As John Graham watches video of Montana State’s sophomore quarterback DeNarius McGhee, he doesn’t immediately notice any great change from last year.
“Which doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved,” said Eastern Washington University’s defensive coordinator, who is in the process of designing a game plan to deal with the 5-foot-10, 213-pound McGhee on Saturday, when the Bobcats travel to Roos Field to take on the Eagles in a Big Sky Conference football game that kicks off at 4 p.m.
“It’s just that he was awfully dang good last year, and he’s still a pretty cool cat,” Graham said. “Nothing seems to rattle him, and I think he’s maybe even staying in the pocket longer and not panicking and taking off running as much as he did as a freshman.”
Graham’s assessment can’t be of much comfort to Eastern fans, considering McGhee put together the best season of any freshman quarterback in the history of MSU’s program last fall, when he threw for 3,163 yards and 23 touchdowns, racked an impressive efficiency rating of 153.75 and was named the Big Sky’s Offensive MVP.
McGhee ran 80 times for 181 yards on the year, and torched Graham’s defense for 307 yards of total offense and a passing touchdown.
“He’s different from the two kids we’ve played the last two weeks (South Dakota’s Dante Warren and Montana’s Jordan Johnson),” Graham said. “He looks to scramble, sure, but he’s not a run-first quarterback like those other two. He’s just as elusive, but he still wants to throw the ball.
“They don’t really design a lot of runs for him, but he’ll take off and go if the throw isn’t there.”
Despite the unprecedented success McGhee had as a rookie, Brian Wright, MSU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said his savvy quarterback worked hard during the offseason to improve his fundamentals and technique.
“He had a great freshman season,” Wright said. “But he, like the rest of us, was looking at all the ways you can improve as a quarterback. And DeNarius would be the first to admit he had plenty of areas in which to improve.”
In three games this fall, McGhee has completed 45 of 76 passes for 684 yards and five touchdowns, while throwing just three interceptions. He has also carried 20 times for 51 yards and another TD.
“He has one full season under his belt, and he has more of an understanding of what we want to do,” Wright said. “We still try to keep things very simple, so he can go out and play fast. But we have a great group of guys on offense who have improved, as well, and that makes DeNarius’ job a lot easier.
“To be a great quarterback, you have to be surrounded by good players, and DeNarius has that luxury.”
Wright said McGhee is also aces off the field.
“I’ve told a lot of people that you only get so many opportunities in your lifetime as a coach to coach a kid like him,” Wright said. “And I feel blessed to have had this opportunity.”
MSU’S Grosulak is back
Eastern Washington didn’t expect to have to deal with Aleksei Grosulak this fall, after Montana State’s sophomore linebacker and leading tackler as a freshman in 2010 injured a knee in the Bobcats’ spring scrimmage.
The injury was expected to keep the 5-11, 215-pounder from Billings out of action until at least midway through the 2011 season. But Grosulak, who had a hand in 88 tackles – including 2 1/2 sacks – while also picking off two passes, breaking up four others and recovering a fumble last year, made an early return in last Saturday’s 43-7 rout of visiting Minot State and will be available for Saturday’s game against EWU.
“I think he has an extremely high pain tolerance,” Bobcats coach Rob Ash said of Grosulak. “He has a very high resolve and determination, and he was unbelievably faithful with his rehab – just constant, two or three times a day.
“It just shows that you can make a difference with how you approach your rehab.”
Portland State, the only remaining unbeaten team in the Big Sky Conference, will be hard-pressed to keep its record unblemished on Saturday, when it travels to Fort Worth to take on defending Rose Bowl champion Texas Christian, which is 2-1 this season. … PSU running Cory McCaffrey leads the conference in rushing with an average of 145.5 yards per game and is the nation’s No. 1 scorer at 21 points per game. … Weber State quarterback Mike Hoke has completed 56 of 94 passes for 650 yards and six touchdowns, without throwing an interception. … Idaho State has a pair of national FCS leaders in quarterback Kevin Yost, who is averaging 405.7 yards of total offense, and wide receiver Rodrick Rumble, who is averaging 173.3 receiving yards per game. … Despite his team’s 0-3 start, Eastern Washington’s Beau Baldwin continues to lead BSC coaches in winning percentage for both conference games (18-7 for .720) and all games (27-14 for .659).