When Montana State named Casey Bauman its starting quarterback in August, the Bobcats knew there was still more work to be done.
The redshirt freshman had only played in one collegiate game. He was only on the field for four plays. He was entirely unproven.
Through two games, the 6-foot-6, 235-pounder hasn’t fully displayed his abilities. But he also hasn’t thrown any interceptions. The next test of his development comes at 2 p.m. Saturday at Western Illinois (0-2).
Bauman has completed 21 of 45 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown. He’s taken time to settle into games but has occasionally flashed his potential. Though Bauman has missed a few throws, Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate understands the learning curve Bauman is adjusting to.
“He'll learn from that. He'll get better,” Choate said. “That part of the decision making and processing is still getting better and better and better all the time. But if he could be a little bit more accurate in our quick game, that's going to really help us.”
MSU (1-1) did not make Bauman available for interviews this week.
When passing on first down against Southeast Missouri, Bauman went 5 of 11 for 81 yards. He began the game with four straight incompletions on first-down attempts before finding a rhythm in those scenarios. As the game progressed, MSU took over by scoring four touchdowns on four possessions in the third quarter.
Bauman’s improvement mirrored the Bobcats’ success. When he consistently makes throws for first downs, MSU’s offense becomes even more difficult to defend. And opponents already have to deal with the combination of Travis Jonsen and Troy Andersen as wildcat quarterbacks and a handful of playmakers stressing the edge of defenses with fly sweeps.
“He's more truly a pocket passer than what we've had in the past,” right guard Lewis Kidd said. “But yeah, it's great because his passing can open up the run game and in turn our run game can open up his passing. I think it's nice to finally have that balance that you kind of look for in an offense and can kind of help open up different areas of the game.”
The potential pitfall of the Bobcats’ rotation behind center is Bauman might not find the flow of the game. It’s something Choate is cognizant of. He and offensive coordinator Matt Miller hope to strike the perfect balance.
Regardless of Bauman’s performance, though, his demeanor doesn’t change much.
“Casey is such a mature kid, you don't really realize he's a redshirt freshman,” Miller said. “He carries himself like he's a fourth-, fifth-year senior. It's kind of fun for me to be around that type of guy because he doesn't seem like he's a young cat.”
In the preseason, as Bauman battled redshirt sophomore Tucker Rovig for the starting nod, Choate noted how both presented the Bobcats with an opportunity to expand their offense vertically down field.
Completing 46.7% of his passes leaves more to be desired, Choate said, but if Bauman can continue taking care of the ball and letting MSU’s run game do damage, the Bobcats can still be successful. And that's not to mention Bauman's physical skills.
“I'm excited for Casey to get a chance,” running back Logan Jones said before the season. “I like his arm. He can throw a freaking rocket. It zips. He throws it on a rope.”
In the second quarter at Texas Tech, Bauman overthrew an open Andersen, who ran by his defender and stood about 30 yards from the end zone when the ball flew over his head.
Midway through the first quarter against SEMO, Bauman missed receiver Kevin Kassis on a deep post.
Both attempts were on first down.
Bauman finally connected with Kassis on a similar play early in the third quarter when the Bobcats faced first and 10 from the Redhawks’ 41. The pass down the sideline went for 38 yards, Bauman's longest pass of his career. The possession ended with an MSU touchdown, which kickstarted 28 straight Bobcat points.
“I think that we have to be able to hit those if we're going to really explode on offense,” Choate said. “We're going to keep taking them. I promise you that.”