BOZEMAN – Two of the most exciting and productive offensive players in the Big Sky Conference will share the spotlight in Bobcat Stadium this afternoon when 16th-ranked Montana State plays host to No. 9 Eastern Washington.
Kickoff is set for 12:05 PDT, and the presence of Eastern’s Taiwan Jones and MSU’s Denarius McGhee promises to make this game something special.
Jones, the Eagles’ junior running back and two-time BSC offensive player of the week, leads the nation with an average of 287.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranks No. 4 in rushing with an average of 151.7 yards per game.
McGhee, the Bobcats’ nifty redshirt freshman quarterback, has completed more than 68 percent (54 of 79) of his passes, while throwing for 694 yards and five touchdowns and ranks third in the Big Sky – behind a pair of backups, including teammate Cody Kempt – with a pass efficiency rating of 155.4.
Neither one has managed to fly under the radars of the two head coaches involved.
“We probably need to know where (No.) 22 is on every play,” MSU head coach Rob Ash said of Jones, a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder, who has rushed for 455 yards and three touchdowns for the Eagles (2-1 overall, 1-0 Big Sky), while also catching nine passes for 215 yards and two more scores. “He’s an amazing player. He’s just impossible to stop.
“And he’s not just a fast guy. He’s a football player who’s fast and makes big plays.”
Jones was dazzling again last weekend, rushing for 221 yards and a touchdown and amassing 305 all-purpose yards in the Eagles’ 36-27 upset of then-No. 6 Montana.
“They have a superhero in Taiwan Jones,” Ash said.
But the Bobcats (2-1, 0-0), who lead the Big Sky in total offense with an average of 493.3 yards per game, have some weapons of their own, including the elusive and versatile McGhee, who has caught the attention of EWU coach Beau Baldwin.
“He’s a very good young quarterback,” Baldwin said of the 5-11, 203-pounder. “He’s athletic, he can move around and he can make all the throws. Yeah, he’s young, so he’s maybe made a mistake or two so far, but he’s already playing ahead of his years and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.
“It’s not easy to play as a freshman at any position, let alone quarterback.”
McGhee threw three interceptions in the Bobcats’ 23-22 setback to Washington State two weeks ago, but has improved with each start, Ash said.
“He’s been terrific,” Ash said. “He’s a charismatic leader, and the guys believe in him – even our defensive guys.
“They believe that Denarius can get the job done, and he makes everybody around him play better. We’re never out of a play when he’s out there.
“But he’s still a freshman, and he still needs to take care of the ball better. I love the way he’s playing. His efficiency and his accuracy throwing the ball are excellent, and he’s creative when things break down.”
MSU has lost seven straight to the Eagles and trails in the series 25-8.