Even as Eastern Washington tries to settle on a starter at quarterback, Trent McKinney is settling in just fine at Montana.
That would have seemed unthinkable six months ago – until the unthinkable happened in Missoula, where returning starter Jordan Johnson was charged with sexual assault and suspended from the team.
But McKinney, a redshirt freshman from Mililani, Hawaii, quickly emerged in fall camp and has left no doubt about who’ll be under center when the 21st-ranked Grizzlies face the seventh-ranked Eagles on Saturday at Roos Field.
When asked how he would describe McKinney in a scouting report, head coach Mick Delaney said, “Trent is a very good athlete, with a strong arm, very athletic and throws the ball well.”
McKinney has completed 80 passes out of 121 attempts for 815 yards, with six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He’s not afraid to go deep. In the fourth quarter of a 35-27 loss at Appalachian State, McKinney threw an 87-yard touchdown pass that made it a one-point game.
“I don’t think he’s afraid of much,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who will counter this week with Vernon Adams or Kyle Padron, perhaps both.
“He’s a very talented player,” Baldwin said. “And he’s only going to get better.”
McKinney’s 80 completions have gone to 12 receivers. The top targets are wideouts Sam Grafton (14 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns) and Dan Moore (10 catches for 191 yards and one TD) and tight end Greg Hardy (12 catches for 67 yards and one TD).
He’s not afraid to run, either, and has 199 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Against Northern Arizona, McKinney ran for a 31-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to help the Grizzlies to a 24-7 lead. But NAU rallied for a 41-31 win thanks partly to three interceptions thrown by McKinney, who was benched late in the game in favor of sophomore Shay Southwick-Hamm.
“He has tremendous potential, and he’s getting some things done,” Delaney said. “But we, the coaches, are making some bad choices. We need to put him in a zone where he can do some things.”
A streak chopped down
Northern Arizona ended a 14-game losing streak to Montana last week. NAU coach Jerome Souers, who spent 12 seasons roaming the Griz sideline as an assistant, had been 0-14 against his former employer. It marked just the fifth time since 1993 that the Grizzlies have lost a conference home game.
NAU is the first Big Sky team other than Eastern Washington or Montana State to win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium since Nevada won a two-overtime game in 1991. Eastern Washington beat Montana at WGS 40-35 in 1997, and again 34-20 in 2005.
The Big Sky moved up one spot in the FCS conference rankings in the Jeff Sagarin ratings. The Big Sky is third among FCS conferences, behind the Missouri Valley and Colonial. Eastern Washington is rated seventh among FCS teams and 98th overall. Cal Poly is eighth, followed by NAU at 13, UM at 14, North Dakota at 17, and Montana State at 25th. Southern Utah is 26th, and UC Davis is 31st. North Dakota State is No. 1 amongst the FCS teams and 57th overall.
Cats keep rolling
Second-ranked Montana State improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1978 with a 41-16 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday. MSU QB DeNarius McGhee, a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, completed 34 of 44 passes for 387 yards with two touchdowns.
Newcomers Southern Utah, North Dakota and Cal Poly won their first conference games last Saturday. UC Davis was the only newcomer to lose, and the Aggies lost to Cal Poly. Southern Utah rallied from a 21-3 first-quarter deficit to beat Portland State 49-42, Cal Poly notched a 28-20 win over UC Davis and North Dakota beat Sacramento State 35-13.