|« Teams in final fights for league titles||Colgate's offense has been scary good »|
Montana State trying to watch this step
Last winter, Montana State attached a simple motto to its football objectives: “Take the next step.”
Sixth-year coach Rob Ash defined what that credo entailed at the time, explaining it encompassed everything from offseason conditioning to postseason success to winning another Big Sky Conference title.
But with Portland State ready to face the Bobcats on Saturday in Bozeman, MSU is trying to make sure it doesn’t look ahead to the next step on its schedule – the Montana Grizzlies.
“I don’t think we are,” said Ash, whose team travels to play the Griz in Missoula next Saturday. “We’ve had this motto since January that says ‘Take the next step,’ but one dimension of that is to stay focused on the present.
“Nobody’s sneaking a look ahead.”
Ash is one victory away from becoming the all-time winningest coach at Montana State. At 47-21, he is currently tied with Sonny Holland atop that list.
The Bobcats remain in the hunt for at least a share of the Big Sky championship and a win over Portland State would help keep pace atop the standings. MSU is seeking its third league crown in the last three seasons.
A victory Saturday would also mark the Bobcats’ third consecutive nine-win season.
So there’s a lot to play for this week, even as the archrival Grizzlies loom in the distance.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve done to this point,” Ash said. “We’ve changed expectations at Montana State across the board.
“It also means losing is not an option, and that’s a high standard to live up to. But we like it. We’d rather be in this situation than any other.”
Portland State is a team that hasn’t lived up to expectations of its own this season. The Vikings are 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the league a year after finishing third in the Big Sky standings and on the doorstep of the FCS playoffs.
But their record could be deceptive. Three of Portland State’s six defeats were one-possession losses, while the other two came by an average of 13 points.
The Vikings’ patented Pistol offense ranks second in the league in both scoring and total offense, and is third in rushing.
Freshman Kieran McDonagh has started all nine games at quarterback, throwing for a PSU freshman record of 1,999 yards and 13 touchdowns. McDonagh has also rushed 72 times for 333 yards and eight TDs, averaging 259.1 yards of total offense per game.
Running back D.J. Adams, who transferred to Portland State from Maryland in the offseason, has 804 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Adams ranks fourth in the Big Sky with 89.3 rushing yards per game and has three 100-yard games.
“I’m not paying any attention to their record,” Ash said of the Vikings. “I’m looking at the tape and seeing a really good football team. Offensively they run a complicated scheme with a lot of motion. They’ve got talent all over the place.”
On defense, the Vikings have struggled.
They changed defensive coordinators at mid-season in September when head coach Nigel Burton took over those duties from Eric Jackson. Currently, PSU ranks fifth and 10th in the Big Sky in total defense and scoring defense.
By GREG RACHAC of the Billings Gazette