BOZEMAN — The No. 9-ranked Montana State football team will face its first ranked opponent of the season on Friday night, when it takes on No. 19 Weber State in Ogden, Utah.
Brett Hein, the sports editor and Weber State beat writer for the (Ogden) Standard-Examiner, answered five questions from 406mtsports.com about the Wildcats (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky) ahead of their conference game against the Bobcats (5-1, 2-0).
406: What is Weber State’s biggest strength?
BH: Several seasons going, Weber State’s biggest strength is its defense, both in the skill on that side of the ball and the scheme and preparation for opponents. Typically, WSU holds opponents to less yards and less points than their average almost every time out, and that’s usually led by a good effort up front with the defensive line and linebackers.
406: Who is WSU’s best player on both sides of the ball?
BH: That’s a tough answer because part of WSU’s success has been how players come together to find success. There’s not one guy racking up all the tackles or, usually, not one guy getting all the yards. With that said, Josh Davis, Dontae McMillan and Rashid Shaheed are the playmakers offensively. On defense, it depends on the game and who’s in position to make plays based on the scheme. That could be on the defensive line with George Tarlas or Jared Schiess, it could be Sherwin Lavaka and Conner Mortensen at linebacker, or it could be Eddie Heckard, Marque Collins or Preston Smith in the secondary.
How ready does Bronson Barron (WSU’s season-opening starting quarterback) seem for his return from injury?
BH: I believe Barron might have played two weeks ago at Cal Poly if WSU really needed him to, but it was a great setup for him to be all the way ready by traveling to CP and then hitting a bye. There may or may not be some momentary rust once the ball is kicked, but physically I think he’s ready to go.
The Wildcats are four-time defending Big Sky champions and were No. 6 in the FCS (No. 1 among Big Sky teams) to start the season. What has been the biggest reason(s) for their relatively subpar first half?
BH: Uncharacteristically, Weber State isn’t winning the turnover game and has played a tough schedule, and those would be the two things that, so far, make it look “subpar.” WSU was yards away from tying the game 10-10 in the second quarter against James Madison, the QB trips and tries to hand off the ball anyway, and it results in an 85-yard fumble return and JMU goes up 17-3. Against UC Davis, a turnover gave the Aggies a very short field, and WSU let a drive to the UCD 20-yard line go without points with a chance to go up 14-0.
Against some teams, you can recover from those mistakes but not in games like that. So, WSU is 2-2 against FCS teams and is in the position of needing to convert wins in the next two games or risk missing the playoffs.
Who do you expect to win Friday’s game, and how will it play out?
BH: I’ll stick to my policy of not making public predictions for games I’m covering, but I’m guessing the game will hinge on what WSU’s defense can do with Matthew McKay and the Bobcats’ well-oiled offense. Typically, WSU has been able to make teams one-dimensional and turn it into a grind. They did it for three quarters against JMU but gave up big plays in the third quarter and, so far, WSU’s offense isn’t consistent enough to make up tons of ground if the defense doesn’t pitch a relatively perfect game. It should be another good Big Sky battle.