BOZEMAN — It will be a baptism by fire for Casey Bauman next Saturday at 60,000-seat Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.
That’s where Bauman, a redshirt freshman from Sumas, Washington (population 1,400), will make his first start at quarterback for Montana State as the Bobcats take on FBS Texas Tech in the 2019 season opener for both teams.
MSU is banking on the notion that Bauman can help diversify the offense this season with a more traditional style, which is a departure from the past couple years when Chris Murray and Troy Andersen attacked opponents with their running ability.
And while this won’t be Bauman’s first on-field experience — he took a few snaps and completed one pass in spot duty during a win over Cal Poly last November — it will be something entirely different.
Bauman is expecting to have some butterflies.
“I think the nerves will be there for sure,” Bauman said Thursday in his first media interview since being named the starter last week.
“I just want to give myself and our team the best chance to win. I’m going to go out there and do everything I can.”
When Bauman enters a room you think to yourself, ‘That’s the quarterback.’ There’s no downplaying his physical attributes.
Pushing 6-foot-7 and weighing 235 pounds, Bauman has the look of a pure drop-back passer, and he’s blessed with the kind of arm strength that coach Jeff Choate said has few equals and that receiver Lance McCutcheon described as “incredible.”
But what’s unknown is what’s most compelling, and taking the reins against a Big 12 opponent in the Texas heat will test Bauman’s mettle.
You have to have a short memory as a quarterback. Bad play? Move on to the next one. Based on his demeanor, Bauman seems to possess that quality.
The mental factors of the game — operating the offense, taking command of the huddle, earning teammates’ trust — is where Bauman said he’s made his biggest leap.
Don’t forget: Bauman spent the last half of the 2018 season as Andersen’s backup once Tucker Rovig was lost for the season due to a foot injury, and he had to prepare accordingly.
“I think a year really helped,” said Bauman, who outdueled Rovig for the starting job over the course of the past three weeks. “Last fall camp (I) was kind of drinking out of a fire hose. A year really helps, just watching and studying, and I think I’ve come a long ways.
“Coming from a small (town) last year, it was a big change. Just watching and learning from people, listening to Troy, you’ve got to sit down and take every day like it’s a new day and come at it with the right mindset every day. I think that’s really helped me.”
Bauman completed just 2 of 6 passes in last week’s scrimmage, but one was a well-placed ball over the defense that found the outstretched hands of Kevin Kassis. The pass was thrown to a spot where only Kassis could get it.
On another occasion, Bauman gunned the ball too far in front of wideout Travis Jonsen, who likely would have sprinted unabated for a touchdown had it been caught. It was a missed opportunity.
Accuracy and ball protection will be paramount, and there will be ups and downs for Bauman throughout this process. But his teammates have his back.
“He’s still a young kid. He’s still kind of getting into this role,” right guard Lewis Kidd said. “Last year versus Cal Poly he came in, got some snaps, had good composure about him and helped us do what we needed to do, but other than that we’re still kind of waiting to see how he’s going to handle it.
“It’s different being the starting quarterback in practice compared to a game. But I think he’s done a great job with handling the huddle, taking control of the offense, and just overall stepping up his leadership.
“I think that’s kind of been the big thing for him. We’re looking to see how he’s going to grow and how he’s going to handle some of the pressure that you can’t really simulate in practice.”
The Bobcats have begun preparations for the game at Texas Tech, which requires more precise film study due to the fact that the Red Raiders are under the direction of a new coach, Matt Wells.
Wells was most recently the head coach at Utah State, where he was twice named Mountain West coach of the year. MSU is trying to strike the right balance between studying Wells’ tendencies at USU while also evaluating Texas Tech’s returning personnel.
But they’re also trying to keep this game in perspective, especially when it comes to Bauman’s performance. It’s the first outing in what will be long, 12-game schedule. Good or bad, it won’t make or break MSU’s season.
“At the end of the day it’s not about Texas Tech at all. It’s not about the people that show up to the game, it’s not about what the scoreboard says, it’s not about the guys wearing the Red Raider red and black, it’s about Montana State,” Choate said.
“It’s about us doing our job, it’s about us controlling what we can control, and it’s about our quarterback taking the next step in his progression as our leader.
“We’re not going to make it about Texas Tech at all, and we shouldn’t. It’s a first game.”