Montana Tech running back Pat Hansen averaged almost 24 carries per game last season, and the Orediggers won the Frontier Conference title.
The junior from Ekalaka ran the ball just 13 times in each of Tech’s last two games, and the Orediggers lost both.
That statistic is something that isn’t lost on Oredigger coach Chuck Morrell.
“We’ve got to make sure our best players are touching the football,” Morrell said. “The 800 pound gorilla in the room is that Pat has got to be involved. Our running backs period have got to be involved just because they’re very good football players.”
Hansen’s 13 carries in Saturday’s 29-22 loss to Montana Western only went for 27 yards against a defense clearly geared up to stop him.
Overall, the Orediggers ran just 21 times for 59 yards and 18 of those yards came from quarterback Brian Schwarzkoph scrambling on a pass play. Taylor Rowe, Clay Cavender, Kevin Moss and Herman Tapley also had runs.
The Orediggers have a new offensive coordinator this season, and coach Corey Fipps brought with him a fast-paced offense. Morrell, though, said Hansen’s lack of carries can’t be blamed solely on play calling or the system.
The coach pointed out that the Orediggers often go to the line of scrimmage with a run and a pass option. If the defense is geared up for the run, the Orediggers will pass. If the opponent is ready for the pass, they’ll run.
The Oredigger quarterbacks are still unproven, and Hansen ran for 2,739 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons. So, obviously, teams have been betting heavily on the run and the Orediggers have become pass happy.
Morrell said the coaches and players have to make a better effort to make sure the ball goes to No. 24 more often — no matter what the defense is showing.
“We’ll do a better job making sure he has more opportunities throughout the course of the football game,” Morrell said. “It’s just a reminder to ourselves to continue to have him touch the ball. It’s just a reminder to ourselves that we’ve got to constantly keep him going. Even if the defense dictates that we throw the ball off of some of our double-call stuff, we’ve got to set him up to continue to touch it.”
In the season opener at Eastern Oregon this year, Hansen got the rock 28 times. He gained 180 yards, and the Orediggers won 23-7. Tech also won the time of possession battle.
More touches for Hansen benefits the Orediggers in multiple ways, Morrell said.
For one thing, getting the running game going will help keep the Oredigger defense on the sideline. Tech lost the time of possession battle in its two losses. It wasn’t even close against Carroll.
“We’ve got to try to eliminate the number of snaps they’re taking,” Morrell said of his defense. “I think we were up to 87 snaps on Saturday. We’ve got to try to roll back and not have them out there so much.”
Also, more Hansen will likely mean more big-play opportunities for the Oredigger passing game.
“If we can have some consistency in the run game it certainly helps out in the passing game,” Morrell said. “Anytime you can force people to respect what you’re doing in the box, it just creates more space on the perimeter and vertically.”
Finally, Hansen has been known as a back who comes through in crunch time. That reputation dates back to Hansen’s first game as an Oredigger. He scored five touchdowns, including a walk-off TD in a double-overtime win over Eastern Oregon.
“It’s pretty clear that our running backs, especially Pat, have gotten better as the game goes on,” Morrell said. “The biggest part of his damage has always come in the second half. In the fourth quarter, people get tired and your tackling gets a little sloppy. How many times have you seen him break a big run in the fourth quarter?”
Rocky Mountain College will undoubtedly come to town looking to see a lot of Pat Hansen. So, too, should Oredigger fans.
“It is certainly something that we have to do,” Morrell said.