By Reily Chestnut
PISCATAWAY, NJ – It was supposed to be the start. The first step toward a bright new future on the field for Texas State football. The first glance of a team that was talked about as the first to bring a glorious light to San Marcos. This week was set up to go and get the program’s first ever victory over a Power Five school. Instead, the Bobcats lost 35-7 out in Piscataway, NJ to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to delay the grand celebration of change…at least for another week.
Now, what went wrong for Texas State in Rutgers’ second annual “War Before the Shore?”
Unfortunately, we can trace the start of this avalanche to the first drive of the football game. Rutgers gets the kickoff and sends out their true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski. It seemed like a prime opportunity for the Bobcats’ defense to go and contain a first timer, almost pulling it off after stopping Sitkowski on 3rd and 4 in Bobcat territory that would’ve left the Knights wondering if they should try a 50-YD field goal or punt to Hutch White. But a personal foul call against LB Frankie Griffin gave the Knights’ opening drive new life and eventually a nine-yard TD run by Raheem Blackshear opened the Bobcats’ tough afternoon. Add the illegal block against WR TJ Graham on the following kickoff to put the Bobcats on their own seven YD line and you have found one reason for the offensive struggles of Texas State in Week 1 of 2018. That’s a tall task for sophomore QB Willie Jones III to pull off on his first career drive as the starter for Head Coach Everett Withers.
However, it is here you see the next reason the Bobcats couldn’t hold on to this matchup. Jones’ first game was a tough test for the Silsbee native. On the one hand Jones got his first taste of experience as “the” guy to try and set the offensive tone and lead the Bobcats. On the other hand, Jones would at times flirt with disaster in his first start, finishing 7-for-20 with 79 passing yards and one early interception. Meanwhile, Sitkowski would finish 20-for-30 with 205 passing yards and a touchdown while throwing three interceptions. The good news for Texas State is CB Kordell Rodgers looked legitimate, taking two picks from Sitkowski, including the first pick six of his career after returning Sitkowski’s pass 51 yards for the only score of the game by the Bobcats.
In all the numbers aren’t pretty. Texas State gave up 423 total yards to Rutgers’ newer offensive set while only accruing 169 total yards in their season opener. Two hundred eighteen of those yards would be gained on the ground against a Bobcat defensive line that failed to fortify the trenches and allow three different Knights to pick up over 60 yards through the trenches. It was tough considering the Bobcats saw promising play from a few of their established pieces. Despite the penalty that started the avalanche, Griffin finished with seven tackles and a team-leading 2.0 TFL, including the only sack on Sitkowski. Second year captain/LB Bryan London II led the way with nine tackles to continue to impress for the Bobcats like always. Plus, the interceptions give us hope that the secondary is taking steps in the right direction.
In summation, this game was a hard lesson that despite a near upset from Appalachian State this weekend in Happy Valley, the difference between most Big 10 teams and most G5 schools like Texas State is still very evident. That being said, hope for the Bobcats shouldn’t be lost after one game against a Power Five school. Texas State will have a chance to solidify its gameplan going forward next week to open Bobcat Stadium in 2018 against the SWAC’s Texas Southern Tigers. The Bobcats are still a young team trying to figure out how it can start to turn the tide. I get if you’re disappointed after this weekend. But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the season after the Bobcats got knocked down.
Next week we’ll see how high the Bobcats can pounce back and push forward against Texas Southern in San Marcos.
Featured photo via Texas State Athletics.