Tucker Rovig looked left, drawing a safety that way. Even the smallest shift created a giant window for him to throw to Jaden Smith for a 47-yard touchdown.
Montana State head coach Jeff Choate watched this on film with Rovig and MSU’s other quarterbacks. Plays like these against Southern Utah last week made Choate think “Hey this is awesome. This is what I’m talking about here.”
Then, after a few other plays, Choate began to think, “What the heck is this?”
Rovig played one of the better games of this season last week. He attempted just 23 passes but completed 13 for 197 yards and two touchdowns while catching another on a wildcat play. His performance opened up MSU’s offense as the Bobcats scored 42 points in the first half against SUU, which tied for fifth most in a first half in the program’s history.
The sophomore quarterback will hope to continue his performance as the No. 12-ranked Bobcats (6-3, 3-2 Big Sky) play at Northern Colorado (2-7, 2-3) at noon Saturday in Greeley, Colorado.
“This is where the games really matter,” Rovig said earlier this season. “This is where they really count for the playoffs, so just enhanced focus with every single thing I do.”
Rovig’s inconsistency has hampered the Bobcats at times. When he took over the starting job Week 4 against Norfolk State, he completed 21 of 27 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns.
The following four games he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s completed 57.1% of his passes and averaged 6.7 yards per attempt. Rovig often overthrew receivers, even on quick slants or to the flats, and couldn’t find open receivers downfield.
“It’s kind of crazy because, man, he does some really good things. There’s some times where you’re like,” Choate said before he snapped his fingers, “that’s a really good football play. That’s outstanding. And then there’s some times where it’s a head scratcher a little bit.”
In MSU’s loss at North Dakota, a game which could weigh heavily in its case for the FCS playoffs, Rovig completed 13 of 26 passes for 77 yards and was sacked three times.
He took responsibility. Even on a pinpoint pass to Travis Jonsen that was dropped, Rovig said the fault was his own. He credited UND for playing a different style than the Bobcats were anticipating. When MSU made adjustments, the Fighting Hawks had an answer.
“Very disappointed in myself,” Rovig said after the game. “Being so close but also not playing good football at all. It just was not a good loss.”
Rovig flashed his potential, though, against Southern Utah. His receivers were often open, whether it was Smith or Lance McCutcheon on a few underneath routes. But Rovig was precise on his throws, which he hasn’t always been even when receivers beat their defenders in the secondary.
MSU running back Logan Jones loved the impact Rovig made. When the Bobcats have at minimum a viable passing threat, defenses can’t key in on MSU’s run game as much. In fact, Jones said, it opens up nearly every aspect of the offense.
And if the Bobcats can sustain drives, their defense isn’t on the field as often. Right now, they’re eighth in the Big Sky in time of possession at an average of 29 minutes, 15 seconds per contest.
If Rovig can hit those short throws for first downs, it completely changes MSU’s offense as it did last weekend.
“He’s developing, and he’s starting to trust the process. He’s trusting the line, he’s trusting the running backs to pick up blitzers,” Jones said. “He’s getting more comfortable in the pocket, and he’s able to read the defense a little better and look dudes off more. He’s just doing those little extra things to get better.”
But even the SUU game showed areas Rovig needs to improve. Choate noticed plays on film which should’ve been easy reads and throws but didn’t materialize.
Without five to seven plays where Rovig misses open receivers or makes other mistakes, Choate believes the Bobcats could begin thriving. But he added that hinges on Rovig’s growth.
“Just execute the play call,” Rovig said. “Don’t do too much. I’ve got guys on the perimeter and behind me and on the offensive line that are going to execute the play call and make me look good. So just execute the play call and do what I need to do.”