BOZEMAN — In Montana State’s first home game in almost two years, the Bobcats fed off the energy from a gold-clad crowd and had little trouble overwhelming Drake.
No. 11-ranked MSU evened its record at 1-1 with a 45-7 win at Bobcat Stadium. Here’s what stood out during the team’s annual Gold Rush game.
Patterson makes his mark
Saturday against Drake, it was Willie Patterson’s turn to break out in the passing game.
After being limited to two catches and 27 yards in the season opener at Wyoming — where he also had a punt return touchdown called back because of a penalty — Patterson made his presence known against the Bulldogs with two first-half touchdowns.
Patterson was targeted just three times, but he made the most of his two receptions. He finished with 54 yards.
"Willie's dynamic, and his ability in the slot is going to be a matchup we're going to try to go to, especially if teams want to play man like that," MSU head coach Brent Vigen said. "Willie's a challenging matchup. He scored in a couple of different ways too. ... He's a guy that we'll continue to lean on offensively and in the return game."
Despite his 28 career catches being the second-most among current Bobcats entering the game, those two scores were the first of Patterson's career.
He celebrated his first, a 23-yarder off of a screen play along the left sideline, with a sprint along the back line of the end zone with his blockers on the play.
He celebrated his second, a 31-yarder on a catch over his left shoulder, with a backflip and another exuberant sprint in front of MSU’s student section.
"He is a big part of our passing game," Vigen said. "He's going to be a guy that I think people are going to have pay attention to."
Patterson has missed significant time due to injuries the past two seasons. Now with good health, Patterson showed off his speed and craftiness against Drake in much the same way that Lance McCutcheon did against the Cowboys in Week 1 with five catches for 71 yards and a score.
McCutcheon was excited for his fellow receiver to finally have a big day.
"Willie, he's battled two collarbone injuries and to see him go out there on Gold Rush and get two (touchdowns), it was awesome," McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon remained a high-profile threat while posting seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Bulldogs. But Patterson emerged as another clearly reliable option for quarterback Matthew McKay.
"I would say right now we're getting close to dangerous," McCutcheon said. "I wouldn't say we're there yet, but we got a lot of potential in the receiving room."
McKay effective again on the ground
During Vigen’s press conference before fall camp, he alluded to McKay’s running capabilities. During MSU’s home opener, McKay was effective on the ground.
The Bobcats dialed up several designed runs or plays that gave McKay the option to take the ball himself. While he didn’t explode for a run of any great distance, he often kept the chains moving with his legs.
"The way they played us, a lot of man coverage, a lot of pressure, they forced us into a little bit more of a throw game," Vigen said, "and from a read perspective they forced the ball to stay in his hands, and I thought he responded well."
McKay finished with 61 rushing yards on eight attempts. On his longest run of the game, he faked a handoff and carried the ball himself from MSU’s 39 for a 16-yard gain early in the fourth quarter.
"Being able to see him do what he does, he's a threat with his arm and a threat with his feet, so it was cool to see both of that today," McCutcheon said.
This was especially critical as Drake defended MSU lead running back Isaiah Ifanse well. While he scored a 4-yard touchdown toward the end of the first half, he was contained to 66 yards on 19 carries.
But the potential threat of McKay running ultimately opened up lanes for Ifanse. After McKay’s run in the fourth quarter, Ifanse ran four straight times up the middle with less resistance than before. Ifanse nearly scored a touchdown at the end of the drive before he fumbled, but it was recovered by MSU’s Ryan Davis to give the Bobcats a touchdown.
Defensive front harasses Drake QB
The Bobcats defensive front made the evening an unbearable one for Drake quarterback Ian Corwin.
No sequence better exemplified that than with nearly four minutes gone in the fourth quarter. MSU defensive end Daniel Hardy sacked Corwin for a 10-yard loss on second down. On the very next play, Drake right tackle Tyler Barrett earned a flag for holding Hardy, who had again burst through the offensive line.
Two disruptive plays turned second and 5 into third and 25. The Bulldogs were eventually forced to punt.
It was a common theme for the game.
Amandre Williams had 1 1/2 sacks, sharing one with Chase Benson in the third quarter. In the second quarter, Hardy rushed Corwin from behind and hit him as he threw, resulting in a lofted ball that was nearly intercepted by linebacker Troy Andersen.
Hardy finished his day with five tackles, including two solos, and one tackle for loss. Coming into the game, the defense had to be mindful of some "trickeration" in Drake's offense, he said after the win. The Bobcats couldn't lose track of all the moving pieces.
"Our biggest thing that we focused on this week was discipline and reading our keys," Hardy said. "You can't get caught up in all that fancy stuff."
The Bobcats registered eight tackles for loss in the contest, preventing Drake from making meaningful progress toward cutting into MSU’s sizable lead.
Hardy said the defensive unit as a whole was prideful for leaving little doubt in the outcome of the game.
"Our whole mentality is that our offense could go kick a field goal and we'll win the game," he said. "That's how we want to handle our business, and that's how we want to attack teams."
Benson tallied five tackles, including one for a loss, and a quarterback hurry. Brody Grebe was also often putting pressure on Drake’s line.
Vigen said during the week he thought Corwin presented some dual-threat capabilities. He finished 14 for 23 for 149 yards and a touchdown, along with four yards rushing on 11 attempts.
The first layer of the Bobcats defense took away most of what the quarterback hoped to do.
"I think we got a lot of pressure on him. He's a guy who was Priority 1 as far as our defensive plan," Vigen said. "Outside of that (scoring) drive at the end of the half, I thought we did a pretty good job."
Vigen saw the defensive line's performance as a continuation of its strong start against Wyoming.
"I think we have a chance to have a really good front," he said. "Daniel's certainly one of those guys. Amandre flashed at times tonight. Chase is a force to be reckoned with in there. ... We're playing a whole host of guys. I think we've got 10, 11 D-linemen in there, and it's going to take a deep group to do what we want to do this year."
Parker Cotton can be reached at email@example.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @ByParkerCotton.