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Run game, defensive spark garner national attention in No. 2 Montana State's win over No. 3 Sac State

Nolan Askelson
Posted at 4:27 PM, Oct 22, 2023

BOZEMAN — In the second week of Big Sky Conference After Dark, No. 2-ranked Montana State's run game put on a masterclass.

The Bobcats' dominance on the ground has become routine, but it saw a national stage Saturday night on ESPN2. MSU rushed for nearly 330 yards in its 43-30 win over No. 3-ranked Sacramento State.

"We've got depth everywhere," Bobcats running back Julius Davis said. "You can see it with the quarterbacks, you can see it with the running backs, the offensive line, I’m speechless. Like, they do the job, they wear on the defensive line. They make them move all across the field. Tommy (Mellott) makes them run all across the field. And then not only in the run game, talk about the pass game. We got our weapons back. Now you got to worry about everybody else."

"It’s amazing. I’m truthfully honored to be here and to be a part of this team."

Davis led the team in rushing with 110 yards, which included a hurdle — and 40-yard burst after he landed — heard around the college football world. He scored a touchdown two carries later and described how he was able to take over offensively post-game.

"I let my body take over, honestly," he said. "I try to eliminate all the thinking. I feel like when you start thinking at the position of running back, that’s when you kind of become indecisive. And then you don’t make the plays, and now it’s, 'I should’ve done this, I should’ve done that.' Whereas, I just let it happen. I react. If my body feels like I can jump over it, we’re going to jump over it. And if I flip, I flip."

Putting it on the line for the team is a mindset that is apparent from one offensive position group to the next for the Bobcats. They try to out-effort the defense they’re up against, embracing the physicality of the game.

"I think our physical nature won out," Bobcats coach Brent Vigen said. "A couple really big runs — Tommy, Sean (Chambers), certainly Julius, the hurdle run there, that was something else at a time when we really needed to answer their scoring. So, that was an interesting game, to say the least."

Despite trailing early for the first time this Big Sky Conference season, Montana State persevered. The defense stayed dialed in, coming up big with stops and forced turnovers that eventually led to the offense taking over.

"Just handling adversity as a team," Bobcats defensive back Rylan Ortt said. "That’s why we do really hard workouts all summer, all winter. We talk about that every single day in the offseason, and that’s fighting through adversity.

"Making the right choice when you’re in that moment and not getting down in that moment. Not saying, 'The defense has to pick the offense up here, the offense has to pick the defense up here.' So, yeah, I think that’s just a culture thing that we’ve got going on."

Part of the spark for the Bobcats came from cornerback Jon Johnson, who returned an interception for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 in the beginning of the second quarter.

"It was very important because they (Sac State) had most of the energy, and we were kind of down," Johnson said. "But after that, it was up from there."

With this victory, Vigen now has a win over every Big Sky team during his MSU tenure.

"Whoever we play, whoever is on our schedule, we beat them," the third-year MSU coach said. "I think this was big for our guys. You don’t play a team for a couple years, you share a (conference) title, all those things. But it’s still about this year’s team continuing to stack up these wins and know how important it is to have a consistent effort each week to give ourselves the chance to keep moving forward."

As for the message this sends to the conference?

"That we’re coming," Johnson said. "We’re coming to be No. 1 and to show we can play and we can be up there."