Jeff Choate has Montana State moving in the right direction, but he figures the Bobcats need to make a few more strides to catch up with Eastern Washington.
Talking about the Eagles earlier this week, MSU’s second-year coach marveled at how little has changed in Cheney despite the loss of some high-profile players and the departure of half the coaching staff.
“I don’t think they’re that much different,” Choate said. “They play with a lot of swagger and a lot of confidence.
“We want to be like that,” Choate said.
The resilience of Eastern (4-2 overall, 3-0 Big Sky Conference) was the major topic this week in Bozeman, where Choate has the Bobcats off to a 2-1 start in the league.
After watching film of the Eagles’ 41-38 win at UC Davis last week, Choate said he saw a team that’s getting better every week.
“They have a ton of capable skill players and (quarterback Gage Gubrud’s) comfort level with those guys is starting to emerge,” Choate said.
On defense, Choate marvels at the skills of linebacker Kurt Calhoun, the ability of Eastern’s corner to hold press coverage and the Eagles’ stamina while playing 104 snaps at Davis.
“It will be an interesting game,” Choate said.
For a sellout crowd at Roos Field, much of that interest will focus on how Eastern’s defense will try to contain mobile sophomore quarterback Chris Murray and MSU’s option-based offense.
Comparing Murray to last year’s version, EWU defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said, “You can see the maturity … and he has more control of the offense.”
Murray is still a better runner than passer. In five games, he has 81 carries for 543 yards to lead all MSU rushers, but he’s completed only 53 of 104 passes for 646 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
By contrast, Gubrud needs roughly a 1 1/2 games to put up those kind of passing numbers. In three Big Sky games, he’s 112 for 168 (66.7 percent), for 1,448 yards, 15 TDs and just three picks.
Better yet, Gubrud is spreading the wealth. Seven Eagles have 10 or more catches, and newcomers Jayson Williams and Talolo Limu-Jones are emerging.
“They’ve found their deep threats,” Choate said. “They have another dynamic offense – they’ll lull you to sleep and then go downfield.”
MSU counters with a defense that leads the Big Sky in average yards given up (347.7) and ranks second in rushing yards (122.7).
The Bobcats (2-3 overall) have done a solid job against opposing Big Sky quarterbacks, who are a collective 64 for 117 with a pass-efficiency rating of 107.2.
“They’ll keep our offense guessing with multiple sets and playing a lot of different guys on defense,” Eastern coach Aaron Best said. “They have players all over the place with experience, and they maximize opportunities with those players.”
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