GRAND FORKS, ND -- No. 9 Montana State (5-2, 2-1) will kick-off at mid-morning Saturday on the road at North Dakota (4-3). It’s a key league game for the Bobcats, but it comes against a non-league opponent.
Even though Fighting Hawks are playing a Big Sky schedule, and their games count in the league’s standings, the Hawks are not members of the Big Sky Conference as they make the transition to the Missouri Valley Conference for football.
But if they were included in the overall conference stats, their defense would rank top five in the league, allowing 380 yards per game, which would be third in the Big Sky. So you can bet they’re well aware and will be well prepared for Montana State’s tendency to line up multiple guys under center.
Tucker Rovig, Travis Jonsen, Troy Andersen and Casey Bauman have all lined up nominally at “quarterback” this season, although their roles in the offense are much different. Rovig took over for Bauman as the primary pocket passer weeks ago, while Jonsen and Andersen check in during rushing situations, primarily running out of the wildcat formation.
“Three different guys, and really it’s about four different guys you’re preparing for,” said North Dakota head coach Bubba Schweigert. “It’s a unique situation, but give them credit, they’re using their roster and it’s been effective for them.”
Schweigert is quick to point out that shuffling quarterbacks isn’t the only thing that make’s Montana State’s offense potent.
“That isn’t the only thing you got to defend with this football team. They’re dynamic at receiver, they have a great return man,” Schweigert added. “There’s a number of different things, this is why they are highly ranked and a very good football team, we’re just going to have to really prepare well.”
That same scheme that gives opposing teams headaches keeps MSU’s players fresh and engaged.
“I actually think it’s a lot of fun. I think it would be tough to find a rhythm if I was out of the game, but really I’m on the sideline and I’m still running,” Rovig said about the downs where he’s not on the field. “I’m still moving and jogging. It’s not like I’m getting tight or anything like that, so I think it definitely helps just being involved in the play.”
While North Dakota has multiple quarterbacks to prepare for, the Cats have just one. And he’s a good one.
Nathan Ketteringham enters his second year as the starter for the Fighting Hawks after transferring from Sacramento State as a junior in 2017. As a sophomore in 2016, he led the Hornets to a come-from-behind 41-38 win over the Bobcats.
“I don’t remember much,” joked Montana State coach Jeff Choate. “I’ve blocked that one out of my brain.”
Though North Dakota is unranked and 4-3 overall, Choate believes UND's record isn’t indicative of its talent. He points to its 3-0 record at home in the Alerus Center.
“We know who they are at home,” Choate said. “They beat Sam Houston State, who is leading the Southland Conference with a 4-1 conference record right now. They beat Drake and Cal Davis, who at the time was a Top 10 team.”
North Dakota isn’t the only team that plays well in Grand Forks. In three trips to the Alerus Center since UND joined the Big Sky in 2012, Montana State has averaged 50 points per game. And Saturday the Bobcats will try to hand the Fighting Hawks their first home loss of the year.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. MDT in Grand Forks.