#8 Montana State FCS Football 2015 Preview

Montana State Bobcats

Overall Rank: #8
#2 Big Sky

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After missing the playoffs in 2013, Montana State had a lot to prove in 2014. After early losses to Arkansas State and Eastern Washington, the Bobcats won six of their next seven games heading into the season finale against rival Montana. With a share of the Big Sky title on the line, Montana State failed to capitalize against Montana and lost that contest 34-7. But their eight wins were still enough to reach the playoffs. However, the defense let them down against South Dakota State and the Bobcats made an early playoff exit. This time around the offense will again be extremely potent, but defensive improvement is a must if this group expects to compete for a conference title.

2014 Record: 8-5, 6-2
2014 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Rob Ash (65-32 at Montana State, 242-131-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Tim Cramsey
Defensive Coordinator: Kane Ioane, Jamie Marshall

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Dakota Prukop, QB, 932 yards
Passing: Dakota Prukop, QB, 2,279 yards
Receiving: Mitch Griebel, WR, 394 yards
Tackles: Bryson Keeton, CB, 74
Sacks: Taylor Sheridan, DL, 2.5
Interceptions: Khari Garcia, DB, 2

Other Key Returnees: RB Gunnar Brekke, WR Mitchell Herbert, WR Tanner Roderick, OL J.P. Flynn, P Trevor Bolton, K Luke Daly

Key Losses: RB Shawn Johnson, RB Anthony Knight, TE Tiai Salanoa, OL Quinn Catalano, LB Alex Singleton, LB Cole Moore, DL Oden Coe, DB Robert Marshall, DB Deonte Flowers

The offense will again be led by Dakota Prukop. He is coming off of a superb sophomore season in which he threw for 2,279 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 932 yards and 13 more scores. Those are some good numbers, but Prukop’s best attribute to the team was his efficiency. He completed 67.0 percent of his passes and threw just six interceptions. Prukop missed the last two games of the regular season and without him turnovers became a huge problem. Against Montana, the Bobcats committed seven turnovers. As long as Prukop is healthy, this is a team that can beat anybody on any given day. Receivers Mitch Griebel, Mitchell Herbert and Tanner Roderick return to help boost Prukop’s passing numbers. Griebel led the team with 41 receptions for 394 yards, but never reached the end zone last season. Roderick is the deep threat, but keep an eye on sophomore Jayshawn Gates down the field too. Prukop will likely lead this team in rushing again, but backs Shawn Johnson (569 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Anthony Knight (496 yards, 12 touchdowns) need to be replaced. Chad Newell and Gunnar Brekke, who rushed for 408 yards and four touchdowns last season while catching 19 passes for 209 yards and two more scores, are the most experienced options. With a strong offensive line, the ground game should be among the best in the Big Sky and the FCS even without Johnson and Knight.  

Many times the offense had to outscore the opposition since the defense was quite inconsistent. The unit ranked 13th in the Big Sky in pass defense and 12th in total defense. With just three starters returning on defense, the story could be the same this year. Coach Rob Ash did hit the transfer market hard to help fill in the gaps, so there is a bit more experience on the roster than it appears, but those players still need to prove it on the field. At the least, the influx of talent will add depth. Nose tackle Taylor Sheridan and defensive end Zach Hutchins are a good duo to build around in the front line. Finding a consistent pass rusher is a must after the team averaged just 1.54 sacks per game last year. Khari Garcia and Bryson Keeton are the most experienced players in the secondary.

The Bottom Line:
Once again Montana State will face Eastern Washington early in the season in what is technically a non-conference game. And once again that could be the game that pits the best two teams in the conference against each other. But the Big Sky slate does begin relatively tough. After the trip to EWU, Montana State plays Cal Poly, Northern Arizona and Sacramento State. Those are three teams that will be looking for a big win to boost their playoff hopes and three teams that can beat Montana State if the defense takes too long to fill all of the holes.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 244.4 (7th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 244.2 (34, 7)
Total Offense: 488.6 (9, 3)
Scoring Offense: 38.2 (11, 4)
Rushing Defense: 192.1 (88, 8)
Pass Defense: 293.8 (119, 13)
Total Defense: 485.9 (114, 12)
Scoring Defense: 33.3 (100, 9)
Turnover Margin: -0.46 (96, 10)
Sacks: 1.54 (94, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 2.00 (55, 7)

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#71 Keon Stephens


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