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Cats get first crack at legit Hornets


October 11, 2019

406 Sports

Travis Jonsen and the Montana State Bobcats will celebrate homecoming with a tough game against the Sacramento State Hornets in Bozeman. The Hornets play Montana State and Montana back-to-back. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. inside Bobcat Stadium.

Every year, there’s a team in the Big Sky Conference that seems to come from nowhere. A team that both the media and the coaches overlooked back at the Big Sky Conference Kickoff in July.

It’s safe to say now that that team is the Sacramento State Hornets.

And for both the Montana State Bobcats and Montana Grizzlies, they get to find out just how good the Hornets are over the next two weeks.

First up is the sixth-ranked Bobcats (2-0, 5-1), who host the Hornets (1-0, 3-2) for homecoming Saturday in Bozeman.

And there’s no doubt, Sac. State has MSU head coach Jeff Choate’s attention.

“They’re the best FCS team we will have seen this season,” Choate said at his Monday presser.

That’s saying something since the Cats have played the likes of SEMO, Western Illinois and Northern Arizona, and just had to go to overtime to beat Cal Poly last Saturday night. But that doesn’t mean he is wrong.

The Hornets are indeed really good. They are second in the Big Sky in scoring at 41 points per game, and they are No. 1 in the Big Sky in scoring defense, allowing just 20 points per outing. When you are at the top of both of those categories, it’s not a fluke, you’re really good.

And Sac. State is.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Thomson is a true dual-threat QB, which means he beats teams with his feet as much as he does his arm. He also has a weapon in running back Elijah Dotson, who is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield.

But where the Hornets have really made a jump this season is on defense. Under new DC Andy Thompson, a former Montana All-American linebacker, the Hornets have become a stout run defense, allowing just 98 yards per game on the ground.

That’s where Saturday’s matchup in Bozeman gets interesting because, the Bobcats run the ball.

MSU ranks first in the Big Sky in rushing offense, and that’s without Troy Andersen taking many handoffs, and with star sophomore Isaiah Ifanse being hurt for a handful of games.

Yes, it just doesn’t seem to matter who the Cats use, like senior Logan Jones or wide receiver/quarterback Travis Jonsen, they can run the football, and no one has been able to do anything about it.

Still, the Cats, at least statistically haven’t seen a run defense like Sac. State’s, so something has to give Saturday.

Of course, if MSU does have trouble running the ball, then more pressure will fall to sophomore QB Tucker Rovig, who has been sharp at times since taking over for Casey Baumann, but who has also struggled at times, like in the second half of last Saturday’s thriller at Cal Poly.

So, if Sac. State’s defense is truly as advertised, as MSU struggles to get its powerful running game going, the Cats will have to do something they haven’t really had to yet this season — beat somebody through the air.

Fortunately, MSU also has a really good defense to fall back on. The Cats rank fourth in the Big Sky in total defense and scoring defense, so, going up against a high-powered offense like Sac. State’s shouldn’t be an issue. And with Bryce Sterk leading the charge, and Andersen getting more and more comfortable at LB, the Hornets haven’t faced a defense like MSU’s either.

And that’s what makes Saturday’s game so interesting. MSU and Sac. State have similar strengths, and it will just simply come down to who executes their strengths better. That’s what makes the game so exciting.

Also of note, the Hornets are going to have a huge impact on how far both MSU and Montana go in the Big Sky this season because they play the Montana schools back-to-back.

The No. 8 Griz (2-0, 5-1) have a bye this week, but travel to Sacramento next Saturday night, so that adds even more intrigue into what might happen in Bozeman.

The Bobcats and Hornets will kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bobcat Stadium. The game will be televised on SWX Montana. The Cats have their bye next week.


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