MSU faces tough test in opener

Star Staff

Washington State is an opponent Montana State football coach Jeff Choate is familiar with. But he had a simple message to his least-experienced players before facing the No. 24-ranked Cougars, a member of the Pac-12 Conference, on Saturday night.

“I think I’ll tell them to breathe,” Choate, a former Washington State assistant coach, said in a news release.

The game, which starts at 8:35 p.m., matches the Bobcats against a Division I opponent that was 8-5 last season. It’s Choate’s second season in Bozeman and he has 15 returning starters, but 14 players on his two-deep roster are in their first varsity season with the Cats.

The Cougars finished second in the Pac 12 North and earned a Holiday Bowl bid. This year’s WSU team boasts national awards candidates in every position group, highlighted by Heisman Trophy candidate Luke Falk, the Cougars’ third-year starting quarterback. Offensive guard Cody O’Connell is a returning unanimous All-America, and defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa is considered among the top tackles in college football.

“I’ve been a part of some big first games,” Choate said of his time as an FBS assistant that includes stops at Washington and Florida, “playing against Virginia Tech and also against Georgia when I was at Boise State University. But I think as far as an opener goes, this is probably one of the more challenging (games) I’ve been a part of.”

Falk averaged 343.7 passing yards a game last season, and his 10,893 career passing yards is just 411 of Washington State’s school record.