By Alexander Haynes
Opening the season in Piscataway, New Jersey was a layered challenge of facing a Big Five Football crowd, welcoming Willie Jones III to the helm at quarterback, overcoming early penalties, and trying to usurp a Rutgers Scarlet Knights program seeking their own surge of urgency into a new era. The 35-7 loss was anything but a fresh take on a season brimming in otherwise optimistic color. All challenges hit the Texas State Bobcats head on, preventing the wind from even reaching the sails in the first place.
However, home brings comfort, endurance, and exhilarating confidence. Opening their season this Saturday at Bobcat Stadium, the football team’s number one goal against the Texas Southern Tigers should not be unprecedent highlights or overwhelming statistics, but pure, enduring execution play in and out. The home opener could not come at a better time for the Texas State Bobcats to start fresh in their 2018 campaign.
Texas State Bobcat Headlines
Head Coach Everett Withers began his week with the goal of cleaning “administrative” processing and the team following suit on the subtle differences which make or break the penalty process. The most telling sign for the Bobcats improvement will be the absence of a penalty flag. As exemplified against Rutgers, no team can survive with 15 penalty markers thrown against them. Although some of those penalties were reflective of intrinsic aggressiveness – a positive trait to establish on the front line – but they were penalties regardless.
The second headline Coach Withers set was not the lack of doubt he has in Jones at being the quarterback, but the overwhelmingly positive outlook he has for the sophomore. After completing only seven of 20 passes, Jones was pulled in the fourth quarter. Yet, coach never wavered in his wording of who the team leader is. Saturday’s scrutiny will indeed be heaped on the young quarterback as fans look for the resounding athleticism and dynamic offense to be executed.
And regarding the offense, one of the players to watch evolve through the season will be hybrid running back/wide receiver Caleb Twyford. He never got going against Rutgers, but play-calling and offensive schematics consistently pointed toward his number. Twyford’s ability (touched on more in the scheme breakdown below) to break out from multiple alignments is the fundamental trait needed to make defenses uncomfortable.
The defensive side of the ball has two more players to watch turn momentum from last Saturday into a special performance at home. Cornerback Kordell Rodgers made his debut in the secondary with two interceptions, including a pick six. Linebacker Frankie Griffin, finishing with seven tackles and one sack, also showed he is ready to take the next step. However, he was one of the few players notated by injury. Although he is scheduled to play, his play frequency will be one of the key defensive headlines to watch.
Texas Southern Tiger Headlines
The Texas Southern Tigers are arriving in San Marcos bouncing after they won their home opener against the University of Texas Permian Basin Falcons 26-16. Captained by Head Coach Michael Haywood, the FCS school is seeking to open their FBS schedule with a marked upset. With a disappointing 2-9 2017 behind them, graduate quarterback Glen Cuiellette has brought new life after transferring from Tulane. Completing 19 of 33 passes for 235 yards, three touchdowns, and two interception in his debut, Cuiellette is the headline driver for Falcon football.
“At times, I thought he played really well especially at the start of the game,” said Watts. “When we didn’t protect, as coach said, when we didn’t protect as well I think he got a little rattled at times you know but he made enough big plays for us to get points on the board.”
The indicative goal for the Tigers is their consistency. They received a safety in the first quarter, removing the momentum of their initial touchdown strike. Afterwards, the offensive line allowed four debilitating sacks, the right side of the offensive line is injured, and coaches had severe communication issues on getting the right plays called. While the 26-16 was surface level quaint, the rattled offensive play left a whelming note for the coaching staff.
While not the most graceful issue to pontificate over, communication and efficient on-field play calling is key for the Tigers. Their entire scheme is built on timing run and pass plays to throw off the defense, building the play-action pass off momentum netted by running back Brad Woodard.
However, to get Woodard running, the right side of the offensive line needs fine-tuning. Their starting rotation was persistently shuffled against the Falcons, ending in the need to put a backup tight-end or running back to even hit average protection. Pressure and integrity upfront are the make or break points for the offense.
The defense too will have their hands full to fix late-game dissolution when the Falcons put in a dynamic, athletic quarterback. The Tigers would go on to allow 182 yards of running from every segment of the field. Facing a home-crowd and another athletic quarterback in Jones, the Tiger front-seven need to be defined by the simple word of aggressiveness.
Scheme, Players, and Game Flow to Watch For
With Cuiellette at the helm, the Texas Southern Tigers reflect a processional pro-style offense in their timing (not necessarily the formations). Senior running back Woodard can gash defenses through any gap but will primarily be setting up strong counter and power-trap plays to the left side. Off those strong runs, Cuiellette can drop back into a spread-set and begin to disseminate between a plethora of wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends.
Coordinator Morris loves to attack with shock and awe from just about any alignment. Their final goal, however, is to utilize play-action to break the linebacker’s alignment and confidence. The endless gut punches to the middle of a defense are a way to trap defenders inside and break down the doors for a score on a subsequent pass.
However, while the plan is easy to state, it is much harder to implement without a healthy offensive line. Due to injuries on the right side, one potential pass receiver is removed as Tigers’ coaches stated they must keep a running back or tight end blocking. This also removes formation variation and limits offsetting linebackers with juxtaposed strength calls.
For the Texas State Bobcats, the lack of protection up front should mean a blitz heavy evening. If defensive ends Dean Taylor and Ishmael Davis can crash (a defensive line call which they perceptually break to their left of the lineman they are facing, the offenses right) early in the game, their tenacity will set up blitz stunts through the C and B gaps. Aligning slightly inside of the strength play, a tactful blitz might send Taylor or Davis to the outside, sending the offensive line after him. Subsequently, Griffin or Bryan London II can break toward the inside on a delayed blitz where the offensive line has vacated.
In simplicity, the defensive plan will be a classical smash-mouth game of football. By pushing the envelope into the hands of the Tigers, the Bobcats must establish tenacity from the first play; in effect, force the Tigers to vacate their offensive plan.
On offense, the Bobcats will be facing a Tigers defense that struggled with versatile, dynamic offense. However, after the poor showing against Rutgers, the goal should not be to focus so much on the opponent but getting back to their modus operandi. Jones is not a quarterback designed for deep passes to the corner of the endzones; his success is most parallel to controlling linebackers through run, options and the short screen-game.
In that essence, running backs Twyford and Anthony D. Taylor will be prioritized in a multitude of formations. Twyford has the potential to align as an offset wide receiver, then motion for a jet sweep. Furthermore, off that jet sweep, Jones can execute an option run when a single defensive end is off the play-side edge. Taylor will be featured in more runs through the counter or interior gaps, however, he too is explosive enough to break the edge of the defense on a pitch play.
One of the subtle equal highlights and low lights was the play of offensive linemen Aaron Brewer and Jacob Rowland; altruistically aggressive with the caveat of holding and false start penalties. Channeling that aggressive and forward thinking blocking into clean play, Taylor could be set for a big game early. The shock of power would then open the door for the screen game, a goal of coach Withers. If linebackers are tucked into the box to defend the run, a wide receiver screen or swing pass to a running back would break the door open to mass yards.
The offensive goals are truly boiled down to executing the game plan methodically, artfully, and most of all, academically. The home game provides comfort for the entire offense to settle in and cerebrally acknowledge what they are doing – the kind of play style which establishes forward momentum for the entire year.
Featured image by Madison Tyson.