scrimmage. James Campbell, who has converted from receiver to cornerback, registered a pass breakup.

In evaluating play from Saturday’s scrimmage and pointing toward next weekend’s second live session, Vigen said making plays becomes a central theme.

“From a technical perspective, we won’t tackle hardly at all through the course of the week, but then we’ll come out (and play live) again on Saturday,” he said. “When plays are there to be made, whether that’s a running back on a linebacker or a receiver versus a DB on a ball up in the air, the quarterbacks making those throws, who’s going to emerge as playmakers? That’s what we need to continue to learn about this outfit on both sides of the football.”

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