BOZEMAN – For the first time since September of 2015, the Montana State Bobcats will open their football season under the lights for their annual Gold Rush game. And they draw a matchup with one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference last season, Western Illinois.
“They go toe-to-toe with everyone they played with, whether it was the University of South Dakota, who was a playoff team, North Dakota State, the national champions, and Weber State, who was the Big Sky champion last year,” Montana State head coach Jeff Choate said of the Leathernecks. “I think they are an excellent football team.”
Western Illinois is not ranked to start this season, but they finished 13th in the final FCS poll last season. And Choate knows when WIU comes to Bobcat Stadium, it will come in as the favorite.
“We were picked eighth in our league, let’s just call it what it is. We’re not out here saying, ‘Hey, we’ve arrived,’” said Choate. “I think that says where people think we are at, and I think we’ve got an opportunity to go and show the strides that we made.”
Western Illinois ended last year 8-4 with a berth in the FCS playoffs, losing to Weber State 21-19 in the first round. A big reason for the Leathernecks’ success is three-year starting quarterback Sean McGuire, who completed 64 percent of his throws last season for 2,852 yards, 25 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
To stop the Leathernecks, the Bobcats need to stop the gunslinger from Franklin, Wisconsin who averaged 237 yards per game in the air in 2017.
“You got to hit him, you got to affect him, that’s what it comes down to,” said Choate. “We got to be able to affect his ability to set his feet and throw the ball, and those shots usually add up as the game goes on.”
It won’t be an easy task to get him down, though: McGuire stands 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds and has the ability to brush of tacklers.
On the other side, it is unclear who exactly will start at quarterback for the Bobcats. Troy Andersen and Travis Jonsen were listed as co-starters on the MSU depth chart, but the Bobcats have game-planned with multiple schemes for each.
“Whoever is taking your snaps, you want to try and do what they do best if that makes sense,” said MSU offensive coordinator Brian Armstrong. “We’ve tried throughout fall camp to build a system broad enough that we can adapt to whoever is taking the snaps.”
No matter who is behind center, it’s the Gold Rush home opener and the Bobcats are going to come out with energy.
“For the first time as my tenure here as the head coach we get a home opener, it’s a Thursday night game. It’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere,” said Choate. “I think this game is on par with any game that I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of, including the Florida-Georgia game. Montana State fans get it and it will be a great event.”
Montana State will take on Western Illinois Thursday at 7 p.m.