BOZEMAN, Mont. – No puff of white smoke wafted from Bobcat Stadium on Saturday, but in the hours after Montana State’s final full football scrimmage of fall camp the fire was ready for stoking.
“In terms of my gut reaction I think we got some separation today,” MSU coach Rob Ash said of the positions still up for grabs in advance of the Bobcats’ season opener at Arkansas State on Aug. 30. “I’m not going to be able to (make any announcements) right now because I still have a lot of factors to consider. But I thought it was a good go today.”
Montana State’s most noteworthy position battle, at quarterback, took center stage in both perception and production. The team’s three signal callers completed 29 of 32 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns. None threw an interception, and the day’s only turnover was a fumble by a receiver after a short gain.
If a favorite emerged in the quarterback derby Saturday, Ash was mum.
“I think we’ve got three really good (quarterbacks),” he said. “That’s what I’ve said since last spring, we’ve got three really good quarterbacks, all of them can play. It’s going to be a very, very tough decision.”
Redshirt freshman Quinn McQueary was injured last spring, but he led the way on Saturday. He finished the afternoon 13-for-13 passing for 171 yards and two touchdown passes. He also scored on a nine-yard run. Sophomore Dakota Prukop was 8-for-9 passing for 92 yards with a touchdown, and junior Jake Bleskin finished 8-for-10 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown.
“We still have three guys that are in the (quarterback) battle,” Ash said plainly.
Increased explosiveness on offense has remained a priority through the off-season, spring and summer, and Ash continues to believe this year’s team has added that dimension, particularly at receiver. “I thought the receivers caught the ball extremely well today and made some plays after the catch. They were physical. We did have the one turnover by a young receiver, we’ve got to get that fixed, but other than that I thought those guys played very well.”
Big plays came almost from the scrimmage’s beginning. Senior running back Shawn Johnson took a handoff on the day’s second play, dashed around left end, and sprinted 62 yards to the 12-yard line. Bleskin found Tanner Roderick in the end zone from eight yards out on the drive’s fifth play, and Chad Newell’s run made the conversion successful.
Saturday’s scrimmage featured three other plays of 20 yards or more. McQueary found Gates behind the secondary on the 68-yard touchdown pass, while Prukop and Justin Paige connected on a 33-yarder, and Bleskin hit Jacob Stanton for 21 yards. Prukop also showed off his speed and agility, scrambling for a pair of 14-yard gains.
While the ground game didn’t produce statistics as dazzling as the pass game – Bobcat running backs carried 27 times for 152 yards – Ash was pleased with the work.
“I thought the running game was probably the most pleasing aspect of today’s scrimmage for me,” he said. “We hadn’t run the ball very well all camp, but we got some going today.”
Johnson’s big run caught Ash’s eye, but he was most pleased with the steady production, particularly by junior transfer Anthony Knight, who gained 57 yards on 12 carries.
“It started off with Shawn’s big run, that’s what we need from him, and then during the course of the game we got some good, steady four- and five-yard gains,” Ash said. “The hard work that we put in this week in trying to get the vertical run game going showed up today, and that was really important.”
Ash also found reasons to be pleased with the defense.
“I thought it was a good day by both sides,” he said. “The offense had some nice plays, but the defense came back and rallied to get some stops. I think we got out of it what we wanted. We had some good, hard running and some good, physical tackling.”
Montana State’s next full-time quarterback, along with playing time at several backup positions, likely will be identified sometime Monday after a Sunday filled with evaluation. Monday’s depth chart is not likely to include final decisions in the kicking game, however.
“Competition will continue next week there,” Ash said.