BOZEMAN — In a 60-play first scrimmage marked by expected dominance on defense, Montana State’s offense landed its share of counter-punches.
Bobcat quarterbacks combined to complete 18 of their 26 passes without an interception Saturday, for 296 yards. The offense didn’t have a turnover while producing two plays of 50 yards or more and two others over 40 yards.
At the end of the day, though, eighth-year head coach Rob Ash was more than pleased with what happened on the other side of the football.
“Obviously the defense played extremely well today,” Ash said, “but we did have some big plays. Mostly I think against the twos and threes, I’ll have to (watch video) to make sure that’s right. It’s still good to see them, you still have to throw the ball down the field and catch it, which we did a couple of times, so that was good to see on offense and it gives the defense something to be aware of. But once again, I thought our first defense was very strong.”
The defense held running backs to 20 yards on 18 carries, controlling the line of scrimmage and harassing the quarterbacks occasionally on pass plays. Ash attributed both to a schematic advantage — “There are so many things in on both sides there’s going to be a lot of plays that aren’t going to be blocked right, so that’s why defense is usually ahead” at this point in camp, he said — and good play by the defense, particularly the linebackers.
“They’re very good,” he said. “Those three linebackers are really phenomenal. They’re quick and strong and decisive.”
There was plenty of physical activity by the defense to please Ash, beginning with its most fundamental purpose.
“I was very happy with the way we tackled in the secondary today, really all up and down the defense,” he said. “There was only one glaring missed tackle that I could see, when Chad Newell broke a tackle and got some extra yards. In terms of run game, perimeter tackling, (the defense) did a good job.”
That defensive effort confounded MSU’s ground game.
“There weren’t any holes for the running backs,” Ash said. “We got no evaluation on the running backs today, so we’ll have to keep working on that and try to get more of that next week. We’ve got to get it cleaned up up front and get people blocked. I have to look at it on film, because if a run play doesn’t work I don’t know (during a scrimmage) if we didn’t get a guy blocked or if we defeated a block. There’s a big difference to me. If we’re blocking the right guy and he just beats us, that’s one thing. But if we’re not even getting a block off, if there’s an unblocked guy there that we missed by scheme then we’ve got to get that fixed.”
A handful of the team’s new freshman caught Ash’s eye Saturday, including receiver Justin Paige, who caught three balls for 111 yards and the day’s only touchdown.
“I thought Justin Paige showed up,” Ash said. “He got out there, he can run. I think his catches were against either the twos and the threes, I don’t know that he had one against the ones, I’ll have to process that as we look at (film). But he’s still pretty fast, and I thought he did a good job getting down the field.”
The scrimmage’s uneven nature was largely the residue of an aggressive installation plan for both offensive and defensive schemes during fall camp’s first week, Ash said.
“We’ve got a lot of offense in, it’s been a fast track, and Jamie’s got a lot of defense in, so we weren’t able to get to a point where it would be a polished game plan,” he said. “We want to get a lot of offense in and a lot of defense in, so today was basically a practice more than a scrimmage in the sense that we were just trying to get some tape that we can evaluate.”
Ash declared the quarterback competition “still dead even” between junior Jake Bleskin, sophomore Dakota Prukop and redshirt freshman Quinn McQueary, and said he saw things to like from each. “I think they all showed flashes of what they do right. I think there was a lot going on in their heads today. Jake was a little ahead probably in that area because of his experience, just mentally getting the plays off the right way, but I thought they all had good moments.”
Bleskin connected six times on 10 passes for 152 yards, and his 56-yarder to Paige finished in the end zone. He also found Will Krolick for 61 yards. Dakota Prukop was 8-for-11 for 49 yards, while Quinn McQueary finished 4-for-5 for 85 yards.
The Bobcats are off Sunday before the hitting the field Monday for the fall’s first double-day session, with practices at 9:15 am and 4 pm. The team practices Monday, Tuesday (9:15 am), Wednesday (9:15 am and 4 pm), Friday (4 pm) and Saturday (9:15 am) next week.