BOZEMAN — During its self-described youth movement, Montana State has called on more than 20 first- or second-year players to contribute through the first four games of its season.
Some, like Troy Andersen and Edward Vander at running back and Lance McCutcheon at receiver, have played essential roles. Others, such as Chad Kanow and Tyrel Burgess on special teams, have served a peripheral function.
Gaze up and down the depth chart and it’s clear the Bobcats aren’t quite in “win now” mode — as suggested by coach Jeff Choate last week in the run-up to what was a 25-17 home loss to Weber State.
“I don’t know that we were in a position to truly compete for championships when I took the job (last year),” Choate said. “And I don’t know if we’re there yet.”
But the Bobcats press on.
Injuries on defense may force MSU to roll with another true freshman — touted cornerback Jalen Cole — this week against Portland State. The Bobcats (1-3, 1-1 Big Sky) face the Vikings (0-4, 0-1) in a matchup of teams that have combined for just one victory.
As Montana State continues to rely on youth, redshirt freshman Michael Jobman is among the evolving. Jobman, a former three-sport standout at Huntley Project, continues to gain valuable playing time at the hybrid “Buck” rush-end position.
It took Jobman a bit of time to conform and adapt to the college game a year after arriving to MSU in the summer of 2016. Jobman redshirted last season, then saw his first action this year in Week 1 at Washington State.
The first sign of inexperience? On his first couple defensive plays, Jobman was lined up incorrectly and badly out of position before the snap.
Jobman scrambled to right himself. Choate likened it to someone “running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”
It was, perhaps, a microcosm of the young Bobcats’ need to grow up on the fly. But Jobman eventually calmed down in a Pac-12 environment.
“Definitely wide-eyed. I just hadn’t been in that atmosphere before. I wasn’t 100 percent ready to go,” Jobman said. “I got out there and I was kind of looking around thinking, ‘Oh boy.’
“I screwed up a few times and then after a few plays I got settled down and got into the correct spots and doing the correct things. But after playing a few games I’m definitely past that point and confidence and not doing that anymore.”
Through four games, Jobman has split time at the Buck position with Grant Collins, but a leg injury to Josh Hill has forced Collins back to his old position at middle linebacker. Thus, Jobman has had a more active role in the past couple games backing up Tyrone Fa’anono, who is interchangeable at defensive end.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Jobman has the length and athleticism to chase quarterbacks, set the edge in the run game and drop into coverage when the situation dictates. Those traits are a prerequisite to playing the Buck position, though Jobman says collapsing the pocket is still something the Bobcats are prioritizing.
In fall camp, MSU made affecting the quarterback a major defensive concern. Results have been mixed so far: The Bobcats have a middle-of-the-road nine team sacks but have allowed a league-low three passing touchdowns.
“I think that’s something we still need to work on. That’s always going to be a main focus,” Jobman said.
“It honestly comes down to the little things — your first step, reading your keys and where your eyes are before the ball is snapped, and just adjusting during the play.”
Jobman has a strong football pedigree. His father, Randall, was a middle linebacker at Nebraska in the 1980s under legendary coach Tom Osborne. Randall Jobman was a team captain during the 1989 season.
“I’m always calling him for pointers and tips about what it takes to play college football and what I need to be doing,” Michael Jobman said. “It’s the little things. Going to class, showing up to everything early, doing everything right — that’s pretty much what it takes to be a great player and to have a great program.”
Additionally, Jobman’s mother, Christy, played college basketball at Nebraska Wesleyan.
Against Portland State this week, the Bobcats look to get back in the win column and keep pace among the top half of the Big Sky Conference standings.
The Vikings, under third-year coach Bruce Barnum, are still trying to rekindle the magic of a 9-3 playoff season in 2015. PSU has won only three games since, and have yet to win this season.
But Jobman and MSU know a test awaits.
“We’re not looking at their record at all,” Jobman said. “That has nothing to do with how we’re game-planning for this team. These guys are coming in and they’re going to attack us. They’re fighting just like we are.”