SMU: Garrett Gilbert wasn't spectacular in the season opener vs. Texas Tech last week, but he managed to avoid turning the ball over and making poor decisions. He finished the game 41-of-62 for 388 yards and ran for 53 yards and a touchdown. This week, Gilbert should have more time in the pocket against a much less talented Montana State defensive line and will have plenty of opportunities to make plays through the air. Montana State's secondary lost a lot of playmakers from last season and Gilbert should be able to pick on a few of their defensive backs.
Montana State: The Bobcats will be led by senior signal caller Denarius McGhee. In their opening game vs. Monmouth, McGhee was 19-for-27 for 240 yards and added 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He is a very accurate passer who is always a threat to take off and run when the pocket breaks down. McGhee totaled 3,154 yards and 24 touchdowns last season as a junior to go along with 364 yards and five touchdowns rushing. Expect Montana State to also throw the ball a lot in this game and take advantage of SMU's weak secondary.
SMU: The lack of production on the ground was the Mustang's biggest issue last week. Traylon Shead fumbled twice and had just 22 yards on nine carries before leaving the game with an MCL strain. Freshman Prescott Line wasn't much better when filing in for Shead but did manage to score a late touchdown for the Mustangs. Some of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of the offensive linemen for their poor blocking, but Line and Collin LaGasse will have to do a better job this week.
Montana State: The Bobcats lost one of their top running backs from last season in Orenzo Davis, but junior Shawn Johnson and senior Cody Kirk are more than capable replacements. Johnson had 109 yards and a touchdown last week on just five carries while Kirk had just 39 yards, but was able to score twice with his 11 carries. Last season, Kirk went for 841 yards and 13 touchdowns after rushing for over 1,300 yards as a sophomore. Like SMU, the Bobcats are a pass-first team that doesn't rely on their running backs too often, but they will give Kirk and Johnson plenty of chances to make plays.
Edge: Montana State
SMU: Although nobody scored a touchdown through the air for the Mustangs last week, the wide receiving corps played well vs. Texas Tech all game. Jeremy Johnson and Darius Joseph combined for 23 catches and 234 yards, while Keenan Holman and Der'rikk Thompson had 50 yards each. All the receivers seemed to have pretty good chemistry with Gilbert, but I expect freshman JaBryce Taylor to play more in this game. The Montana State secondary lost many of their playmakers from last season, so the SMU pass catchers should be able to put up big numbers once again.
Montana State: The Bobcats are returning their top playmaker from last season in WR Tanner Bleskin. Last week, the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder caught seven balls for 121 yards and managed to have a big 47-yard grab vs. Monmouth. After finishing with 928 yards last season, Bleskin will be looking to have a big game vs. the Mustangs' weak secondary. The Bobcats complimentary receivers include Brian Flotkoetter and Jon Ellis, who were limited to 71 yards combined last week, but both have good chemistry with McGhee. Also, look out for TE Tiai Salanoa in this game after SMU struggled with the Red Raiders tight end, Jace Amaro, last week.
SMU: The Mustangs' offensive line struggled last week against the much bigger and more experienced defensive line of the Red Raiders. Texas Tech had five sacks on Gilbert and was constantly disrupting run and pass plays in the SMU backfield. Gilbert rarely seemed to have enough time to get his feet set and the running backs struggled to find any holes when they got the ball. This lead to the coaching staff constantly shuffling lineman in and out to try and find a combination that worked. Expect the Mustangs' line play to improve dramatically in this game against a weaker opponent and after having another week to figure things out.
Montana State: The Bobcats lost two important leaders across their offensive line from last season in Steven Foster and Shaun Sampson. But guys like guard Quinn Catalano and tackle John Weidenaar have already stepped up as leaders this year on and off the field. The other guard spot is also very solid for the Bobcats with returning senior Kyle Godecke expected to hold down the middle once again. In the past, Montana State has had a very solid offensive line anchoring one of the top offenses in FCS. This year, there are a lot of question marks on the line, but they were able to perform very well vs. Monmouth and allow the Bobcats playmakers to be effective.
SMU: The Mustangs defensive line answered a lot of questions last week vs. Texas Tech. Beau Barnes, Zach Wood, and others managed to penetrate the Red Raiders backfield and shut down their run game completely. After causing the Red Raiders to be one dimensional, the Mustangs were able to put some pressure on Mayfield and sack him four times. Montana State will run the ball more than the Red Raiders did and their veteran quarterback will be more capable of handing the Mustangs pass rush with his speed and versatility. This group hopes to build on last week's performance and will be a key for SMU in this game.
Montana State: The Bobcats defense is lead by team captain and DE Brad Daly. Daly was a member of the preseason Big Sky Conference first team and is the FCS active career-leader in sacks with 19. He sets the tone for the entire Bobcat defense after they lost a few big time playmakers across their line from last season. The big loss was Caleb Schreibeis, who had 12.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles last year. The team is hoping Daly can step into that role this season and help the Bobcat defense cause just as many turnovers. They are also expecting a lot from defensive tackle Craig Ashworth, who returns for his senior season.
SMU: The SMU linebacker corps had their ups and downs last week. They were terrific stopping the run, as Texas Tech only managed 48 total yards on the ground. Outside pass rushers Stephon Sanders and Robert Seals also managed to put Mayfield under pressure. However, the team lost Randall Joyner to a leg injury that will most likely keep him out this week. The Bobcats have much more dynamic running backs and a more mobile quarterback than Texas Tech, so the Mustang linebackers will have a lot to deal with in this game.
Montana State: The heart and soul of the Bobcat defense last season was linebacker Jody Owens. With Owens gone, the team will rely on Na'a Moeakiola and Cole Moore to be leaders. Moeakiola had 89 total tackles last year as a junior and will be asked to do even more this season. Expectations for Moore are also very high this season as he returns for one last year with the Bobcats. The team will also be relying on Alex Singleton at Will linebacker. The junior had two tackles for loss and an interception last week vs. Monmouth and seems to always be around the ball making plays. The Bobcats will be looking to cause turnovers in this game after causing 18 total last season and that starts with their linebackers.
SMU: The Mustangs secondary got embarrassed by a freshman walk-on quarterback last week. Baker Mayfield and the Red Raiders had no problem throwing the ball around all night and piled up over 400 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Chris Parks was especially disappointing, but all of the Mustang defensive backs seemed very passive and unprepared. They will need to do a much better job in coverage and getting off blocks this week vs. Montana State.
Montana State: The Bobcats biggest strength is their secondary. Cornerback Deonte Flowers and Steven Bethley have a knack for causing turnovers and making life difficult on receivers. Even without last season's leader in interceptions, Darius Jones, and safety Joel Fuller, the Bobcats have potential to be great in the secondary. They managed two interceptions last week vs. Monmouth, but also gave up two scores through the air. If their front seven can cause Gilbert to make quick decisions, the Montana State defensive backs could cause a few problems for the Mustangs.
Edge: Montana State
Overall Edge: SMU 5-2
SMU vs. Montana State Position Breakdown
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