BOZEMAN – One play after another, Tucker Rovig dropped into the pocket and unleashed his lanky right arm, firing darts and lofting touch passes all around and down the field.
Earlier in the year and his career, confidence that the ball wound land at its intended target was suspect. The redshirt sophomore from Meridian, Idaho, was hit-and-miss, up-and-down, game-by-game.
No. 1 on the list of those doubters, all too often and significantly, was Rovig himself.
“Confidence,” has been the byword from the get-go, dating to his losing the starting job to Casey Baumann in fall camp and a month later sitting through a fish-or-cut-bait pep talk from head coach Jeff Choate.
It was evident then that MSU’s promising season – bolstered by the unique skills of masters-of-all-trades Troy Andersen and Travis Jonsen, among other notable talents -- would hinge on the confidence Rovig has in his right arm and decision-making.
Well, just look at him now.
Actually, just look at him over the past five games.
Since the 16-12 debacle at North Dakota on Oct. 26, after which Rovig was described by Choate as “geeked up” and a malaise seemed to grip the rest of the team, the Bobcats have won five straight game by double digits – scoring at least 40 points in four.
On Saturday, Rovig’s passes looked radar-controlled. He completed a career-best 24 for a season-high 279 yards and three touchdowns in a 47-21 dismantling of Albany in the second round of the FCS playoffs at Bobcat Stadium.
“Tucker played a tremendous game today,” Choate said during an upbeat postgame press conference. “I think we gave him opportunities and he took advantage of them. This is the guy we see every day in practice. When you’re playing one of the 16 best teams in the country you’re going to need your best, and Tucker had his best today. We’re hoping there’s a little more left in the tank, right Tuck?”
Sitting to his left, still in uniform and wearing a bandana around his sandy-blond hair, Rovig nodded.
Truth be known, he’s probably weary of the “confidence” narrative.
Then again, as Choate has publicly acknowledged with thinly veiled challenges, it has been up to Rovig to change it by playing with the confidence to match his skills.
He’s done that since the UND game, completing at least 50 percent of his passes in each outing and growing more self-assured with each connection.
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“Comfortable and confident,” Rovig described of his play in the season's second half. “As the season goes along, I feel like I’ve gained more confidence, and that’s helped me. And that’s all thanks to guys constantly believing in me as well as the coaches.”
It doesn’t hurt to have receivers who provide a little magic of their own.
Kevin Kassis caught a career-high 11 of Rovig’s passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and a couple of highlight-reel snares of so-called “50-50” balls. Bozeman product Lance McCutcheon went him one better in the end zone, catching back-to-back 49- and 42-yard TDs that including a one-handed grab with a defender in his face.
For Rovig and the rest of the team, that North Dakota loss was the proverbial fork in the road.
It dashed Big Sky Conference title hopes. It put the season they’re enjoying now on the brink.
Choate talked Saturday about tweaks the staff made afterward, focusing on being less predictable offensively. The Cats have been nearly unstoppable since, even with their do-everything star Andersen hobbled on the sidelines for much of the streak.
Much of the success still revolves around a potent rushing game.
In routs of Northern Colorado (45-14) and Montana (48-14), the Cats didn’t need Rovig’s arm. He threw for 77 yards against UNC and 102 against the Evil Empire.
“I think that in a weird way that loss, in hindsight … has kind of pushed us forward as a team and made us better,” Choate said of North Dakota. “Sometimes you have to have those. We turned a setback into a comeback.”
That comeback has given the Bobcats their first 10-win season in seven years. It also makes them a legitimate threat to push deeper into the playoffs with a surprise home berth awaiting against Austin Peay – and perhaps eventually even provide the sternest test among FCS teams for the omnipresent North Dakota State juggernaut in the Fargodome a week later.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Austin Peay's surprise win at Sacramento State late Saturday night came against the same team that whipped MSU by two TDs in Bozeman and pummeled Montana in Sacramento after that.
But that was then == the ebb in a season of flow.
So much has changed for the Cats, much of it revolving around the right arm of their quarterback and the, yes, confidence required to make it work.