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Eastern Washington notebook: Quarterback Troy Andersen does it all for resurgent Montana State

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 25, 2018

Montana State running back Troy Andersen runs the ball against Portland State  on Oct. 7, 2017, in Bozeman. (Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez / AP)
Montana State running back Troy Andersen runs the ball against Portland State on Oct. 7, 2017, in Bozeman. (Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez / AP)

Montana State wunderkind Troy Andersen is barely 14 months into his college tenure, and he’s already arguably the best all-around football player in the Big Sky Conference.

Quarterback. Running back. Linebacker. The statuesque 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore has done it all for the resurgent Bobcats (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky), who are off to their best start since 2012.

Eastern Washington head coach Aaron Best, whose fifth-ranked Eagles (3-1, 1-0) visit Montana State on Saturday at noon PST, isn’t sure there’s a position Andersen can’t play.

“He’s dynamic, he’s athletic. He could play all 25 positions: offense, defense, kicker, punter and long snapper,” Best said. “And he’s only been around for a year and four games. He’s someone you have to be aware of, but you can’t just identify him, because there’s other people around who can make your life miserable.”

Andersen bulled through Portland State last week, tallying 207 rushing yards in the Bobcats’ 43-23 win. He also passed for 107 yards and a touchdown.

In his 15 career games, Andersen, who was limited in two games this season because of a hand injury but still played some linebacker, has 938 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Last season, as a true freshman, the Dillon, Montana, native started games at linebacker and running back and went on to earn Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year distinction.

“He’s a workhorse. You’re talking about a quarterback/running back, a hybrid,” Best said. “He runs hard. Every run is very explosive. He’s hard to take down at the contact point. It takes multiple people to bring him down.”

Andersen wasn’t expected to take snaps in the Bobcats’ run-heavy offense until about three months ago.

When academic issues sidelined two-year starting quarterback Chris Murray in July, Andersen was thrust into the QB role, his position when he led Beaverhead County High School to a Class A state title in 2016.

Anderson and freshman Tucker Rovig have both been behind center, each providing vastly different looks for opposing defenses. Rovig has helped give the Bobcats balance, passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-24 victory over Wagner two weeks ago.

EWU linebacker Kurt Calhoun said he’s ready for both quarterbacks, but Andersen’s legs make the Bobcats especially dangerous.

“It’s tough because they’re going to have two running backs. When (Andersen) is at quarterback, it’s like they have two running backs back there,” Calhoun said.

Montana State, which finished one spot outside the STATS FCS top 25 this week, is looking forward to the challenge Eastern Washington presents, Andersen said.

The Eagles, who rank third in the FCS in total yards (2,283), smashed run-minded Cal Poly 70-17 last week to open Big Sky play. They’ve won their last six meetings with Montana State.

“I definitely think this is a great opportunity for us, a home game against a top-five-ranked opponent,” Andersen said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to show who we think we are and make a statement.”

Rivalry game?

Since the Big Sky Conference didn’t pit Montana and Eastern Washington this season, is Montana State the next-best rivalry game on the schedule?

“We have Idaho, who’s been a rivalry in the past, but I obviously wasn’t around for that,” EWU offensive lineman Beau Byus said. “I think Montana State is the next big thing (after Montana). They’re a team we play almost every year and they’re going to come out and throw punches. It’s going to be a hard-fought game.”

Idaho visits the Eagles on Oct. 27, but the football programs have played each other just twice in the 2000s.

Calhoun said the Montana State game brings excitement and great atmosphere, much like the Eagles-Griz games.

“I love playing Montana, but I think playing Montana State is right there,” Calhoun said. “It’s just as good as playing Montana, and you always want to go there and beat them.”

Best, who has faced the Bobcats the last 21 years as a player and a coach, said the Bobcats already have their rivalry game with the Missoula school.

“This is just another game between two really good programs that have had a lot of fireworks over the years and a lot of success over the years,” Best said.

Locals lead Bobcats

Montana State head coach Jeff Choate, defensive coordinator Ty Gregorak, and defensive line coach Byron Hout are Inland Northwest products.

Choate, a 1988 St. Maries High graduate, was the football coach and athletic director at Post Falls High in the early 2000s. The Bobcats’ third-year head coach was previously an assistant at Washington, Washington State, Boise State and Florida.

Gregorak, who starred at linebacker at West Valley High and Colorado in the 1990s, is in his third year at Montana State. He was previously the defensive coordinator at Montana.

Hout, 28, starred at defensive end and linebacker at Lake City High and Boise State. He was the 2007 Idaho 5A Player of the Year.

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