Football Wrap-up: Looking ahead

The 2014 Montana State Football season was a strange exercise in the new and old. From one standpoint, the season had a completely different feel as new playmakers made significant contributions on offense. From another standpoint, the season had a similar feel to it as the Bobcats racked up enough victories to make the playoffs but failed to defeat elite opponents (Eastern Washington, Montana, Cal Poly, South Dakota State), with the best wins of the year coming against Idaho State, Central Arkansas and Sacramento State.

The season started with an intense competition for starting quarterback, as Jake Bleskin, Quinn McQueary, Tanner Roderick and Dakota Prukop battled for the starting job. Prukop won out, and it soon became obvious he belonged under center as the Bobcats produced the 11th ranked scoring offense in the country. Prukop became the team’s leading passer and rusher, and the Bobcats overall had the seventh best rushing offense in the country. The Bobcats got huge contributions from young stars Gunnar Brekke, Chad Newell, Mitchell Herbert, Jayshawn Gates and Justin Paige, among others. Mitch Griebel lead the Bobcats in receiving as the Bobcats had ten players with at least 100 yards receiving. With Tiai Salanoa, Quinn Catalano and Shawn Johnson as the only offensive starters the Bobcats will lose to graduation, the future of the offense looks bright.

While the Bobcat offense found itself in the first tier of units, the Bobcat defense often struggled. The Bobcats gave up 293.8 passing yards per game, 119th out of 121 total FCS teams. The Cats also ranked 100th in scoring defense and finished the last three games of the year by allowing an average of 40 points per game. The Bobcats will lose five linebackers and five defensive backs to graduation.

However, the Cats look to improve upon the defensive performance last year with a slew of young talent and new recruits. The Bobcats picked up a huge recruiting victory when they were able to get commitments from strong safeties Bryson McCabe and Desman Carter from Iowa Western Junior College and Alabama-Birmingham respectively, who will compete for immediate playing time at a position of need for the Bobcats (more on the recruiting class in upcoming editions).

The new offense and the under-construction defense will be tested next year as the schedule makers have the Cats facing seven top-50 offenses, four of which were ranked in the top-12. The Cats will also face the newly designed Grizzly offense under new Head Coach Bob Stitt, who promises to bring an up-tempo approach to the Cats’ in-state rival. Luckily, the game against Eastern Washington will again be a non-conference affair, and the Cats will face Cal Poly, Sacramento State and Montana at home.

Overall, the 2014 football team proved it could move on after the age of McGhee, and in some instances surpass it. If the offense maintains its course, and if the defense can improve, then the Cats could once again find themselves in the hunt for the ever-elusive national title.