Wyoming Football: First Look at the Montana State Bobcats

Wyoming Football: First Look at the Montana State Bobcats

Mountain West Football

Wyoming Football: First Look at the Montana State Bobcats

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Wyoming Football: First Look at the Montana State Bobcats


The Cowboys will host a familiar face to start 2021 when Montana State visits Laramie.


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The Cowboys should be prepared for a fight.

Wyoming Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents

Montana State | Northern Illinois | Ball State | UConn

The Wyoming Cowboys have a big season ahead of them in 2021 and it all begins when the Montana State Bobcats head to War Memorial Stadium on September 4.

The Bobcats have had a long layoff after the program elected to forgo the FCS’s spring season and though they’ve had a surprising amount of transition off the field, MSU should be a contender for that level’s national championship when they retake the field in the fall. That means Craig Bohl’s men in brown and gold won’t want to take their season opener for granted.

Location: Bozeman, Montana

Mascot: Champ Bobcat

Conference: Big Sky

2020 Record: 0-0

Head Coach: Brent Vigen (first year). After spending much of his coaching career working alongside current Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl, Vigen had a chance to become a head coach for the first time and took it. In replacing Jeff Choate, who left Montana State to Texas, he has some big shoes to fill.

Though the Bobcats elected not to play in the FCS spring season, this is still a team that, in 2019, lost in the national semifinals to North Dakota State and was ranked #8 in Athlon Sports’ preseason top 25 last month. With a seasoned defense and a balanced offense on hand, the Bobcats won’t be afraid to hit the road and punch someone in the mouth a few times.

Key Players

LB Troy Andersen

Three Bobcats landed on the Big Sky’s all-conference first team defense back in 2019, but only the senior Andersen will play for Montana State in 2021. He was one of the more well-rounded defenders anywhere in the FCS two years ago with 54 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, so his ability to disrupt will be key for a unit that’s replacing a lot in that regard.

DL Amandre Williams

How stacked was the Big Sky in 2019 that a player like Williams, who had sixteen tackles for loss, five sacks and two interceptions that year, ended up as a third-team defender? Regardless of the circumstances, the senior from Maple Valley, Washington gives Montana State yet another strong presence in the front seven that could make waves if Wyoming isn’t careful.

QB Tucker Rovig

Though he may have to compete to keep his job as Montana State’s starting quarterback, the run he put together for the Bobcats in the 2019 playoffs is certainly an edge worth having. Rovig started twelve games that season and completed 61.6% of his passes, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt while throwing 15 touchdowns against five interceptions. He may not possess the flashiest stat line, but there’s always value in a steady hand under center.

G Lewis Kidd

The Bobcats loved to run under Choate and did it well, boasting the Big Sky’s best overall running game two years ago. If past precedence is any indication, they’ll continue to do so even if Brent Vigen calls the shots now. That can’t be done well without a strong offensive line, though, which is where Kidd comes in. He was a second-team Big Sky honoree in 2019, his second year anchoring the Bobcats line at guard, and enters 2021 with 33 career starts on his resume.

RB Isaiah Ifanse

Ifanse comes in to 2021 as Montana State’s top returning rusher, much to the chagrin of Big Sky defenses everywhere. After he became the first freshman in program history to run for at least 1,000 yards in 2018, Ifanse missed a handful of games because of injury in 2019 but still powered his way to a team-high 73.9 rushing yards per game, contributing 11.5 carries per game and six touchdowns on the season.

Overview:

Offense

To give you a sense of how the Bobcats operated during their playoff run in 2019, MSU averaged 45.4 carries and just 25.3 pass attempts per game. That works out to roughly a 64-36 run-to-pass ratio and, given Wyoming’s familiarity with Vigen, it’s hard to imagine he’ll shake things up considering the results were hard to argue with: Five of the six players who received at least 45 carries (not counting the quarterback Rovig) averaged at least 6.2 yards per carry.

Of those five explosive runners, though, only Ifanse and sophomore Lane Sumner return, meaning Vigen will need time to identify the rest of his committee should the offense evolve in that direction. Having Rovig at quarterback could help, but he might be pushed out of the job by sophomore Casey Bauman, who started the 2019 season as MSU’s starter before getting replaced after three games, or North Carolina State transfer Matthew McKay.

The Bobcats also need to reload at wide receiver after losing their two top pass catchers from 2019. Only junior Coy Steel had more than 20 catches among players on the 2021 roster, but Akron transfer Nate Stewart shined during the team’s spring scrimmages and the roster is loaded with young options.

Defense

Montana State isn’t quite starting over on this side of the ball, not with productive talents like Andersen and Williams back in the front seven, but they do lose 17.5 combined sacks and 35.5 combined TFLs with the departures of Derek Marks and Bryce Sterk. That’s pretty significant.

Thankfully, it’s not an impossible task since plenty of contributors are back to support the stars. Defensive tackle Chase Benson, a third-team all-Big Sky pick two seasons ago, is back, as is Daniel Hardy. Hardy only started four games at defensive end, for instance, but he saw playing time all year long in 2019 and pitched in with 1.5 sacks and 5.5 TFLs. He could simply be in line for a bigger role.

In the secondary, senior cornerback Tyrel Thomas is a name to remember after breaking up 12 passes and grabbing two interceptions in MSU’s last full season. He happens to be the only senior anywhere in the secondary on the current roster, which could be important since departed starters Brayden Konkol and Damien Washington had five interceptions and 19 pass breakups between them.

Early Prediction

Wyoming would do well to come out firing on offense and prove that last year’s struggles, driven in equal parts by injury and ineffectiveness, are behind them for good. Even with Montana State’s stout defense, it’d be a shock if the Cowboys couldn’t have things their way with Tim Polasek’s new diversified offense, especially if Bobcats struggle to find consistency in the secondary. It should end up being one of the more workmanlike victories of the season, but so long as Wyoming gets off to a 1-0 start, no one will complain.

Wyoming 28, Montana State 13

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