Injuries started biting the Bobcats before the season even began. Before fall camp began, for that matter. Na'a Moeakiola. Aleksei Grosulak. Preston Gale. Tanner Roderick. Craig Ashworth. Several key starters are on the shelf just two weeks into the season.
But the one player MSU can't do without is quarterback DeNarius McGhee. Or so it seems. And he went down with a separated right (throwing) shoulder at the very end of a 31-30 loss at SMU last week. The Bobcats were moments away from pulling an upset, then suddenly were left to forge ahead without the face of their program.
Bleskin, a product of Great Falls CMR and the younger brother of standout MSU receiver Tanner Bleskin, is McGhee's backup. He'll be called on Saturday -- and in the coming weeks -- to maintain the Bobcats' offense and make sure they don't veer off track. The sophomore's first task comes against Division II Colorado Mesa at Bobcat Stadium.
On Wednesday I asked MSU coach Rob Ash to give a scouting report on Bleskin in advance of his first collegiate start. I've broken down Ash's summary into four key bullet points:
• PREPAREDNESS. “We had a great practice (Tuesday). That’s a big indicator of a team’s mindset. Jake Bleskin ran with the ones very well; he took a good first step. There’s a real sense of urgency with our team right now. One of our key leaders is down, so everybody else knows they have to raise their level so this doesn’t get in our way.”
• INTELLIGENCE. Bleskin is "an extremely smart quarterback in the sense that he always knows the checks and audibles, and he knows where guys need to be to get lined up. He rarely makes any miscues of where he needs to go with his reads.”
• ARM STRENGTH. “He’s a great passer. That’s the first thing that stands out. He throws the ball beautifully. He has good touch and a strong arm. He throws the deep ball especially well. He has that sixth sense of gauging where the deep ball needs to go so that guys can run under it and catch it in stride.”
• HUNGER. “He’s extremely excited. He feels bad for DeNarius because they’re good friends and they spend a lot of time together, but he’s excited for his opportunity. When a backup goes in, he surprises everybody but himself at how good he can play. Jake’s ready. He’s a good player. We don’t recruit bad players here. If they’re here, they’re a good player.”
That's some pretty high praise. And a lot to live up to.
In the meantime, Ash said there's "no question" McGhee will return this season. He said the injury isn't serious enough to require surgery like the separation McGhee suffered to his left (non-throwing) shoulder in a playoff game vs. North Dakota State did in 2010.
Ash said the following about McGhee's prognosis:
“He’s in a sling. There’s a big photo on the cover of the (Bozeman Daily) Chronicle this morning, so the whole world knows he’s in a sling. We need to keep the shoulder immobilized so it can heal. It’s a natural process, and it takes weeks. There’s no surgery, there’s no pinning, it just has to heal up. The bones have to fuse together.
“He’ll have some (muscle) atrophy when he comes out of it, but he as so many reps in that arm. It’s not like he’s out for months. DeNarius is so strong. He’ll be fine. But there will be some transition to get back into it. The motion of throwing the ball will be the hardest thing.”