By Colter Nuanez SKYLINE SPORTS
BOZEMAN—Many an eyebrow raised when the news hit just a day after Montana State’s storybook season ended abruptly at the hands of the North Dakota State University juggernaut.
Why would MSU bring in a transfer quarterback? Sean Chambers? Like, the three-year starting quarterback who led a fourth quarter comeback for the University of Wyoming Cowboys to beat the Bobcats in Laramie last season?
Chambers had originally been recruited to Wyoming by now-MSU head coach Brent Vigen, who previously served seven seasons as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator. And now Vigen was bringing him to Bozeman.
The rationale behind the decision has roots in the first quarter of the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game against NDSU in January, when golden boy quarterback Tommy Mellott suffered a lower leg injury that took him out of the game—a lopsided 38-10 Bison win.
Prior to that injury Mellott, a former Montana Gatorade Player of the Year who hails from “Butte, America,” had taken the FCS by storm.
He was a dual-threat dynamo who took over starting quarterback duties following an embarrassing 29-10 loss to archrival Montana in the regular-season finale. Mellott had engineered a dramatic run, leading the Bobcats to three straight playoff wins, advancing to the title game for the first time in 37 years.
According to Vigen, it was all part of the plan. And thus far in 2022, the plan has worked.
“Our quarterback position has evolved considerably,” Vigen said when asked about the quarterback position at MSU. “Think of where we (were) 12 months ago with Tommy still running down on kickoffs and playing receiver. Tommy’s development, first of all, is the thing you gotta look at.
“I think we were able to react appropriately to the fact that (former starter) Matt (McKay) had already left (transferred to Elon), (former starter) Tucker (Rovig) was going to forgo his last year and graduate and then Casey Bauman was most likely going to leave.
“In Sean we had a guy that started a lot of football games and played a lot of good football and was similar enough to Tommy from a style perspective that if we had to go to him, we shouldn’t have to change our offense.”
Montana State enters the meat of its schedule with an unblemished 4-0 record in Big Sky Conference play. MSU ranks No. 3 in the latest FCS national poll with a 6-1 record overall, the lone loss coming to Pac 12 contender Oregon State in mid-September.
During the non-conference portion of their schedule, MSU used a true two-quarterback system with efficiency and precision. Mellott, a 6-foot, 200-pounder with elite speed and quickness, provided the lone bright spot—135 rushing yards—against Oregon State.
Chambers was more of a red-zone quarterback for MSU, evidenced by his FCS-leading 16 rushing TDs through seven games.
“You have an offense, you want to recruit to it,” Vigen said. “Each individual quarterback, their style is little bit different so you can adjust to that, but it can’t be this drastic ebb and flow like we had in the championship game.”
Vigen’s foresight paid off when Mellott smacked his head off the red turf at Eastern Washington early in the ‘Cats conference opener.
All Chambers did is come into the game and rush for 160 yards. Even when he faltered—he threw a pick into the end-zone late in the fourth—he was able to find redemption. One play later, the MSU defense forced a turnover to put the ball back in his hands.
Two plays after that, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Chambers barreled in for the game-winning score in a tight 38-35 game.
As MSU slow-rolled Mellott’s return from the head injury, a quarterback controversy, at least on the surface, sprang up.
Chambers followed up his powerful performance against EWU with a virtuoso one against UC Davis. The stout bruiser showed surprising speed, galloping to a 78-yard touchdown on MSU’s second offensive snap. By the time the dust settled, he became the second quarterback in conference history to both throw and run for more than 200 yards in a single game.
Chambers earned FCS National Player of the Week honors for the effort.
He looked sharp the following week, leading MSU to 34 unanswered points in the first half of a win over Idaho State.
When Mellott was cleared to play, Vigen stated that MSU’s “idea would be to start Tommy,” many again scratched their head. Sure, securing Chambers on the open market had paid dividends. And sure, MSU had shown it could operate a two-quarterback system. But riding a three-game winning streak and sitting atop the conference standings, would it be smart re-jigger the scheme?
In Mellott’s first start back, he found a rhythm and rolled. He finished 16-of-20 for 217 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-14 win over Northern Colorado. Chambers finished 2-of-4 for 33 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He rushed 11 times for 41 yards, giving him a Big Sky-best 622 rushing yards.
For now, MSU intends on using both of its dual-threat options to the best of their abilities. And if the wins keep coming, why not?
“Ultimately, we have two really good quarterbacks and two guys with good skill sets,” offensive coordinator Taylor Housewright said. “Both of them are all about winning. And that’s what matters most to us.”
Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports, a multimedia online news-gathering outlet founded in 2014. You can find his work at skylinesportsmt.com and you can reach him at Colter.Nuanez@gmail.com