Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 26° Cloudy
Sports >  NCAA football

Big Sky notebook: Montana State, Sacramento State rely on rushing quarterbacks to pace offense

Sept. 28, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 28, 2022 at 9:26 p.m.

Eastern Washington’s Derek Tommasini (33) and Kentrelll Williams (34) chase Montana State quarterback Sean Chambers Saturday at Roos Field.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Eastern Washington’s Derek Tommasini (33) and Kentrelll Williams (34) chase Montana State quarterback Sean Chambers Saturday at Roos Field. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Dan Thompson The Spokesman-Review

Partially by necessity but also by virtue of having the personnel to make it work, the Montana State Bobcats have used their quarterbacks as rushers more than any other team in the Big Sky Conference.

It’s something Eastern Washington saw firsthand last week, when MSU quarterback Sean Chambers ran 28 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He leads the conference with nine rushing scores through the first four weeks of the season.

But it’s not just the Bobcats who are benefiting from quarterbacks who if they aren’t leading option plays or taking designed runs like Chambers have at least demonstrated an ability to scramble their way for a few first downs.

Sacramento State, which moved to 3-0 last week after a resounding 41-10 victory over Colorado State, runs a two-quarterback system that includes Asher O’Hara, who has 206 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns this season. Jake Dunniway (49 of 81 for 504 yards so far) handles the majority of the passing for the Hornets.

Montana is also benefiting from a quarterback – Lucas Johnson – who is comfortable rushing: He has 162 yards and four rushing scores this season and earned Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 20 of 26 attempts for 221 yards in the Grizzlies’ 53-16 romp over Portland State on Saturday.

“Each week (we’re) just trying to get better and progress, whether it’s in pass pro or run blocking up front,” Montana offensive lineman Hunter Mayginnes said Monday during media availability. “We’re doing a good job. We’re trying to keep (Johnson) clean.

“He likes to run a little bit, though.”

Eastern won’t play Montana until Nov. 12, in Missoula. But the Eagles will see the Hornets on Oct. 15 in Cheney.

The 3-0 Hornets (fifth), 3-1 Bobcats (fourth) and 4-0 Grizzlies (third) all happen to be ranked among the top five in the FCS Stats Perform Top 25 this week.

Saturday’s game in Cheney also demonstrated the risks involved with quarterbacks being more involved in the rushing game. Mellott, MSU’s sophomore starting quarterback, was knocked out of the game with a head injury sustained when he slid on a rush and hit his head on the turf.

He won’t play this weekend against UC Davis.

“It’s our hope he can continue to make progress through the next couple days so that next week he’s able to be active,” MSU coach Brent Vigen said Monday during his weekly news conference. “And that’s still a work in progress.”

Vigen acknowledged the injury risk but said he’s seen quarterbacks also get injured in the pocket on a pass play.

“I think you have to come to grips with (the fact) that it’s part of the deal,” Vigen said. “Obviously, everybody’s after the guy with the ball, and (quarterbacks) have the ball a lot. A function of football is that the quarterback is likely going to get hit, and you hope for the best when that happens.”

Chambers, a junior who transferred from Wyoming after last season, ranks sixth among Big Sky players in rushes (51) and second in rushing yards (345). Mellott has rushed 42 times for 215 yards.

Part of the reason Montana State has relied so much on its quarterbacks is the Bobcats are missing some of their top running backs, including Isaiah Ifanse, their leading rusher a season ago, who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery.

EWU quarterback Gunner Talkington has 79 rushing yards through three games, although like all at his position, those numbers include negative yards (in Talkington’s case, 47) absorbed on sacks.

During his career at Eastern, Eric Barriere had 1,585 rushing yards, including a single-season high of 613 in 2018, the first year he started full time at quarterback. His average rushing yards per game declined from a high of 46.5 in 2019 to 17.1 his final season last fall.

Unbeaten Wildcats rest up for Eagles

The Weber State Wildcats, Eastern Washington’s opponent on Oct. 8, remained unbeaten with a 17-12 victory last weekend over UC Davis in California.

The Wildcats moved up four spots to No. 8 in the Stats Perform poll with the victory, which also moved them to 4-0 for the first time since 1998. They beat the Aggies despite losing the turnover battle 3-0, being outgained 417-356 and succeeding on just 3 of 11 third-down conversions.

Their victory over the Aggies avenged a Wildcats loss last season in Ogden, Utah, also in the fourth game of the season, that dropped Weber to 1-3. The Wildcats won five of their final seven, including a win in Cheney over the Eagles, but that wasn’t enough for them to earn a playoff spot.

Weber State won at least a share of the Big Sky title in 2017, 2018, 2019 and in the 2020-21 spring season.

UC Davis, Montana St. to play on ESPNU

UC Davis, 1-3 overall and 0-1 in Big Sky games, will play at Montana State on Saturday night in a game nationally televised on ESPNU.

On Oct. 22, another Big Sky matchup – Montana at Sacramento State – is scheduled to air on ESPN2. Both matchups are part of the partnership between the Big Sky and the network that began before the 2021 season. Because of that deal, ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN+, carries a variety of Big Sky sporting events, including its football games.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the sports newsletter

Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.