'If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best': MSU sets sights on Sam Houston State

QB Tommy Mellott celebrates his 74-yard touchdown run in the second quarter
Posted at 11:32 AM, Dec 10, 2021

BOZEMAN — The No. 8 Montana State Bobcats are just a day away from taking on the spring 2021 FCS Champion, No.1 Sam Houston State, in Huntsville, Texas. The undefeated Bearkats are coming off a second-round win where they escaped upset-minded Incarnate Word with a 49-42 win.

“An awesome opportunity for us to take on the top dogs in the tournament right now and our guys are really excited about this, but a very tough opponent. Very tough challenge,” said Bobcats head coach Brent Vigen.

“If you want to be the best, you got to beat the best," said Montana State redshirt freshman center Justus Perkins. "It’ll be nice to get into some warmer weather as well, it’s starting to get cold here in Bozeman, so get out and enjoy some sunshine a little bit.”

The Bearkats have one of the best defenses at stopping the run (fourth in the country) and are one of the worst at defending against the pass, sitting near the bottom of the FCS at 115th. Montana State's passing offense is No. 89 in the country, while their rushing attack is No. 7.

“I think part of it is the makeup of that (Western Athletic conference) and their opponents maybe being more built to throw," Vigen said. "Certainly, their offense getting ahead in making the other team more apt to throw and chase points. I think it’s a little bit of that. Their front is built to stop the run for sure.”

On defense, redshirt junior linebacker Markel Perry and senior defensive lineman Jahari Kay have been blowing up plays in the backfield, as both are highly ranked the FCS in tackles for a loss.

“They have really good size, but those guys can really move," he said about the Bearkats defense. "They throw different looks at you, but at the end of it, they’re really just playing sound, fundamental defense while playing really fast. I think they’ve complemented their offense really well.”

The Sam Houston offense can get it done on the ground and through the air. Redshirt junior running back Ramon Jefferson is seventh leading rusher in the FCS. He has 162 carries on the year, averaging a whopping seven yards per attempt for 1,138 yards. Redshirt junior quarterback Eric Schmid can balance the offense out through the air.

“As a passer, I think he’s over 250 yards (per game), 26 touchdowns," Vigen said. "He’s a very athletic guy that can extend plays and can run the football as well. Receiver wise, I think they have three guys that are all in their own way, dangerous. They don’t choose to do it one way or another. I know they want to run the football and they want to stop the run just as their ingredients to win. I think for us we got to do everything we can to slow that run down and make it hard for them to throw it.”

As for it being a late start time, Vigen thinks it’s all about how the team prepares for the game on game day and isn’t adjusting the practice schedule.

“We have the two night games under our belt, gold rush and then the Weber State game. I think the biggest difference is how you handle game day and having gone through a later start on the road once I think will help us. It won’t be a foreign deal.”

Montana State comes into the the game as 4.5 point underdogs according to SportsBet Montana. The game starts at 6:30 p.m. MST on ESPN+.