By Alexander Haynes
Saturday’s 35-7 loss at the hands of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights was the opposite effect of what training camp should have carried into the season opener. The aura of Piscataway, New Jersey was not brilliant for either team – Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski throwing three interceptions with the team stumbling on first game execution; Texas State quarterback Willie Jones III completing only seven of 20 passes and the defense often falling out of alignment. Yet, as both teams were covered in the clout of game one anxiety, the main difference was the penalties – Texas State had 15 for 119 yards, Rutgers had seven for 50 yards. The little details were often missed, thus draining the Bobcats resilience away from home with penalties preventing any garnishment of momentum. Leaving no doubt on the sentiment Head Coach Everett Withers said, “Don’t get 15 penalties,” in the opening statement in his Monday press conference.
Penalties and Jitters
Penalties on the offensive helm are a coach’s bane, especially for a team that received an average of 4.4 offensive penalties for 38.2 yards last season (15th in the nation). Coach Withers’ comments, however, were objectively optimistic. “Hopefully we got them [penalties] out of our system… two of our best players had six of them on offense, [offensive linemen] Aaron Brewer and Jacob Rowland… We have to go back and work on the attention to detail, there are some administrative things which could have helped us with a couple of those penalties.”
The premise for the first game was one that Texas State wish they could have back. Opportunity knocked several times, but without an offensive line able to establish congruent or unpenalized blocking, the offense faltered and players began to attempt play creation on individual merit. The domino effect of a derailing train was cast across all aspects of offense, defense, and special teams.
In football terms, the schematics lacked balance, a factor of what coach referenced as, “First game jitters.” In response to a question regarding a tighter practice schedule during camp, he provided a lengthy answer to where the penalties came from, never making an excuse.
“I think some of ours [penalties] were first game jitters, I really do, Aaron Brewer is a really talented player, you know, to have four. Now some of his holding penalties, he is a really aggressive player, he got his hands outside of the framework and things just didn’t go well… All our penalties on defense were aggressive penalties. If you are going to make a penalty on defense, make it an aggressive penalty, offensively we have to clean some things up and not put ourselves in a bad way.”
The most telling comment was indeed aggressiveness. If Texas State’s offensive line and defense can turn their intrinsic aggressiveness into a composed aggressiveness, the team will be right back into a competitive stance.
Plans and Strategy Moving Forward
One of the most concerning observations in the loss to Rutgers was Jones being pulled in quarter four in favor of backup quarterback Tyler Vitt. Jones struggled in his first start, throwing for only 79 yards and rushing for another 33 yards, including one long run of 22 yards. The run game never got going, as running back Anthony D. Taylor had a mere seven carries for 32 yards. The execution and plan observed was a far reaching, muddied version of the strategy the coaching staff went into the game with.
However, Coach Withers gave no doubt in who his starting quarterback iwhich he then said “Oh yeah, he is our starting quarterback! Who am I going to go with?” When asked why Vitt came in, the response was blunt, “Because he was our two going in.”
One of the subtle positives of the game was wide receiver Caleb Twyford displaying fundamental athleticism in an unexpected hybrid role. He may have had only five carries for nine yards with another three receptions for 21 yards, yet the numbers would discount a dazzling 23-yard pass gain and his role as kick returner. Twyford’s demeanor is the epitome of raw power and athleticism coach Withers discussed last week. Moving forward, Twyford’s role will be an evolving central point to breaking the offensive open. Coach was unabashed when asked about Twyford’s hybrid role.
“We made that decision really back in January, that we would try and see if Caleb could be that hybrid guy for us… When we recruited Caleb, we thought that he is what he would be, the tailback… I thought he did some good things, he has good hands, we want to throw the ball to the backfield more, get some more screens.”
Defensively, cornerback Kordell Rodgers finished the game with three tackles and two interceptions, including a pick six, proving to be the desired ball hawk when coaches moved him to the secondary. Coach stated the interceptions were confidence boosters for the secondary and that Rodgers’ improvement is no illusion, “I think Kordell [Rodgers] is growing up and learning how to be a Division I cornerback.”
Rodgers also was available for questions on Monday afternoon, stating of his interception, “I just read the play… It was really exciting, coach called the right call, defense was paying, and I just made the right play on the ball, it was a dream come true, as a little kid, getting a pick six in a college football game.”
Gaining Momentum at Home
The Texas State Bobcats will be debut at Bobcat Stadium on Saturday evening against Texas Southern, a, “Great second opponent for us, an opportunity to play at home and correct some of the things we didn’t do well,” according to coach Withers. His demeanor regarding the upcoming game, however, was typical, “We don’t worry about the opponent… preparation is about us.”
Coach discussed at length the importance of building a home crowd, the need for a full stadium, and instituting a winning culture. He is dedicated to the team improving on Saturday with subsequent crowd support growing. Naturally, a home game should erase the away game anxiety and provide the team a way to ease into their own attack. The excitement and exhilaration of playing in front of a home crowd under the brimming stadium lights is unprecedented across college sports. There was no lack of optimism regarding the team jumping back onto track for their home debut.
The injury report boiled down to, “Fairly healthy.” Coach noted that running back Robert Brown had back spasms, but fortunately, “Nothing structural,” was involved and he was practicing Monday. Offensive lineman Kameron Jemison had surgery one week ago and will begin team activities this week, although he will be held out for the Texas Southern matchup. Linebacker Frankie Griffin was also hurt during the Rutgers matchup, yet again, was up and practicing on Monday.
Featured image by Texas State Athletics.