BOZEMAN — Montana State’s defense was the second in the Big Sky conference this year in points allowed (13.18). Under new defensive coordinator Freddie Banks quite a few players shined, with a handful of players earning all-conference honors, but one guy who has been the straw that stirs the drink is senior linebacker Troy Andersen who took home the conference defensive player of the year.
“I don't know how high he’ll get drafted or anything, but I think he’s going to play on Sundays for sure," Banks said. "I think if he stays healthy, he’ll have a long career because of his work ethic and he’s been blessed with the talent to play at that level.”
Everybody knows about Andersen and his accolades, but here’s what has impressed Banks about the star mike linebacker.
"I’d say his leadership and his athletic ability speaks for itself," said the defensive coordinator. "I think just the person is most impressive — who he is.”
Two defensive lineman for the Cats made the all-Big Sky first-team. Defensive end Daniel Hardy was one of them. He finished the year with 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss. Making the switch from outside linebacker, Banks hyped up Hardy’s potential before the season and boy was he right. Banks also thinks Hardy has a shot to make the NFL as teams always need pass rushing and quality special teams players.
“We just knew he could be good," said Banks. "He’s been playing really well. He sure took a lot of people off guard and now a lot of people know about him.”
The other was senior defensive lineman Chase Benson, who many times saw a double-team from opponents. He has 3.5 sacks and 8 tackles for a loss on the season.
“People can’t block him," Banks said. "You probably need three (blockers). Three might work, but two hasn’t been successful this year. Hopefully he keeps doing it. I got no doubt in my mind he will. He’s a beast in there, man. It’s a major major major difference when he’s in there.”
One of the possible offenses Montana State could face in two weeks is Missouri State who was 15th in the FCS averaging 34.5 points per game game. Their head coach is Bobby Petrino who always has good offenses no matter where he coaches. The Bears finished second in the Missouri Valley conference behind North Dakota State with an 8-3 record.
“I bet if you looked at what he does now and what he did when he was at Louisville or wherever he’s been at, it’s been a little bit different,"said Banks about the Helena native. "It’s simple enough from week to week, he just makes minor adjustments to their plan --- so high level of execution for those guys, but still challenging defenses.”
As for UT Martin, the MSU defensive coordinator spoke glowingly about their senior quarterback Keon Howard, who is up for the Walter Payton award which goes to the best offensive player in the FCS. The Skyhawks finished at the top of the Ohio Valley conference with a 9-2 record.
“He makes them go," he said. "You got two backs that are really good, but it’s about the quarterback for UT-Martin. They got good skill guys and a tight end that catches the ball well. It’ll be a challenge either way. I think that’ll be a competitive game for sure.”