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Bobcats Entertain Ash's Former Drake Bulldogs
When Montana State hired Rob Ash away from Drake four years ago, most Bobcat fans didn’t know a thing about the Iowa team nicknamed the Bulldogs.
Today, they’re going to find out.
“They’ll be very solid and fundamentally sound,” said Ash, who won 125 games in an 18-year career at Drake. “But the biggest question mark is speed. They’ll probably have trouble matching up with our speed. That’ll be the game: how much they’ll be able to compensate for our speed. Of course we’ll have to play well and not turn it over.”
The Bobcats, 1-1 after last week’s disappointing 23-22 loss at Washington State, are a heavy favorite against Drake, a nonscholarship program from the Pioneer Football League. Though the Pioneer is an FCS conference, just like the Big Sky, the league is never represented in the national playoffs.
Drake returns 28 lettermen, including 16 starters, from last year’s 8-3 team. But the Bulldogs haven’t been overly impressive this season, including a 28-14 loss to Lehigh and a victory over Division II Missouri S&T by the same score last week.
The Bulldogs don’t figure to lack for incentive, though, when they meet their old coach. Kickoff is 1:05 at Bobcat Stadium, where a crowd of about 14,000 is expected.
“We might not measure up for four quarters,” said Drake coach Chris Creighton, “but I can promise you this: We’re not going to back down. Our guys aren’t going to fear an opponent. They relish an opportunity to play a game like this.”
The Bobcats will pay a return visit to Drake, located in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2012. But Ash doesn’t want to look too far into the future, for he figures his Bobcats, ranked 22nd this week in the FCS Coaches’ poll, are ready to become consistent winners right now. The emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Denarius McGhee is the chief reason.
“He’s a great game player and a great leader,” said Ash.
McGhee has displayed exceptional poise and in two starts has passed for 444 yards and four touchdowns. Though he suffered three picks at Washington State — all on tipped balls — and the Bobcats blew a 22-7 lead, Ash said it’s all good with McGhee.
“Before that last tipped interception the kid was about take us on game-winning drive against a Pac-10 team,” said Ash. “What more can you say? He’s going to be a phenomenal player.”
The Bobcat offense features several swift receivers, including top playmaker Everett Gilbert, and JC transfer running back Orenzo Davis, a 185-pounder who has 152 yards rushing and will make his first MSU start.
Drake’s best players are on defense, Ash said. Defensive end Dain Taylor is a former Ash recruit who has four tackles for loss. Andrew Asbell is another rangy senior (6-5, 264) who makes a lot of plays in the backfield.
“Taylor’s a pretty special guy,” said Creighton.
The Bulldogs’ offense lines up often in the shotgun and is a past-first operation. Junior quarterback Michael Piatkowski, a 6-1, 179-pounder who played in a large-school division at a Chicago-area high school, is averaging 190 yards passing per game.
“He’s not physically imposing at all, but he’s incredibly bright,” Creighton said. “He knows how to play.”
It goes without saying that most of the Bulldogs are top-notch student.
“There are very few schools left at the Division 1 level where you could argue it’s still done in a pure way,” said Creighton, who has a 110-33 career coaching record after stops at NAIA Ottawa (Kansas) and NCAA III Wabash (Ind.). “We have a nonscholarship program and a high-academics school. We’ve got guys going off to Law School and Med School and getting their doctorate in Pharmacy. At the same time they’re very talented and very committed to football.
“That makes us unique, but it also makes it very difficult to compete against FCS scholarship programs.”
The Bobcats beat Division II Fort Lewis earlier this season and today meet a nonscholarship program. Would Ash have preferred another nonleague clash with an FCS playoff contender before opening Big Sky play next weekend?
“We stacked up just fine against Washington State and I know we’ll stack up well against everybody we play,” Ash said. “I know what we have.”
By Scott Mansch, Great Falls Tribune