BOZEMAN — When he lost the starting quarterback job to Casey Bauman midway through fall camp, Montana State’s Tucker Rovig knew he had to reset, refocus and reassert himself in the event his number was called in the future.
That day came Saturday, and Rovig delivered.
As part of a prolific offensive showcase, Rovig completed 21 of 27 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns as the 8th-ranked Bobcats trounced visiting Norfolk State 56-21 in their final nonconference game of the season.
MSU scored eight touchdowns, put up 670 total yards (449 of which came on the ground) and achieved 39 first downs. Three running backs — Logan Jones, Lane Sumner and Shane Perry — eclipsed 100 yards rushing.
Rovig, showing renewed poise, said he met with Montana State's coaches last Sunday and learned he would take on the starting role in the days following last week's important yet sloppy victory at Western Illinois.
Unlike previously, Rovig, a sophomore, took the opportunity and ran with it.
“When Casey was named the starter, (confidence was) something that I feel like didn’t change for me,” Rovig said in the postgame press conference. “My confidence was still there. I was just going to keep on pushing, keep on grinding and do what I needed to do and just stay ready.”
In three games as the starter, Bauman, a redshirt freshman, had struggled with his accuracy — though he didn’t throw an interception. Bobcats coach Jeff Choate said he and the coaching staff wanted to give Rovig a shot to lead the offense with the Big Sky Conference opener against Northern Arizona looming next week.
“If we were going to look at somebody else, this was the time to do it. I did not want to go into preparation for NAU with indecision about that position,” Choate said.
“Really felt like, quite honestly, Tucker had performed at a higher level over the last couple of weeks in practice, and so he deserved an opportunity to get a start. And he clearly maximized that today.”
Of course, it helps to have a successful running game, and the Bobcats got stronger as the game continued.
Jones, fresh off a career-high 167-yard, two-touchdown performance at Western Illinois, rushed for 101 yards and two more touchdowns on Saturday, all in the first half. That helped soften the defense for Rovig, who threw touchdown passes to Coy Steel and Travis Jonsen to help build a 28-14 advantage at intermission.
Rovig, working play-action more in the second half, found Steel on a 13-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter to increase MSU’s lead, and also connected with Kevin Kassis on a 21-yard score later in the third.
Sumner scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — one on a 58-yard run — and finished with a team-high 113 rushing yards. Perry added 111 yards on the ground as the Bobcats put three rushers in the 100-yard column in the same game for the first time ever.
And they did it all without starting tailback Isaiah Ifanse, who remains sidelined with a lower body injury. Linebacker Troy Andersen, who also has a pronounced role on offense, also did not play.
Of MSU’s nearly 40 first downs, 26 came on the ground, another single-game school record. The 449 rushing yards are the third-most all-time, while the 670 yards of total offense ranks fifth.
The last time the Bobcats scored eight touchdowns in a game was in 2013 in a blowout victory over North Dakota.
“I can’t say enough about Logan Jones, Shane Perry and Lane Sumner. Logan went out of the game, and Shane and Lane hadn’t played a lot of football for us,” Choate said. “They just stepped in, the O-line picked up their end of the bargain, and those guys continued to operate.”
Jonsen had diversifying impact, carrying the ball seven times for 60 yards and catching it five times for 27 more yards and the aforementioned touchdown.
Defensively, the Bobcats rattled Norfolk State quarterback Juwan Carter, though he did throw two touchdown passes. Defensive end Bryce Sterk had 3.5 sacks, raising his total to 8.5 sacks through four games.
Carter finished with 243 passing yards and was sacked four times but, most importantly for MSU, had minus-22 rushing yards.
“That was kind of what we were hoping for going into the game,” Sterk said. “He’s a very mobile quarterback, so we wanted to make sure he didn’t run through the gaps like he always liked to on film, and then in the fourth quarter let it loose.”
“I think we hit him, and that was critical,” Choate said. “Once we got a couple shots on him he wasn’t quite as willing to leave the pocket.”
The Bobcats (3-1) open their Big Sky schedule Saturday at home against quarterback Case Cookus and Northern Arizona.
“We’re 3-1, but as I told our guys just now, ‘You know what we get for that in Big Sky play? Not a doggone thing,’” Choate said. “It’s 0-0. That’s our record right now, and we’ve got to go to work. And we’ve got to go to work with a higher degree of focus and intensity.”
NOTES: Norfolk State’s Kevin Johnson scored two TDs, one on an 84-yard run in the third quarter, the second-longest run from scrimmage in Bobcat Stadium history. … Sterk has matched his sack total from all of last season. … MSU’s Jones has now rushed for 252 yards and four TDs on his last 28 carries. … Bauman and Ruben Beltran both played QB for the Bobcats in the fourth quarter.