BROOKINGS, S.D. — It was a record-setting night for Taryn Christion and Cade Johnson as South Dakota State made quick work of Montana State, 45-14, at Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday.
Johnson caught nine passes for 138 yards, scoring four touchdowns to tie a program single-game record. One week after playing a single offensive drive during an eventual-canceled game at Iowa State, Johnson, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, showcased his skills in front of 14,614 fans. His two-yard scoring reception from Christion was the lone touchdown of the opening quarter, but he added scores of 24 and 19 yards in the second quarter, including a spectacular one-handed touchdown to give SDSU a 21-0 lead.
Johnson scored his final touchdown with 10:38 remaining in the game, becoming the third Jackrabbit to haul in four receiving touchdowns in as many years.
“They have good players. They’re No. 3 in the country for a reason,” said MSU safety Brayden Konkol. “They have playmakers and I think their receivers and running backs did a good job filling in for the two dudes they lost last year.”
“We kind of thought he might be the guy, because when you looked at the people that had touches a year ago, after you took out (Jake Wieneke) and (Dallas Goedert), he was probably the next guy up,” said Montana State head coach Jeff Choate. “I thought (Christion and Johnson) worked really well together and those guys had a nice connection.”
Christion worked his way in the record book, as the four-year starter at quarterback became the first South Dakota State player to top 10,000 total offensive yards. He’s only the second athlete from the Missouri Valley Football Conference to reach the milestone.
Christion’s accolade came after a 51-yard pass in the third quarter. He finished the game 21-29 for 319 yards and four touchdowns. He also scored a rushing touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter.
“Our goal was kind of to keep him in the pocket and make him make those perfect decisions. At times he did and you have to tip your hat to a young man like that that has that kind of ability,” said Choate. “I’m very impressed with his playmaking and really with their team tonight.”
Saturday’s biggest storyline surrounding Montana State wasn’t a well-kept secret, but when Troy Andersen entered the field with a large cast on his left hand, protecting broken bones suffered during MSU’s season-opening win over Western Illinois, the Bobcats turned to redshirt freshman Tucker Rovig as the starter under center. The Meridian, Idaho native completed 13 of 25 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, a three-yard strike to sophomore Lance McCutcheon in the fourth quarter, while also throwing two interceptions.
“Honestly, thankfully to most of the team, that went a lot smoother than I thought it would, especially in the beginning of the game. It wasn’t going as fast as I perceived it would pregame and that’s all due to the guys supporting me right in the beginning,” said Rovig, who said he learned last Sunday he would start at SDSU. “It was next man up, you have to do what you have to do and this week we didn’t get what we wanted. … I wouldn’t say this is what I imagined it to be, I imagined coming out of this place with a smile on our face, coming out with a win.”
“I really thought Tucker did some nice things, even in the first half,” said Choate. “As I told the young men at halftime, ‘Bottom line is someone else has to step up and make plays, too.’ There were some balls that were there to be caught and some plays that were there to be made. Between penalties and lack of execution, I just felt like we were disjointed on offense for the entire first half, really.”
“Kind of what we talked about was about 12 to 15 plays, some spot plays on defense and then a handful of plays on offense,” Choate continued regarding Andersen’s expectations. “He kind of gave us, the one thing I’ll tell you about that kid, I thought he was awesome on the sideline and in our huddle all night long. He’s a very, very competitive young man. I know he wanted to be out there with his teammates, but he was very limited with what happened there. I think he’ll bounce back quickly. He was able to turn around in nine days and play a game, at least be ready to play a game. We thought, at least at this point, it was probably better to back off of him a little bit.”
Montana State struggled to create running lanes on Saturday, rushing 23 times for only 29 yards, good for only 1.3 yards per carry, with receiver Willie Patterson and Rovig leading the team with eight yards each. Montana State mustered 193 yards of offense to South Dakota State’s 512, while the Bobcats managed only six first downs in the loss.
“South Dakota State is very deserving of their ranking. It was going to take very clean game for us to win this game, given the circumstances. That was most disappointing thing, we played so clean (against Western Illinois), we gave ourselves opportunities to win that game and here was almost the exact opposite.”
Montana State returns to Bozeman next Saturday, set for a meeting with 1-1 Wagner College. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.