BOZEMAN, Montana — The primary storyline of Montana State’s 2019 fall camp centered upon who would win the starting quarterback position.
Less than 25 minutes into the final scrimmage of this fall camp, Montana State had already seen six players take snaps from the centers. And although anointed starter Casey Bauman never found his rhythm on Saturday night, when the first-team offense operated at a high tempo, the versatile attack looked explosive and intimidating.
The No. 1 Bobcat offense creatively used senior captain wide receiver Travis Jonsen as its Wildcat quarterback on five snaps of its first possession, an opening series that served as do-everything junior captain Troy Andersen’s only offensive set of the evening. The starting offense did not take the field until redshirt freshman quarterback Ruben Beltran and true freshman Blake Thelen took their turns in a 68-minute session that lasted 75 plays not including special teams.
Bauman completed just two of his six pass attempts. One of the catches was a leaping, all-out effort by captain Kevin Kassis that moved the No. 1 offense into the red-zone on their first possession. A few more Jonsen dicing runs moved the unit two yards from the end-zone.
The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Bauman removed his red jersey and scored a short touchdown to cap the breakneck paced opening possession.
“I thought we were in a pretty good rhythm,” MSU head coach Jeff Choate said. “We really just gave the offense Troy for one series so they needed to maximize him. We didn’t open up the whole playbook tonight so it was just two plays that we called with him in there. You would think the defense figure it out. But without Troy (who plays Sam linebacker) over there, they couldn’t figure it out (laughs).
“It was good to see some flow and some rhythm and that’s something we know we have to do. You have that diversity and have different packages.”
Andersen took two snaps at quarterback and carried the ball two other times. John Knight joined Beltran and Thelen as the young quarterbacks operating most of the action. And sophomore backup QB Tucker Rovig looked sharp early, completing his first four passes of the action against Montana State’s first-string defense just days after Rovig learned Bauman was the chosen starter.
All told, Bauman only threw for 34 yards, most of which came on the diving catch by Kassis. Kassis also sparked the second and final touchdown for the unit.
Bauman threw an interception up the sideline on a lofting, underthrown pass intended for Kassis but snared by true freshman Eric Zambrano. A few plays after getting blasted on a zone-read option play — Bauman took off his red non-contact jersey for two different possessions Saturday night — Kassis took an end-around pitch for 23 yards. That set up senior scatback Logan Jones’ hard-nosed six-yard touchdown run.
“The creativity part of it is a lot of fun (for offensive coordinator Matt Miller,” Choate said. “But sometimes, you have to get guys touches. Travis Jonsen needs his touches, Kevin Kassis needs his touches, Willie Patterson needs his touches, Lance McCutcheon said.
“Even if you aren’t being unconventional with the quarterback stuff, you still have to be able to be creative as an offensive play-caller to make sure the guys who can impact the game have the opportunity to do that.”
Saturday’s other offensive touchdown came on the second series of the evening. The first series ended when Beltran had a pass tipped at the line that was intercepted by sophomore linebacker Sal Aguilar. The second series ended when Beltran ran a bootleg to his left and appeared to under-throw his attempt to the end-zone.
Davine Tullis, a former transfer from Hawaii who played safety during spring practices, came down with the fluttering attempt despite true freshman Elijah King’s best efforts. That 30-yard touchdown catch was part of a scrimmage-high 69 yards receiver for Tullis.
“We have a pretty much endless supply of weapons,” MSU senior captain left tackle Mitch Brott. I think there is going to be a lot of surprises this year.”
Montana State’s fourth touchdown capped a first of its kind experience for Choate. Saturday evening marked the first time of consequence Choate’s redshirt freshman linebacker son Jory Choate played significant and meaningful snaps. Operating with the No. 3 defense at inside linebacker, the Bozeman High product went down 37 minutes into the scrimmage with what appeared to be a knee injury.
About 30 minutes later, Choate was back in the game. Sophomore James Campbell made a defender miss after catching a short pass from Beltran, only to get smacked by redshirt freshman cornerback Ty’Rhae Gibson. Campbell fumbled and the ball landed in Jory Choate’s arms. He showed no signs of his previous pain, sprinting 45 yards for the lone defensive touchdown of the night.
“He’s a drama queen,” Jeff Choate said with a smile. “No, I think he got a little surprise there with something with his knee but he bounced back quick. He did a nice job.”
MSU sophomore tailback Isaiah Ifanse rushed for 47 yards on seven physical carries, including one long gain that set up one of two 50-plus yard field goals from senior kicker Tristan Bailey. Other than that, the Bobcat veterans played sparingly, with defensive standouts like safeties Brayden Konkol and Jahque Alleyne, defensive linemen Bryce Sterk and Derek Marks and offensive stars like Jonsen, Kassis and Andersen each playing less than 25 total plays.
Most of the action was dedicated to MSU’s players not on the two-deep depth chart. Rovig completed 6-of-12 passes for a scrimmage-high 63 yards. His best throw was a rope into a window that Mark Estes could not hang on to.
Senior Karl Tucker II, who is scrapping for touches behind Ifanse, Jones, Andersen and others, finished with four carries for 14 yards and a 23-yard reception that set up another Bailey 50-yard field goal.
Shane Perry, a walk-on sophomore out of Danville, California who Choate identified as a player to watch early on in fall camp, impressed throughout Saturday. He finished with 10 carries for 69 yards, the most in the scrimmage.
Jaharie Martin, a 6-foot, 238-pounder recruited to play inside linebacker, took his first significant snaps at running back, piling up 25 yards on five carries.
“Jaharie has some natural skills,” Choate said. “He played some running back at Lakeland High School (in Florida) and he flashed the very first time we put him back there with the rookies a few days ago. I’m really pleased with him.
“He’s going to be a guy who is going to play football here for us. Right now, with 14 linebackers, he was probably not going to see the field on defense. He’ll see the field for us on offense.”
Other defensive highlights included linebacker Blake Flovin, a former junior college transfer, tracked down Beltran behind the line of scrimmage for touch sacks twice early in the scrimmage. The defense forced three turnovers. Andersen, Ty’Rhae Gibson and King broke up passes.
The action Saturday basically wraps fall camp for the Bobcats. Montana State now enters “mock game week”, as Choate calls it, with the season-opener at Texas Tech less than two weeks away.
“It’s been by far the most smooth fall camp I’ve been a part of,” Andersen said. “No one is complaining. We’ve had a lot less injuries. Everybody goes about their business trying to get better each day.”
Montana State scrimmage stats
RUSHING: Isaiah Ifanse 7-47-0, Travis Jonsen 4-19-0, Karl Tucker II 4-14-0, Logan Jones 3-9-1, Lane Sumner 3-8-0, Kevin Kassis 1-23-0, Casey Bauman 3-2-1, Tucker Rovig 2-3-0, Shane Perry 10-69-0, Jaharie Martin 5-25-0, Cole Oster 2- -1-0.
PASSING: Casey Bauman 2-6-1, 34, 0; Tucker Rovig 6-12-0, 63, 0; Ruben Beltran 3-4-1, 61, 1; Blake Thelen 1-4-0, 5, 0; John Knight 1-5-0, 21, 0.
RECEIVING: Lance McCutcheon 3-25-0, Kevin Kassis 2-34-0, Ryan Lonergan 1-2-0, Coy Steel 1-13-0, Karl Tucker II 1-23-0, Davine Tullis 2-69-1, James Campbell 1-5-0, Tyrone Marshall 1-2-0, Jamahd Monroe 1-21-0.
Sacks: Blake Flovin (2)
Other Tackles for Loss: Seer Deines.
Forced Fumble: Ty’Rese Gibson
Fumble Recovered: Jory Choate (45 return for TD)
Interceptions: Sal Aguilar, Eric Zambrano
Pass Breakups: Troy Andersen, Ty’Rhae Gibson, Elijah King.
Davine Tullis 30 pass from Ruben Beltran (Caleb Mancini)
Casey Bauman 1 run (Tristan Bailey)
Caleb Mancini 25 FG
Logan Jones 6 run (Tristan Bailey)
Tristan Bailey 50 FG
Jory Choate 45 fumble return
Tristan Bailey 50 FG