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Quarterback-rich Big Sky Conference riddled with injuries

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 17, 2018

Eastern Washington  quarterback Gage Gubrud  looks for an open teammate during the second half against Washington State on Sept. 15  at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington quarterback Gage Gubrud looks for an open teammate during the second half against Washington State on Sept. 15 at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

One of the most quarterback-centric conferences in the FCS is limping at the position.

More than half of the teams in the 13-member Big Sky Conference have been affected by an injury at quarterback this season, some cases more serious than others.

Two All-Americans, a strong-armed signal-caller dripping with NFL potential and a dual-threat transfer who led the conference in all-purpose yards last month have been on the shelf for weeks.

Northern Arizona star Case Cookus hasn’t taken a snap since the first half of a 31-26 loss to Eastern Washington on Sept. 6. It’s still unclear if Cookus, who injured his shoulder, will return or apply for a medical redshirt.

The Lumberjacks were ranked 18th before the injury but have since dropped out of the Top 25 at 3-3.

Eastern Washington’s Gage Gubrud, who is 16 yards shy of 10,000 career passing yards, injured his foot late in a 34-17 win at Montana State on Sept. 27. He’s worn a protective boot on the sideline during the ninth-ranked Eagles’ (5-2, 3-1) past two games.

Like Cookus, it’s unclear when Gubrud, one of the top QBs in the country, will return – or if he’ll return.

“I hope so,” EWU head coach Aaron Best said Tuesday when asked if Gubrud would return this season.

“That’s the expectation, but then again, I just have my undergraduate degree from EWU, a B.A. in social science and a minor in P.E., so I just listen to people who tell me what can take place.

“If there’s an opportunity for anybody to make a decision, it’s going to be Gage, and not us.”

Northern Colorado’s Jake Knipp suffered a season-ending broken collarbone in the first quarter of the Bears’ Week 3 loss to Sacramento State. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior, who led the Bears to a rare winning season as a freshman in 2015, has the attention of NFL scouts, according to draft sites, likely because of his laser arm.

Northern Colorado has dropped to 0-6 in Knipp’s absence.

Southern Utah junior Chris Helbig, a transfer from junior college power Butler (Kansas) Community College, averaged a Big Sky-best 341 total yards through the first three games before going down with an undisclosed season-ending injury in the first half of a 31-23 loss at Northern Arizona.

Helbig is applying for a medical redshirt, according to SUU’s student newspaper. The Thunderbirds (1-6) are near the bottom of the Big Sky standings.

EWU senior cornerback Josh Lewis said he’s never seen this many QBs go down in a single league.

“It’s kind of crazy, and it sucks because that’s never what you want, especially with a conference like the Big Sky that has great quarterbacks, year in and year out.” Lewis said.

“As a competitor, I want to go against the best of the best.”

But wait, there’s more.

Montana State’s versatile sophomore Troy Andersen had a hand injury earlier this season, and played linebacker and running back while pass-first Tucker Rovig stepped in behind center.

Rovig, who started two games and rotated with Andersen in two others, was ruled out for the season last week with a foot injury.

The Bobcats (4-2, 2-1) are razor-thin at the position with Andersen, who was recruited as a linebacker, with the only in-game experience.

“We’ve got two true freshmen and a converted linebacker (at quarterback),” Montana State head coach Jeff Choate told the Bozeman media Monday. “I’ve probably felt better about depth at that position.”

Idaho (2-4, 1-2) has employed a two-QB system with Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson, but Richardson, who has the stronger arm of the two, sat out last week with a concussion. He also missed the Vandals’ win against Portland State after suffering a hand injury in a loss at UC Davis.

Sacramento State’s Kevin Thomson went out with an unspecified injury earlier in the first quarter last week, a 48-27 loss at Southern Utah, and didn’t return. Thomson had paced the Hornets (2-3, 0-3) with 1,253 yards and seven touchdowns before the injury.

Two of the premier Big Sky quarterbacks have remained healthy, however: UC Davis’ Jake Maier and Idaho State’s Tanner Gueller are two of the more productive commodities at the FCS level.

Maier, a Walter Payton Award candidate, has passed for 1,960 yards and 16 touchdowns for the 10th-ranked Aggies (5-1, 3-0). Gueller has 1,675 passing yards and 14 touchdowns for resurgent Idaho State (4-2, 2-1).

Eastern Washington is enjoying a bye week before entertaining Idaho in Cheney for the first time since 1994.

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