BOZEMAN — In his first trip to the interview podium after his first collegiate start, Jake Bleskin was asked at what point he finally got into the flow of Montana State’s 26-0 victory over Colorado Mesa.
“Tough to say. The first play was pretty good,” said Bleskin, the Bobcats’ new starting quarterback. “I don’t know. I (felt) pretty good from the beginning.
“I said this all week, but I had 10 studs with me on the field. I really had nothing to worry about.”
And it showed.
Bleskin went deep on the first play of the game, finding Jon Ellis for 44 yards to set tone for what was an effective (if unspectacular) offensive performance. But don’t let those early theatrics fool you. Bleskin doesn’t have that DeNarius McGhee-type flair.
Still, as we learned Saturday, he does have the innate ability to command an offense, make reads down the field and deliver the ball with accuracy. And that’s all he needs to do.
Losing McGhee to a shoulder separation in last week’s loss at SMU was never part of the Bobcats’ plan. But if ever there were a right time to lose their best player — for the sake of their season — that was it.
Three hundred and five yards and two touchdowns later, Bleskin has yet to be thrown to the flames. Colorado Mesa, which was impressive in a number of instances Saturday, was the perfect opponent for him in his first start.
With McGhee in a sling and looking on from the sideline, Bleskin had time to operate in the pocket against a Division II defense and utilize what appears to be his best asset: his smarts.
Almost defiantly, Bleskin refused to force the ball to his receivers when they weren’t open. He took a couple of sacks, he tucked the ball and ran, and he found second and third options when necessary. There were no happy feet or jittery throws.
Yeah, drives stalled. Yeah, third-down plays went unfulfilled. But Bleskin’s job is not to make plays when everything around him is falling apart, a la McGhee. His job is to run the offense, put the ball where it needs to go and, most important, not turn the ball over.
“He protected the ball. We didn’t have any giveaways,” said Bobcats coach Rob Ash. “He pulled it down when it wasn’t there. He didn’t force anything. And I thought he played with an awful lot of maturity for a guy that was (making) his first start.”
Efficiency will be the name of Bleskin’s game for as long as he’s the starter. And that’s just fine. Don’t look now, but the Bobcats’ offense still hasn’t turned the ball over this season.
Consider it a blessing that Bleskin was able to get his feet wet against a D-II squad. There would have been much more pressure had he been forced into the lineup late in the season with a Big Sky Conference title hanging in the balance, perhaps against an Eastern Washington, a Southern Utah or a Montana.
There was some wiggle room, some margin for error against Colorado Mesa, just as there will be next week (albeit not as much) in another nonconference game at Stephen F. Austin.
This allows Bleskin to learn and grow. He can ease into the role as the leader of the offense.
“I fully trusted Jake,” said Bobcats wideout Brian Flotkoetter, who caught two touchdown passes. “I’ve been working with him for a couple years now. When I first got here he was my quarterback (with the second-team offense). Overall, we came out as an offense, put some points on the board and came away with the W.”
By the time the Bobcats really need Bleskin to be steady, once they get into the meat of their schedule, he’ll be sharper and more grounded than he was Saturday.
McGhee is still a long way from coming back. And it’s Bleskin’s job to keep the Bobcats rolling along against all comers.
One game in, they appear to be in pretty good hands.