Montana State eyes its first Division 1-AA/FCS national title since 1984. The Bobcats take on North Dakota State, a program looking to win its ninth championship since 2011.
What does Montana State need to do to hand NDSU its first loss in Frisco, Texas? Besides the obvious of winning the line of scrimmage, turnovers, time of possession, etc., here are five keys for a Bobcats victory:
More FCS Championship Coverage:
- Game Preview
- Tale of the Tape
- MSU, NDSU Have The Championship Formula
- Teams Hopeful To Get Injured Starters Back
Troy Andersen Scores A TD
Andersen is one of, if not the best defensive player in the FCS. He was also one of the best offensive weapons in the country in 2018 as a running QB. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder was used as an offensive and defensive player in 2019, but he’s been a full-time linebacker this season. In a game where points may be hard to find, one has to think there is an Andersen package in the playbook. We saw him on offense one possession against Montana, but he did not touch the ball. If the Bobcats are having trouble moving the ball against the No. 1 FCS scoring defense, don’t be surprised to see Andersen enter the game.
If it’s not on offense, scoring a defensive touchdown is in Andersen’s wheelhouse. He has two interceptions this season, one in which he returned for a TD. Andersen has also dropped a couple of would-be pick-sixes. As dynamic of a career as he’s had, Andersen getting into the end zone in his final collegiate game would be fitting and could be a difference-maker in this defensive battle.
“He has been blessed with great size, with great speed,” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said. “On top of that, he’s very intelligent and an amazing competitor. And on top of all of that, he’s our best leader. The really neat thing about Troy is he’s playing a new position again this year. Our Mike linebacker needs to be our alpha on defense. … All of that talent aside, he’s continuing to see the game faster and faster. He can blitz, he can cover, and he can cover space like crazy.”
NDSU is comfortable at Toyota Stadium. The Bison have had a pro-NDSU crowd in the stands, are familiar with the layout, the locker rooms, the atmosphere, and the days leading up to the big game. We’ve seen them jump on teams early that are in Frisco for the first time. The Bison have looked ready to play, while first-time opponents had a deer in the headlights look to start.
MSU can’t afford to fall behind by two scores early, because that’s when NDSU is at its peak — chewing up the clock as it continues to lean on you and grind away in the remaining quarters, making a comeback tough to accomplish.
Mellott Magic Continues
The storyline of Touchdown Tommy Mellott is tremendous. The in-state freshman from football-crazed Butte takes over as QB1 to start the playoffs and leads the Bobcats to its first national championship game in decades.
He has that “it” factor about him. And that’s going to need to continue to knock off NDSU. The Bison now have three games of film and three weeks of prep to figure out Mellott, what makes him uncomfortable, how to take away his strengths, etc. Mellott will have to be on point making deep throws to the outside, and continuing to work his magic running the ball, whether that’s getting loose on a big run, making a guy miss for a big gain, or getting a few extra yards after contact to move the chains.
“The first thing that stands out, he’s just a baller,” NDSU defensive end Logan McCormick said about Mellott. “He’s a dominant competitor. I think he’s got a ton of confidence, and he competes on every single snap. Whether that’s if he’s got to run the ball 40 times a game, or if he’s got to chuck it up and let his playmakers make plays. I think he does a really good job of knowing when to make good decisions and he takes really good care of the football.”
Lance McCutcheon Big Day
McCutcheon is arguably the most underrated FCS wide receiver nationally. For a team that did not throw the ball a ton this year, the 6-foot-3, 202-pounder has 56 catches for 1,015 yards and seven TDs. He’s been able to use his big body and athleticism to come down with plenty of clutch catches on fade routes, especially in the playoffs. The Bobcats have rarely thrown it across the middle with Mellott.
MSU establishing the run will be key, but doing it adamantly against an NDSU defense allowing 82.7 rushing yards a game likely won’t result in many long drives. McCutcheon will get his targets in 1-on-1 scenarios downfield, and he needs to win those battles.
“When you put Tommy Mellott and Isaiah Ifanse together, you’re talking about a one-two punch that is extremely talented, going to be extremely difficult to defend,” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said. “And then you throw a couple of big-time receivers in there. Lance McCutcheon as an outside receiver and Nate Stewart, big long kids that can create separation, not only with their speed but with their length.”
Contain Hunter Luepke
NDSU’s All-American fullback was the difference in the semifinal win against James Madison, especially catching the ball. He had 19 rushes for 110 yards and caught three passes for 89 yards and two TDs. It was just the second time this season Luepke had double-digit carries as the 6-foot-1 and 236-pounder bruiser has been slowed by injuries.
When fully healthy, he’s as dynamic of an offensive weapon as there is in the FCS. MSU won’t let Luepke leak out of the backfield unaccounted for big gains through the air like JMU did. But if NDSU can, they will run the same play to Luepke four straight times if the defense can’t stop him from picking up 5-6 yards every carry.
“They have a really unique guy in Hunter Luepke in that position right now,” Vigen said. “Maybe as unique as that’s been in that program. His ability to play fullback, to play the position he’s listed at, he’s really talented there. Both his blocking ability and catching ability, but I think it’s when they put him back at tailback and give him the ball, that’s such a rare combination.”
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