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Coach’s Corner: Scouting Montana State

Taking a quick look at Montana State’s offense.

Welcome back to the Corner! With the 2017 college football season finally under way (Praise be unto the Football Gods), let’s look at some film on Montana State’s offense and what we might see from the Bobcats on Saturday night. It should be noted that this film is from 2016, since Montana State has yet to take the field this season. Thus, we can only assume their offense on film will be somewhat similar to what we see tomorrow night. It’s probably a pretty good bet, considering they haven’t made any significant coaching changes during the off-season, and they return the Big Sky Freshman of the Year in quarterback Chris Murray.

Murray was fantastic as a runner last year for the Bobcats, but struggled to find his rhythm as a passer, completing less than fifty percent of his throws. Head Coach (and former WSU assistant under Leach) Jeff Choate is reported to have spent much of the off-season developing Murray as a passer, with an emphasis on having his quarterback under center more often. The film from 2016 shows a team that is primarily shotgun that uses a lot of formations to disguise the fact that they’re really just running inside zone a whole bunch.

Chris Murray is the linchpin to the MSU offense

It will be interesting to see how hell-bent Choate is on turning Murray into more of an under-center quarterback. One would think that, with the success Murray had in the shotgun, he would follow the herd and go to a zone-read option type of look. Or maybe implement an RPO offense that simplifies Murray’s reads in the passing game. But then I suppose that’s why I’m not making the big bucks in Bozeman. Of course, that all may be academic come Saturday night. If the Cougs can get out to a fast start early and can make the Bobcats chase points, they may have to get away from their running game to play catch-up. At least that’s the hope.

They did show some under center work on the film from last year, so let’s take a look.

MSU Offensive Formation: I-Right Tight Offset Weak, Liz Motion

A little bit of context is important here. It’s 3rd & 2-ish. Power formations were not what MSU wanted to do. But they’re not terrible at power run blocking.

The Play: Power G

This is your average, run-of-the-mill, B1G-style power G to the weak side. Playside guard and tackle downblock, and the center makes it a big mess in the middle. The backside guard and tight end both hinge block down to fill the gap left by the pulling guard, and among that guard, the fullback, and the motioning tight end, there are three lead blockers for the running back. That’s a lot of beef. The defensive end actually crashes down pretty hard, so the fullback will seal him and wash him down into the pile, taking away any edge force. Then it’s just a matter of the running back getting behind his lead blockers and churning his legs for the first down.

By the way, I’m now a fan of the Montana State video editing program. Whoever runs the Montana State Bobcats Video account on YouTube uploads an end zone shot so we get this super great look at their blocking scheme:

Random MSU video guy, you’re a good human.

Let’s show off a little of Murray’s athleticism, and something that might hurt the Cougar D if they show the propensity to flush quarterbacks, but not quite finish the sack like they did last season.

MSU Offensive Formation: H-Trips Left

The Play: Verticals, maybe Hitch and go by the slot. Doesn’t really matter here, because the point is that the pocket breaks down, and Murray makes a play with his feet.

Murray does make something out of nothing here, but he shows a little bit of immaturity. If he keeps his eyes downfield just a hair longer and throws it in the proper window, he has a touchdown to the slot receiver right as he breaks past the hook/curl defender. There’s a lot of fake grass there. But he does manage to avoid a sack, avoid a couple of defenders and get a handful of yards.

Here’s where MSU and Chris Murray were at their best when they wanted to put the ball in the air. Utilizing Murray’s mobility, they roll him out of the pocket and allowing his receivers time to work deep into the defensive backfield.

MSU Offensive Formation: Ace Right Open

Ace for non-Air Raid teams is 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE). Open takes the weakside TE and splits him out wide. UC-Davis fakes an edge blitz and then bails to a Cover 2 look.

The Play: F-Post

Pretty good play to catch them in Cover 2. The receiver at the bottom of the screen presses vertical. Because of the blitz look, the corner covering him is going to be responsible for deep half. Since the tight end at the bottom of the screen stays in to block, and the running back play fakes away, that corner will lock in on the receiver because he’s the only threat on his side of the field. When the receiver breaks off the route and heads to the sideline at about fifteen yards, he takes the corner with him, and away from the middle of the field.

The F tight end/receiver runs a post. When the corner vacates the deep half to roll up on the receiver at the bottom, the F fills the void. The safety at the top is held by the receiver running a vertical, forcing the safety to choose between the F and the wideout. Good play design to put him in a bind.

Murray makes the throw on time, but he throws it just a touch behind and a little high, forcing the F to break his stride just enough, otherwise this probably would have gone for six.

On Saturday night, expect a lot of different formations from Montana State. For one, it’s what they want to do offensively. For two, it being Week 1 and WSU not having seen them on film, they might be able to catch the Cougs misaligned and exploit that. Watching this MSU-UCD game, I unofficially counted about thirteen different formations in their first fifteen plays. Murray will be on the run, certainly by design, and preferably because the Coug D is getting home and causing havoc in the backfield.

Get excited, folks. Cougar Football Saturday is nearly upon us.