Rob Ash and the Montana State looked flummoxed on Saturday against the Northern Arizona University Lumberjacks on both sides of the ball. After a performance last week that looks more like an aberration than an improvement, the defense seemed entirely lost against a middling Lumberjack offense, while the Cats’ vaunted offense couldn’t get the wheels turning quickly enough to make up the slack.
After NAU opened the game with a 78 yard drive in less than two minutes, it looked as though Bobcat Nation would have to endure yet another defenseless game, as apparently the unit that stopped Cal Poly last week decided to take the week off and stay in Bozeman. The two teams traded scores for much of the first half, but a stop from the Lumberjack defense afforded NAU some breathing room and they took a 28-14 halftime lead over the Cats.
The defense looked absolutely gassed and it was only halftime and the offense had stagnated thus far. Offensive Coordinator Tim Cramsey called plays as if MSU were running the wildcat and instead of downfield passing the Bobcats seemed content to scramble in the backfield. Deciding not to use his junior quarterback Dakota Prukop to pass the ball as most teams would, the Bobcats elected to use their all star QB as a runningback for much of the game. For his part, Prukop remains healthy for now, but taking hit after hit in what will be a grueling season doesn’t bode too well.
After halftime, things only got worse for the Cats and the MSU faithful. Unlike the usual version of halftime adjustments where teams look to correct their first half mistakes, the Cats decide to instead keep trying the exact same thing to see if it might work out. It did not. The defense allowed the Lumberjacks to leap to a 42-14 lead and the offense continued to dink and dunk and squander chances and the offensive line looked offensive with their terrible pass protection.
When the Cats finally connected on one of their many deep passes of the evening, this time to sophomore wideout Justin Paige for 64 yards, Ash decided — on the road and down 22 points — to go for two on the conversion, which they failed to get. After the unsuccessful conversion attempt, the Cats tried for an onsides kick, basically admitting that their defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed and that their only chance to yet win the game was to keep the ball out of NAU’s hands. After the Cats did not recover the kick, the defense gave up another short, four play drive to extend NAU’s lead to 29 points with 10 minutes to go. Finally the Bobcat offense remembered that they are actually really good at football and managed to score three touchdowns in four and a half minutes to close the gap. But after trying to onsides kick the ball and instead kicking the football equivalent of a slow grounder to the shortstop, the Bobcats were out of luck and those fans still watching the disaster were finally allowed to go do more productive and heart-healthy activities.
Prukop finished the game with 399 passing yards on 22 of 35 attempts and also ran the ball and inexplicable 21 times for 54 yards — only averaging 2.6 yards per carry — as many as the other two real runningbacks did throughout the game. It would be hard to say which aspect of the Bobcat defense looked worse between the run and the pass. They gave up 254 passing yards on just 18 completions while being gashed for 252 yards on the ground. The unit looks different and unready to play week to week. The only consistent thing to blame is the coaching. In four games this season, the Cats have come out of the gates looking unprepared in three of those, and that is simply not acceptable for a team that claims to be aspiring toward a national championship. The Cats return home this week to play an underperforming Sacramento State squad next weekend in a game that they should and need to win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. The game kicks off at 5 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 8.