Off to its best start since 1978, Montana State has proven worthy against all comers. And the Bobcats are winning in a variety of ways.
The Cats’ average margin of victory in six games is a comfortable 14 points. They’ve won both blowouts and nail-biters. A 41-16 win over Northern Colorado on Sept. 22 is one example; a 48-41 victory at UC Davis last Saturday is another.
Regardless of the means, the No. 2-ranked Cats are getting the job done.
But with sixth-ranked Eastern Washington visiting Bozeman this weekend, MSU could be in for another barnburner. And that’s just fine with sixth-year coach Rob Ash and his players.
“Our guys are used to winning. They expect to win,” Ash said Wednesday. “But they don’t expect it to be handed to them.
“The guys understand how hard you have to work to win a football game, or to come back to win in some cases. We’re not afraid to play a close game. We relish those situations. We have a tough, tenacious group, and we feel like we can win.”
MSU was in command of its game with UC Davis last week, leading by 17 points at the start of the third quarter. But an avalanche of turnovers aided in a wild Aggies comeback.
UC Davis eventually took a 41-38 lead in the fourth quarter before MSU snatched the game away with a 1-yard touchdown run by Tray Robinson, a 34-yard field goal by Rory Perez and clutch defense late.
In addition to their 24-17 triumph the week prior at Southern Utah, the comeback marked the second consecutive week the Bobcats had to dig deep in the fourth quarter to win.
“We play this game with a ball that doesn’t bounce straight,” Ash said. “At some point you’re going to have a bad break or a bad bounce that’s going to hurt your chances if you don’t have a cushion.
“So that’s what we’re working on, trying to play more consistently throughout the course of a game. Although I’m not expecting to have that opportunity as much this week.”
Eastern Washington will bring a three-game winning streak into Bobcat Stadium, including a come-from-behind victory over Montana two weeks ago and a 55-17 thrashing of North Dakota last Saturday.
Led by red-hot freshman quarterback Vernon Adams, the Eagles are as dangerous as they come in the Big Sky. Adams has taken the league by storm since he was inserted into the starting role a few weeks back. A dual-threat player, Adams has a league-best quarterback efficiency rating (167.3) and is completing 64.7 percent of his passes with seven TDs and only one interception.
But MSU is virtually unstoppable on offense at home. The Bobcats have averaged 418.7 yards and 32.2 points per game in the last four seasons on their home turf.
The winner of this game will have a big victory to hang its hat on in the race for the conference title — whichever way it comes.
“Both teams have the same opportunity,” Ash said. “With the way the schedule is set up, both teams have good things going right now. But the winner will control their own destiny. The team that loses is going to have to do some scoreboard watching for the rest of the season.
“A huge step is going to be taken by one of these teams, that’s for sure.”
NOTES: Ash said the availability of Bobcats LB Jody Owens on Saturday will be a game-time decision. Owens suffered a bruised quadriceps against UC Davis. Backup Alex Singleton is practicing with the first-team defense this week … Ash said MSU RB Cody Kirk is also questionable with a hamstring injury. Kirk did not play last week. … Bobcats TE Tiai Salanoa will not play against EWU. Ash said Salanoa suffered a lower leg injury against UC Davis. … The Cats will welcome DE Caleb Schreibeis and OL Matthew Devereux back to the lineup this Saturday. Schreibeis is back after serving a one-game suspension for what the league deemed was an illegal hit on a Southern Utah wide receiver two weeks ago. Devereux has been cleared after missed the UC Davis game with a concussion.