BOZEMAN — Most pundits wondered if Montana State University’s irresistible run game would be able to gain ground over the University of Montana’s immovable run defense.
That’s what it was all about here on Saturday in the 121st Rivalry Matchup. And in the end it was as convincing as it could be.
The Bobcats rushed for 439 yards in their 55-21 loss to the Grizzlies and were vastly superior in that element of the contest that day. The UM defense, which hadn’t allowed more than 192 in a game all season, was more than doubled by Saturday’s batting end.
“That first shot is so important in a rivalry game like this,” said MSU sophomore quarterback and Butte product Tommy Mellott, who had a playing height of 141 yards after winning his first rivalry game. “They rotate a lot in the front and that doesn’t make them very patchy. And that doesn’t happen in Division I football.
Montana, now 7-4 on the season and 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference, took a series of hits from start to finish as the Bobcats (10-1, 8-0) bagged part of their first championship title since 2012.
The first play of the game was a 12-yard run by quarterback Tommy Mellott, the next was a jam by Elijah Elliott that hit 20 yards, and the next surpassed that when Mellott went for 31 yards. By then, the Bobcats were able to outdo themselves because they were already within 12 yards of pay dirt, which they found three games later.
MSU began taking it to the edges of UM’s defense with great success, covering 75 yards in six moves — all in a rush — to go 7-0 after just 2:39 of the game . The Bobcats proved it wasn’t a fluke to walk 80 yards on their next possession in just seven games – all rushing again.
“We felt like we could accomplish some things (out there), and we have some electric guys running football for us,” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said. “We have a good range of runs and an offensive line that continues to execute at high speed.”
The Grizzlies came into play at just 2.6 yards per carry and just 97 yards per game, a full 30 yards per game better than the next best rush defense (Weber State) in the Big Sky Conference.
The Bobcats scored on all four drives in the first half and had 306 rushing yards at halftime on 37 carries — 8.3 per carry — 162 in the first quarter and another 144 in the second.
Mellott also had two touchdowns on his 15 carries, Elliott had 126 on 18 kills, secondary quarterback Sean Chambers – who played his first game in more than a month – had 86 yards and one touchdown, and offensive coordinator Taylor Housewright’s shiny new toy Marqui Johnson had 74 yards and a score on just under six handovers following his performance as an international and Big Sky player of the week at Cal Poly last week.
In other words, it didn’t matter who ran the ball for the Bobcats. Montana had no answers.
“He continues to play with all the things that make him who he is,” Vigen said of Mellott. “He’s an incredible competitor, he’s extremely intelligent and he’s incredibly talented.”
For the most part, the Bobcats did what they did in the running game. The difference was that they did not deviate to pass. The first 17 and 31 of the first 32 games were runs. They gained 292 yards on them.
“You always think nobody can stop you,” said MSU defenseman and captain RJ Fitzgerald. “They’re one of the best-run defenses in the country. We had to come off the ball every game as the most physical team and I thought we did four quarters in a row.
Bobcat Stadium has turned into a house of terror for UM’s running defense. The Bobcats rushed for 382 yards in a 48-14 route in 2019 — the last time the teams met in Bozeman.
MSU has 800+ yards across the two games and has surpassed UM by 68 points the last two times the historic rivalry has been played in Bozeman.
The 34-point margins are tied for MSU’s second-biggest wins in the streak.
UM head coach Bobby Hauck is now 2-4 at Bobcat Stadium and 6-5 as head coach in the rivalry game.
“(Running the Ball is) What They Do”, UM Safety Robbie Hauck. “We know they know that. It’s about having discipline. Good eyes and coming off blocks and tackling and we didn’t do that, including me.
The Bobcats will draw a bye in the first round and play at home in the second round of the FCS playoffs. They will most likely be seed #2 or #3.
They were the No. 8 seed last season and then knocked out No. 1 Sam Houston State in the quarterfinals. A semifinal win over South Dakota State, this year’s predicted No. 1, propelled them into national title contention.
The selection show for the FCS playoffs begins on Sunday morning at 10:30 a.m.