By Alexander Haynes
The first three games for Texas State Bobcat Football set up the perfect variation of challenges; three subsequent circumstances which a coach covets to test and develop his team. The fight against the Big Ten’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Piscataway, New Jersey was a 35-7 loss, but a loss which thrusted a young team into the lime light of power five competition. The home opener against FCS Texas Southern Tigers resulted in a 36-20 victory, a victory which players were able to find strengths to count on and weaknesses to mitigate. The third game is a challenge with lasting ramifications – the opening Sun Belt Conference game against the South Alabama Jaguars.
Heading to Mobile, Alabama is a chance for the Bobcats to make a statement and secure a voice in the Sun Belt. Although the team and season are both young, this is a chance to reverberate offensive lineman Aaron Brewer’s comments from Monday that all players can contribute regardless of age. Most importantly, Saturday evening’s game will be equally about outcome and players taking another, emphatic step toward their goals as one unit.
Texas State Bobcat Headlines
Off a week which team work gave the team a home-opening victory, the Bobcats are stuck in the quandary of, “One game at a time.” Playing mental gymnastics with mentality is always a theme throughout the tenure of a football season as there is only one chance to play a week. Cerebrally, flush the old, capitalize on the new, yet at the same time, focus on the old to mitigate weaknesses and improve.
Working inside of that message will be the main battle for Texas State heading into their first Sun Belt game. Against Texas Southern there were plays where raw talent took over, exemplifying the explosive nature of the offense and tenacity of a focused defense.
There was the 46-yard touchdown pass from Willie Jones to tight end Keenen Brown, a display of Brown’s size and athleticism dynamic. A.J. Krawczyk was the defensive highlight machine, returning a fumble 82-yards, giving the team another week with a defensive touchdown. In a series of five field goals, James Sherman had an impeccable night, setting the school record for field goals in a game and his own career long field goal. In the dreariness of a game rattled by lightning delays and taunting wind, Sherman’s only miss was on a 50-yard try. He was later named the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week.
The game was also notated by more miscues and stalling, as Head Coach Everett Withers bluntly orated. Saturday’s game temperature will be a humid 90 degrees at kickoff, demanding unprecedented focus and wit to prevent the team from falling into the trap of self-defeat. The narrative theme around this week is truly about a young team adhering to fundamentals.
However, narrative is not the sole focus of football – actual play drives the storylines, and two players to watch on an otherwise clean injury list are cornerback Jashon Waddy and offensive lineman Kameron Jemison. Waddy suffered a leg contusion last week, fortunately receiving the “should be ready” from coach Withers on Monday. With the potential of a pass heavy South Alabama offense, Texas State needs all cornerbacks haunting the secondary. Jemison has yet to play during the season and the potential return of the 6’5”, 310-pound lineman would add a layer of depth to the offensive line rotation.
From a progression stand point, tight end and running back should be of note. Brown’s play at tight end made an impact last week, with coach Withers stating, “In week one we did not do the things we needed to get him the ball and we need to do the things to get him the ball.” His connection with Jones will be a fun process to watch evolve during the season.
Coach also hinted that the running backs would be receiving more nods, specifically focusing on sophomore running backs Robert Brown, “cherishing” the football, achieving the goal of no fumbles, and Caleb Twyford’s need to get more opportunities. Although junior running back Anthony D. Taylor will still be receiving the ground and pound carries, his legs can receive extra juice if a wolf pack of running backs provide the offense crisp play style each down.
South Alabama Jaguars Headlines
There is a baseball pitching rotation. There is the sixth man in basketball and the defensive point guard. There is even a rotation of cornerbacks and wide receivers in football. What there is not, but what will be seen this weekend, is a rotation of quarterbacks. The South Alabama Jaguars will be patiently taking the first three games of the season, or more, to evaluate which quarterback they want calling their huddle from quarter one to four.
Quarterbacks Evan Orth (senior), Cole Garvin (senior) and Cephus Johnson (redshirt-freshman) have been perplexing the nation by rotating throughout the first two games of the Jaguars season, both losses. Orth, a transfer from UAB, has completed 18 of 31 for 163 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Garvin, a career Jaguar, has complete 10 of 22 passes for 64 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. Johnson has thrown four passes, but completed none.
The Jaguars entered the season with the promise of completing an incomplete package on offense, hiring Head Coach Steve Campbell to instill consistency in a roller coaster program (4-8 record in 2017). However, the 2018 season has been defined by an attempt to mere identify those players who will provide consistency. After 30-26 heart breaking loss versus Louisiana Tech and a sleepy 55-13 loss at Oklahoma State, no player has individually gathered 100 yards of running or receiving.
The one point of elegance on offense has come from wide receiver Kawaan Baker, who has accounted for 31 percent of running yardage, 18 percent of passing yardage, and five of six offensive touchdowns. He is the functional swiss knife of the Jaguars offense, and by the end of the season is likely to hold the school’s single-season touchdown record (currently held by Brandon Ross with 13 in 2009).
The defensive side, promising security through a ball-hawk secondary, has allowed an average of 331 yards of passing, 120th in the nation. Granted, playing a pass centric Oklahoma State will skew this statistic, but the defense has been far removed from the word enforcing. With lead middle linebacker Bull Barge injured (knee), his status being left for Saturday, this weekend is going to be defining for defensive coordinator Greg Stewart and position coaches to create mismatches and a stable rotation of enforcing players.
Hence, South Alabama is looking for their first win, stability in theme, and a congruent offensive scheme to operate. Saturday evokes an aura of essentiality which can make or break the remainder of their season. An ironic point, considering that Texas State’s 36-18 upset of South Alabama in 2015 knocked them from bowl eligibility, the last game the South Alabama program had hope of viability synonymous with their name.
Scheme, Players, and Game Flow to Watch For
Rhythm – the defining word of Saturday’s game. Both Texas State and South Alabama seek a rhythmic, effecient offense to push a defense back and capitalize on explosive plays. By extension of that, both defenses will be measured by pressure and disruption up front. While the direct method to reaching rhythm is slightly different for the two coaching staffs, the emphasis is efficiency to set up one, tide-turning play. Both teams, however, have struggled to establish that rhythm, Texas State from self-inflicted penalties, South Alabama deriving their play calls from a quarterback rotation.
Head coach Steve Campbell has taken his offense slowly in the first two weeks, with the laborious results iterated above. Upon hiring offensive coordinator Kenny Edenfield from rival Troy, Campbell brought in the quick-pass maestro juxtaposed to his big play addiction. However, without a quantitative, grinding run game, the quick passing has been non-existent, forcing whomever is in at quarterback to direct the team out of their spread sets. The scheme thus far has been beholden to desperation.
Therefore, the true aspirations of Edenfield have not been observable. Although coach Campbell has stated, “Until that time comes, when one of them [the quarterbacks] steps out, we’ll keep going and giving each one of them an opportunity to be that guy,” there is a subtle feeling if the starter gets out to an early lead, then that starter will be allowed to ride the offense throughout the game. Unless Texas State disrupts flow early by asserting pressure through the interior of the offensive line, then South Alabama might find their true starter this weekend.
One of the methodologies South Alabama will utilize to establish rhythm is running through the tackles. Running a counter-trap play with a pulling guard allows for an extra blocker heading into Texas State’s linebacker corps. Furthermore, by motioning a tight end or slot receiver out, that removes an additional player from the box, making the trapping guards job even easier. Spreading the defense out through formation puts stress on those in the box, opening potential for a consistent four yards per run with the occasional explosive play.
Furthermore, by spreading the defense out laterally (forcing a linebacker to cover the spread receiver), safeties will be lulled into the box to assist in run enforcement. Without the safety in the backfield, South Alabama can incorporate the Campbell style of offense: big plays over the top. Baker has thrived in the slot on this ideology. The side line wide receiver will run an under route, drawing in a zone corner/linebacker, while Baker runs a post route to the middle of the field. Although a safety picks him up, Baker has achieved one on one coverage, which puts him into a battle where his speed typically takes over.
Although this is a small sample of the South Alabama playbook, the ability to disrupt their play flow will come from the defensive line stretching plays out and beating their guards. Whether Campbell opens the game with a fly-sweep run to Baker, or a true counter-trap play through the middle of the defense, if the defensive tackles guide their offensive lineman into the backfield, free-form blocking is negated, linebackers have true vision into the backfield, and run plays stop at the line of scrimmage.
Without rhythm in the run game, South Alabama is forced into long second and third downs where up tempo passing (curl routes, under routes) take priority. Beating these come down to principled cornerback play, adhering to fundamentals of keeping everything in front them. Stopping quick passes to running backs or ending routes to the middle of the field with a simple three-yard reception keeps downs long, forcing South Alabama into a spread offense. And thus far, without precedent rhythm, the spread offense turns into desperate, hapless deep passes.
The focus has been on South Alabama’s offense and forcing desperation; desperation begets mistakes, which begets turnovers. The more Texas State’s offense has the ball, allowing their play makers to operate on a shorter field, Jones can thrive on the option play, quick passes to tight end Brown or running back Brown, and establish rhythm. Stopping the quick-option is fundamentally tiring, implicating each play will slowly open the door for more rhythm, more momentum, and opportunity for an impactful 1-0 record in Sun Belt play.
Featured image by Madison Tyson.