Bobcats travel to No. 24 Northern Arizona
BOZEMAN, Mont. - The Montana State University football team will look to rebound from a 16-14 defeat at the hands of then-No. 25 Kennesaw State (now No. 23) when the Bobcats face No. 24 Northern Arizona on the road Saturday evening.
The Lumberjacks are led by quarterback Case Cookus, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. Cookus, who won the STATS FCS Freshman of the Year award in 2015, is back to putting up eye-popping numbers.
He has passed for 19 touchdowns and ranks 9th in the FCS with 2,675 passing yards, despite being ejected in the first quarter last week on a targeting call against the University of Montana.
However, there is much more to the NAU offense than Cookus's talent and its aerial attack.
"We actually were told in film the other day that, within one game, they haven't ran the same play in the same situation once," said senior safety West Wilson. "Their offense is super dynamic."
Special teams will be a key to slowing down the Lumberjacks' offense. The MSU punt team, which ranks second in the Big Sky Conference with an average net punt of 39.3 yards, will look to make them drive the length of the field.
"We've been doing an awesome job with punt," Wilson said. "I think we've been pinning guys in within the 10-yard line a couple of times a game the past couple of weeks. Pinning them deep is going to be huge this week."
When it comes to the pass game, Northern Arizona is also elite defensively. The Lumberjacks rank second in the Big Sky in total defense (361.1 yards per game) behind their conference-leading pass defense. Their average of 163.3 passing yards allowed per game also ranks 11th in the country.
They also have a league-leading 15 interceptions, the fifth-highest total in the nation.
"They have a very aggressive secondary," said junior wide receiver Jabarri Johnson. "They flow well to the ball, and you can tell that they've jelled as a team."
It will be senior night in Flagstaff, and the final home game for NAU's legendary head coach, Jerome Souers.
Back on Sept. 11, Souers and the university announced this will be his 20th and final season as head coach. Since then, the Lumberjacks have gone 6-1 after losing their first two games of the season.
Souers will leave the job as the Big Sky's leader in wins, a total of 118 heading into Saturday's game, and conference wins, a total that stands at 81 ahead of the contest.
"To be able to do this anywhere for 20 years is (amazing)," said Montana State head coach Jeff Choate. "I tip my hat. I've been doing this for 23 years and I've been at 10 places, so I can't even imagine that."
Choate says he expects a raucous crowd at the Walkup Skydome. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.