Shifting quarterbacks below heart helps Bobcats diversify offense much more – Skyline Sports activities

As good as it is, Montana State’s explosive offense isn’t immune to being tweaked from time to time. MSU coaches have stayed on step ahead of opposing defenses and recently the Bobcats have moved starting quarterback Sean Chambers under center more frequently to help spark an offense that’s been slow getting out of the gate.

Although MSU (2-0 Big Sky, 4-1 overall) leads the Big Sky Conference in total offense, yards per play, rushing offense and is second in offensive pass efficiency, it has managed touchdowns on its first possession just twice in five games this season and three times the past seven games dating back to last season. While that isn’t bad, it followed a streak of four straight games with touchdowns on the first drive and six of the previous eight.

Montana State junior Justus Perkins/ by Jason Bacaj

“We get to be in a little bit more of that outside zone combined with the naked rollout, get out of the pocket play-action game” MSU head coach Brent Vigen said of having his quarterback under center. “Any coach would say that’s a harder piece to defend.

“I think, in particular, when we looked at that Weber gameplan, the things we did against them last year to get out on the edge, (we asked ourselves) how can we replicate it but make it look different to them. That was that transformational stage and I know we joked about it a little bit with the (San Francisco) 49ers (style of offense), but as a coach you pay attention whether it’s the 49ers, (Miami) Dolphins or (Buffalo) Bills. They’re all under center more now.

“I think it makes you re-think some things in wanting to build more of a down-the-field, play-action game, you want to be able to draw that defense up. That second and third level of defenders. I think it all goes together, I don’t think there was any particular ‘a-ha’ moment but it’s something offseason-wise we talked about, and that Weber game was kind of the time and place to implement it.”

In the Weber State matchup to open Big Sky Conference play, the Bobcats ran the ball into the teeth of the Weber State defense five straight times to start the game and the result was a three-and-out, followed by a 3rd-and-14 situation.

The next play saw Chambers execute a play-action fake that worked to perfection as it freed up wide receiver Clevan Thomas, Jr., who caught the ball short of the first down marker but managed to find his way to a 20-yard gain and a give birth to a new toy for the Bobcat’ offense.

Chambers would start the game 4 of 5 for 101 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end Treyton Pickering before the Wildcats were able to adjust. He would win finish with two touchdown passes and two touchdown runs to earn Big Sky Conference player of the week honors for his performance in the resounding 40-0 win.

The senior would pick up right where he left off a week later back in Bobcat Stadium completing 7 of his first 11 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-22 win over Portland State. He’s now 22 for 38 for 315 yards and five TD passes over the last two games. MSU’s passer rating was 147.0 before the switch and is 170.9 since.

The move, in turn, has helped open up the run game which is not only averaging an incredible 7.6 yards per carry on the season, but 8.8 since moving Chambers under center and incorporating play-action into the offensive system. Throw out the five carries for nine yards start against WSU and the average is 9.3 Take out the Victory Formation kneel downs and it becomes a staggering 9.9.

“I do think that sometimes there’s a real advantage to the running back in how he gets the ball,” Vigen said. “His vision can be a little bit different, certainly the way the second level of defense, in particular, view it and what they see. We can do a lot of things differently and give defenders quite a few different looks. We’ll continue to mix it in, but it’s not this crazy departure. We didn’t say a couple weeks ago that we’re going to completely shift gears here. It’s been part of our fundamental base.”

Just a bigger part of that base the past two weeks and now with Montana State you never know if that will continue, or if the offense will morph back to its standard look or if the offensive staff will find yet another new way to approach and confuse opposing defenses.

“We’re not exclusively in the gun or in the pistol, we work under center at times,” Vigen said. “Certainly, the volume grew (the past two weeks). Center Justus (Perkins) is perfectly fine with it. In some sense snapping the ball to a guy under center takes a load off. It’s a more natural skill for those guys as far as firing off the ball.”

During his time at Bozeman High, Justus Perkins primarily snapped out of the shotgun. He used to employ a “dead snap” where the center holds the top of the football. Now he holds it with the laces instead.

“In high school, I was primary from the gun but goal line, it was under center,” Perkins said. “And I used to snap different, too. I used to dead snap it. I grabbed it from the top of the ball and now I grab it like a normal football. That makes it more complicated when it comes to under center but I’ve switched to this way in college. And I’ve had plenty of reps at it now so I’m not too worried about it.”

Montana State senior QB Sean Chambers/ by Brooks Nuanez

Perkins said when Chambers is under center, it helps him get off the ball a bit faster and drive defensive linemen back. It also makes defenses have one more element to worry about when game-planning for one of the highest scoring offenses in the country.

Being under center is nothing new to Chambers, who functioned in that capacity for much of his time when he was at the University of Wyoming when Vigen was the offensive coordinator there.

“Sean had a lot of experience from his time in Wyoming,” Vigen said. “We’ve tried to build up (quarterback) Tommy’s (Mellott) time under center too. He was almost exclusively a (shot)gun guy at Butte High. We don’t want to be limited to Sean’s the only guy that will be under center.”

Mellott is back on the MSU depth chart this week after missing the Stetson, Weber State and Portland State games. Just adding the athletic junior back into the mix could be enough to catch upcoming opponents off guard.

“I would hate to be a DC trying to game plan us,” Perkins said.

The Bobcats entertain Cal Poly this Saturday with game time set at 6. 

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