By Alexander Haynes
There is an important distinction between winning ugly and winning in ugly situations. Despite a plethora of rain, lightning, potential lightning, and despondent, dark weather which forced the third quarter to last an hour, the Texas State Bobcats won their home opener against the Texas Southern Tigers 36-20. The bland sky did not keep the demeanor of the team down, rushing 52 times for 304 yards and a touchdown, getting nine receivers to touch the ball, and watching kicker James Sherman taunt the weather with five of six field goals made. The game was a team effort, and for that Head Coach Everett Withers was in an upbeat, ‘football’ mindset; after all, his veteran kicker set school records for field goals attempted and made, earning him the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week. The win, however, gave Coach Withers and the players a taste of what could be, hence the distinction on ‘football’ mindset. And for that reason, his Monday press conference featured equal celebration with the traditional mindset of goals needed to bluntly, stop stalling on offense.
James Sherman Named Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week
Football carries the unique trait among sports of allowing for rapid recovery on the very next play-call; that is, except the kicker who has one proverbial shot for glory or haunting pain. The kicker does not only battle the conditions of defense, trusting his men to hold the front line, but the weather conditions. Offensive linemen can simply be more aggressive than a whipping wind, but kickers face wind physics every single kick.
Putting together the conditions, pressure, and craft of Saturday’s game, the merits of James Sherman’s Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week award is sublime. Not only did Sherman set the Texas State record for field goals and attempts, he met the school record for points with 18, a qualification for the fourth highest point total in Sun Belt conference history.
Coach Withers put the importance of Sherman’s performance in the simplest of words: “…When you do stall on drives, you need to get points on those drives, so to be able to get five field goals kicked because drives stall… He was good, he did a good job of handling those situations and obviously those points mattered to us.”
Those situations came early and often, with the first drive of the first and second half ending in a Sherman field goal. Consistent reliability shown on Saturday provides a theme of intrinsic trust moving forward; a trust that did indeed begin well before this Saturday. Both Coach Withers and Sherman commented that the previous fall camp was essential to crafting the outcome seen, coach said, “…Going into our third fall camp, I though this was his best fall camp.”
Sherman, an active student athlete, actually took the training of his craft to China this previous summer, revealing, “Without a doubt, I think this summer I had a lot of time just working on my craft… I actually went to China this summer and kicked with a bunch of guys over there and played football, just being able to get some time off and focus on my craft… There has been a lot of trust to go out and get my job done and go out and have some fun… It was definitely a fall camp I won’t forget.”
For the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) President, Texas State Student Government Senator and avid Fellowship of Christian Athletics and Athletes in Action member, the best part of his Saturday was not the kicks themselves, rather the teamwork and leadership aspect of the game.
“I think the best thing about that was when we went out there, all 11 guys had the same mindset, all the guys, whether Justin [Warner] snapping or Hutch White holding, or the guys doing their job on the offensive line they were all out there to put points on the board. So, when they do that, it makes my job easy. It was 11 guys that made that award this week, I wish they gave it to all 11 guys, but they put my name on it, so I guess I will cheer with the guys.”
A Coaches Recap
“Obviously it is good to win our opener at home, it was part of our goal to win our opener at home,” Withers said.
“We can’t take ourselves out of schedule and stall our own drives,” was his mid-dialogue theme – the oration of a coach pleased, but always seeing inside of optimistic goals for improvement. The 36-20 victory over the Tigers saw two Bobcat teams playing, sometimes the uglier team coming out in the middle of drives. Despite 584 yards of total offense in 81 plays and hitting on the marginal goals, that one goal from last week of perfecting the details remained evasive as the Bobcats were flagged for eight penalties.
The positives of the victory, however, should not be entirely dismissed. Quarterback Willie Jones III went 17 of 28 for 235 yards and a touchdown, running another 18 times for 107 yards. Robert Brown and Anthony D. Taylor assisted in the ground and pound domination with 85 yards and 64 yards and a touchdown, respectively. The finesse runs were personified by Caleb Twyford, who rushed six times for 47 yards. In coach Withers’ words, “[Jones] did a tremendous job of managing the run option game… No turnovers, so I though he did a tremendous job improving from week one to week two managing the ball game.”
Coach, however, called the defensive performance, “A tale of two halves,” split between achieving the goal of obtaining another turnover (A.J. Krawczyk recovered an 82-yard fumble for a touchdown) but failing to put pressure on the quarterback. After Kingsley Onyirioha punctuated the opening quarter with the only sack, the Tigers were allowed to settle in during the second half, putting 20 points on the board. Eight minutes into the second quarter, a 75-yard pass from Jay Christophe to Tren’Davian Dickson was the commencing play for un-clottable bleeding.
A Drizzly Note on Weather
The potential of lightning, rain, and dangerous weather caused several delays, including one which forced the third quarter to demand an hour of real time to complete. Coach Withers said, “The fans held in there and did a great job dealing with delays and I appreciate our players overcoming the events of the weather we cannot control.” Coach said they did indeed have a plan B in effect for the potential of a lightning delay, a positive for the underlying premise the team is indeed prepared for situational flow changing rapidly.
Focus on Developing the Skill Players
As the coaching staff prepares for the first Sun Belt game, visiting the South Alabama Jaguars, three offensive players were notated. The scheme of the Bobcats is run-option focused, hence the development of Brown and Twyford. A bigger, physical menace also partook in the offensive output: 6’3” 250-pound tight end Keenen Brown. The graduate transfer from Oklahoma State finished Saturday with seven domineering receptions for 108-yards and a touchdown. However, even Brown can catch, run, and turn into a personified McLaren down field as he hauled in a 46-yard pass for a touchdown.
Much like the McLaren car possessing hidden finesse and austere power, Brown is a football player who enforces with physicality at the line of scrimmage while being “[the] quarterback’s best friend, a tight end who can stretch the field.”
Withers praised Brown in both game elements of blocking and catching, a player who completes the offensive strategy.
Running back Robert Brown is another player completing the package with Coach Withers stating of his development, “His problems in the past have been vision in the backfield. Yesterday he made one cut he has not made since he has been here.”
The pizzazz of developing a running back who provides a stalwart change of pace is essential to the coaching staff’s plans. Stating of Twyford, “He had two drops in a row, so we need to get the ball more to him. We want to get the ball to the running backs.” The backfield crew is definably electric with plenty of promise if they continue to hit the goal of, “Protect and cherish the football.”
A View from Offensive Lineman Aaron Brewer
The offensive linemen are the silent leaders of the team, making their presence felt by the backfield disaster which does not occur. Study the Texas State offensive line and Aaron Brewer stands out as their physical and vocal leader. As a junior offensive lineman in an otherwise young room, Brewer is guiding the team, which he said, “If you are older or younger, it is all the same thing.” For him, the offensive congruency and success cause one another. Regardless of age, if the team can “get it together, get on the same page,” play in and out, everything will click.
One of the more natural themes to this and the offensive line development is aggression. “We played a lot more aggressively this game. It felt like the reason we were able to succeed… understanding what their [the offensive line] job is. How to be able to do it full speed.” The push up front as offensive line coach Eric Mateos revamps the offensive line through players like Brewers leads directly to freedom for Jones, Brown, Taylor, et al to showcase the offense.
With Texas State’s up tempo and run, option offense, the ability to functionally operate plays with pulling and trapping guards demand athleticism from the giant protectors up front. According to Brewer making or breaking a play comes down to one player missing their assignment. Brewer’s comments reflected the complex and intuitive nature the game of football must be played with; a match of cerebral recognition with unwarranted and efficient speed. That goal is difficult for many offensive lineman, but one the Bobcat line has taken to heart regardless of age.
For the second week in a row, the injury report was comfortably small. Jashon Waddy suffered a leg contusion, unable to finish the game. Fortunately, he is expected to play in South Alabama. Ishmael Davis was held out to protect him during a bought of illness. Offensive lineman Kameron Jemison is expected back to help “shore up the offensive line rotation,” after undergoing surgery two weeks ago.
Featured image by Justin Manor.