Montana State made the most of its bye week. The Bobcats rested.
They worked for that week off all season. Now, head coach Jeff Choate said, they’ve brought a higher level of energy to practice. They’re eager to return to the field.
The No. 5-seeded Bobcats (9-3) host Albany in the second round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday. Choate knows his team needs to be ready.
“I just think it’s a really good, sound football team that is very clearly deserving to be in the tournament with the way they played in Round 1,” Choate said of Albany. “I think it’s going to be a very challenging matchup for us on Saturday.”
The Bobcats were determined this offseason to become a top-eight team in the FCS. They practiced and played determined to so.
They accomplished that feat, in part because of their performance last month with an undefeated November. Choate said his players are relishing in that they are also hosting a playoff game late in the season.
But he added he wants the Bobcats to remain determined. While they’re favored to win and have a shot at a deep postseason run, Choate hopes the Bobcats retain their urgency.
He believes he saw it during the team’s practice Monday morning, though.
“I hope we approach this game like we still have our backs against the wall because we do. It’s win or go home,” Choate said. “I just hope our kids are still hungry, which I think they are.”
Choate can tell Albany is a well-prepared team. Watching the Great Danes (9-4) on film, he believes they excel on offense because they find defensive weakness and exploit them.
That was specifically the case last week when Albany torched Central Connecticut State 42-14 in the first round of the FCS playoffs Saturday. Jeff Undercuffler, who Choate said relied on run-pass option plays, threw for a single-game program record six touchdown passes.
Choate added the run game is usually “critical.” He said Albany leading rusher Karl Mofor, who’s totaled 1,239 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, has the elusiveness and skills that could translate to the pro level.
The true offensive threats, however, may be Albany’s wide receivers. He said Jerah Reeves, who has 70 catches for 886 yards and six touchdowns, is a legitimate deep threat.
And Choate called Albany leading receiver Juwan Green “special.” He’s racked up 1,263 yards and 16 touchdowns on 80 catches. Green has the top-end speed to be a “major problem” for the Bobcats, Choate said.
“If he’s double covered, he’s not covered because Undercuffler has trust and confidence in this kid, and he will go and get it,” Choate said. “He is a dude. Eighty receptions, 16 TDs. I don’t care if you’re playing Pop Warner. That’s pretty impressive.”
Choate noted the Great Danes don’t blitz often. But they don’t have to because of their quick and skilled defensive line.
That group in particular is hard to be ready for due to post-snap movement. If one of the defensive linemen lines up over a gap, he may not necessarily stick to that gap once a play starts.
Choate said the Bobcats specifically have to watch out for Eli Mencer, who has 14.5 sacks this season. He added one last week and chipped in an interception and five tackles. The Bobcats can’t easily slide protection to him because he’ll move around the defensive front, and he’s only one of several players they have to be aware of.
“They create a lot of problems, not so much with the blitz but a lot of post-snap movement,” Choate said. “They get a lot of negative plays, and they don’t have to blitz a lot because they’re capable of getting pressure with four guys. So I really like those guys.”
Choate likes the style Albany head coach Greg Gattuso runs. He respects Gattuso for his approach to his defense and his desire to run the ball on offense.
But Choate most respects Albany’s disciplined brand. The Great Danes are 26th in the country with a .54 average turnover margin, just .29 behind MSU at 14th. Choate also noticed they rarely give up explosive plays.
Albany simply doesn’t make mistakes often.
“They keep things in front of them, and they have a very good defensive line,” Choate said. “I see a team that is playing in an excellent league, the (Colonial Athletic Association), played a lot of tight games, found a way to win a lot of tight games because they didn’t beat themselves.”