Defense shines in Cats scrimmage

BOZEMAN — Montana State’s defense allowed just two first downs in the first six possessions and gave up only two late touchdowns in dominating the Bobcats’ first full scrimmage of the spring.

“I thought the defense was really good today,” said MSU coach Rob Ash. “I thought they played fast. Our front four was extremely tough to block. I thought Brad Daly and Preston Gale really set the tone by bringing the pressure off the edges. It looked a lot like last year. The guys on defense played extremely well.”

MSU’s defense accounted for seven quarterback sacks and nine other tackles-for-loss in the 105-play scrimmage. Defensive ends Heath Hunter and Odin Coe each logged two sacks, while Luke Halliburton, Nate Bignell, and Craig Ashworth all got in on the action. Quarterbacks wore red jerseys, and the sacks mostly came on tag-offs.

The day’s first touchdown came on a one-yard run by senior running back Cody Kirk to cap a 35-yard drive on the offense’s 14th possession. Kirk finished the day with 39 yards rushing. On the next possession, freshman cornerback Vince DiGiallonardo turned in the day’s only interception, on which he likely would have scored had it not been whistled dead.

“I thought Cody’s, that one we had to get,” Ash said. “The offense felt good about it, they converted, got it in the end zone and there’s nothing like that for them to sense of being positive. We ended up getting a touchdown with Chad Newell, too, so that’s a positive.”

Much of MSU’s offensive success came on drives with good starting field position, which didn’t surprise Ash. “It’s a statistical fact that it’s harder to score with a long field (in front of an offense), and we didn’t do anything with a long field. But as the day went on, and as the offense got the ball in the red zone, I thought we moved the ball pretty well. I thought that was an interesting aspect of the scrimmage today because it’s really the same 11 , but there’s something about being closer to the end zone that gives the offense a sense of being positive.”

A major factor that hindered the offense was the center-quarterback exchange in the standard shotgun formation. Four players rotated through the center spot, each vying to replace All-America center Shaun Sampson. Ash said the situation is not yet a major concern.

“I’ll just say this,” Ash said, “once we get our center snaps fixed our offense will look a thousand times better. I think that’s a huge part of what’s going on right now. Even when we’re catching it it’s throwing the timing off, and sometimes we don’t even get the play off. We’ve got guards that have never played center that are trying it there, we’re moving several people around to that position, so I’m not worried about it yet. I’d like to get it fixed before spring ball ends. If this was August I’d be very concerned, but we have a lot of time, and we’ll work on it.”

MSU’s returning varsity quarterbacks, All-America DeNarius McGhee and sophomore Jake Bleskin, each performed well under trying circumstances. On a chilly and blustery afternoon, McGhee finished 11-for-18 for 72 yards, while Bleskin was 10-for-18 for 75 yards. Ash singled out MSU’s returning backup signal caller. “I thought Jake Bleskin threw the ball well, accurately, and pretty decisive. He had a little more time to throw than DeNarius did, but I thought he did a nice job.”

Montana State picks up its normal weekly routine with practices on Tuesday and Thursday this week, with the Sonny Holland Scrimmage slated for 1 pm on Saturday in Bobcat Stadium.

RUSHING: Cody Kirk 12-39-1, Shawn Johnson 11-13-0, Chad Newell 5-34-1, David Dash 1-19-0.
PASSING: DeNarius McGhee 11-18-0, 72, 0; Jake Bleskin 10-18-0, 75, 0; Dakota Prukop 1-3-1, 2, 0; Bobby Crane 2-3-0, 5, 0; Mitch Griebel 0-2-0, 0, 0.
RECEIVING: Kurt Davis 3-24, Tiai Salanoa 3-19, Shaun Johnson 3-5, Tanner Bleskin 2-13, Cody Kirk 2-1, Chris Houden 2-13, Austin Barth 2-10, Brian Flotkoetter 2-18, David Dash 1-12, Tanner Roderick 1-11, Will Krolick 1-0, Jackson Mahlum 1-5.

— MSU Sports Information