BOZEMAN — Barring something unforeseen, Tucker Rovig was probably going to assume the starting quarterback role for Montana State midway through last season. Coach Jeff Choate said as much earlier this week.
But then that unforeseen event occurred when Rovig tore a ligament in his left foot during preparations for the Idaho game last Oct. 13, which halted his season in its tracks.
He returned to the field in the spring and seemed to resume the form that allowed him to be so effective in a victory over Wagner last September, but with Troy Andersen having shifted to linebacker and as redshirt freshman Casey Bauman continues to improve, Rovig now finds himself in a close battle for the starting job.
The competition between Bauman and Rovig, which coach Jeff Choate described this week as “tight” and “level,” could sort itself out Saturday as MSU conducts its first live scrimmage of fall camp.
Choate has made it known that he and offensive coordinator Matt Miller hope to pick a starter based on what happens in the scrimmage (which is closed to the media and general public). It is, Choate said, what’s best for the team.
Rovig, for one, has embraced the tug-of-war.
“I’m going into every single day competing my butt off, trying my very best and doing what I know I’m capable of doing,” Rovig said Friday afternoon following the eighth practice of camp. “There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but I’m still going into every single day just being positive and as confident as I can be.
“Usually fall camp is a very long and dragging process for a lot of guys. I’m having a blast.”
Rovig, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound sophomore from Meridian, Idaho, made two starts last season while Andersen was nursing a broken hand.
In a 42-14 loss at FCS power South Dakota State on Sept. 8, Rovig threw for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. In the aforementioned 47-24 victory over Wagner the following week, he had 310 yards and three TDs with no picks.
Meanwhile, Bauman, a 6-7, 230-pound specimen from Sumas, Washington, saw time in just one game last year, completing one pass for four yards in spot duty against Cal Poly.
Both Bauman and Rovig have been paired with the first-team offense through the first eight practices of camp, though Bauman seemed to get more of those looks in the latter part of this week.
Bauman knows what’s at stake in Saturday’s scrimmage, though he acknowledged the amicable nature of the competition.
“They want to make it like a game scenario,” Bauman said. “For me, I just think of it as another day. It’s the same plays we’ve run all week, it’s the same everything. Obviously you’ve got to perform. They want to put you to the test, so there’s a little more to it."
“Me and Tucker have a great relationship,” he said. “Ever since I came in we’ve gotten closer. Regardless of what’s been going on, we still continue to support each other.
“If I see something that he doesn’t see, we’ll talk about it. If he sees something that I don’t see, we’ll talk about it. You’ve got another pair of eyes that’s watching (and) sometimes you can’t see everything that’s going on.”
Whoever wins the job, it will be a departure from the style of quarterback play the Bobcats employed last season with Andersen. Rovig and Bauman are more “traditional” QBs in that they are adept at throwing the ball down the field instead of taking on defenders at the line of scrimmage.
The hope is that MSU’s offense can be more balanced with the threat of a true passing game.
Miller, in his first full season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, detailed what he hopes to see from Rovig and Bauman on Saturday.
“I think our guys in the locker room are supportive of everybody in that quarterback room,” said Miller, whose group also consists of redshirt freshman Ruben Beltran and true freshmen Blake Thelen and John Knight. “I think it’d be nice to be able to name a guy sometime early next week, but I think we’ll evaluate (the) scrimmage and see how it goes and then take a step further after that.
“But I just want to see those guys when the live bullets are flying, see how they operate without that security blanket behind them, and see them make plays when the game is on the line.”
Choate said Saturday will be a partial practice and a partial scrimmage, meaning the first half of the day could be set aside for special teams and situational football with the second half being geared more toward a live “play it” setting.
Choate said there will probably be a “pitch count” on some players, while other veterans may be kept away from contact entirely. The emphasis, Choate said, is to see what some of the younger players can do and, of course, to further excavate the quarterback competition.
The team is not scheduled to practice on Sunday.