By Alexander Haynes
The 42-27 loss to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns on Saturday left a dark note on the team, or at least the first-half’s lack of execution, leading to Head Coach Everett Withers’ opening statement, “I told you guys after the game I take full responsibility… I am still trying to figure out why the first half is the first half.” He left no questions on the differentiation between the first half (zero points 110 yards, 50 of which were on the final drive before half) and second half of the match (27 points 320 yards) going so far as to interrupt the question, “Tyler Vitt played well…” with, “He played well in the second half.” The message was clear: the team’s first-half execution was egregious. However, coach Withers had two other messages as the team attempts make the past, the past, “Our biggest nemesis now is time…” and, “You have an obligation to be good every day, not when you want to play.”
The Dismal First Half
The summation put on the first-half was punctual, coach Withers stating, “We did not play well, especially in the second quarter…. Our good players have to play well all the time, your good players can’t play good 60% of the time and not enough of our good players played good… Nobody played well on defense, nobody…”
During the first half, Louisiana tallied 350 yards on 44 plays, a shocking 7.95 yards per play. Freshman quarterback Vitt finished 28 of 39 with 296 yards and three touchdowns, but that stat line does cover up an uncomfortable first-half. Running backs gathered a concerning 10 carries overall, Caleb Twyford receiving six of those carries in what coach stated was a ‘limited’ role. Considering that Twyford was in a limited role within a limited position, there is a lack of balance to the offense derived from a lack of execution.
Although penalties were down, Texas State incurred only three all game, the coach was insistent that the team was still putting themselves on their own schedule, responding to the lack of penalties with, “Yeah, we put ourselves on schedule with how we played in the first half. We have to put it all together… We would like to have zero penalties and no turnovers because it gives you a better chance to win. So, we still have work to do.”
The defense’s biggest blunder was against the running game, allowing Trey Ragas to dash for 104 yards on 21 attempts and Elijah Mitchell to gash for 194 yards on 20 attempts. Moving into a week against the triple option happy Georgia Southern Eagles, the defense has no room to miss assignments and sluggishly fit the gap.
Wide receiver Hutch White, who spoke to the media after coach Withers, may have summarized the slow start the bluntest, “… We came in pretty dead, even on the sideline, something just didn’t feel right.”
The Second Half and The Importance of Practice
The second half of the game was a complete juxtaposition to the first. Vitt would stand strong in the pocket, throwing darts to 10 different receivers. Bryan London would finish with another 10 tackles. Tight end Keenen Brown intimidated with two receiving’s touchdowns, topping off 90-yards. Hutch White would have a career day on 11 receptions, also showing off a trick-play by completing a touchdown pass to Vitt. The team was not holistically perfect, but a plan and a commitment to strategy were evident. In White’s words, “The second half, it was like, ‘This is who we are, this is what we have to do.’”
Coach’s observations on Vitt were short, “I feel confident in putting him in some more,” but gave a longer answer when talking about the unique trait Vitt brings.
“Tyler brings what we saw in recruiting. What we saw in recruiting was a tough guy that loves the game, that is going to study to be as good as he can be, a competitor in everything he does. I don’t know if that is unique, that may be a unique set of skills for somebody who wants to be an elite quarterback, and I think he wants to be an elite quarterback, so he brings what I call elite skills to that position.”
The second-half performance brought up a repeating theme regarding practice, specifically that, “…Good players usually work their butts off at practice, the Hutch Whites, the Keenen Browns, the Bryan Londons. They give out here what they give you Monday through Friday…” Practice is essential to supporting the value of the product on Saturday, demanding the entire time execute and learn, not just the good players.
The messaging underneath the quote was a stark demand for the entire team to come together and perform throughout the week with the desire to be excellent, to be “thirsty” for a championship and winning. In response to a question on talking to former Texas State championship teams, the coach gave insight on his fighting to bring the championship trophies out of the meeting room and into the hallway, so the players can see the results of dedication and winning, translating to a desire for an excellent play day in and out.
Practice and the value of time will be of the utmost importance this week as Texas State takes on Georgia Southern this Thursday. While inquiry regarding the team’s preparation for the triple option received a dismissing, “Get ready for the triple option,” coach was more willing to discuss the details of every single moment.
“[Time is] very valuable… We went out and practiced an hour and a half. Last night was Monday for us, today was Tuesday for us. We have had time to put together preliminary game plans before yesterday. All it is now is getting reps, getting reps… Get our players rest, hydrated…”
Georgia Southern has heralded the triple option since the 1980s, morphing the style of play beyond a scheme and into a psychologically imposing tone. With new offensive coordinator Bob DeBeese at the helm, the offense has become only more expansive. Texas State’s staff was preparing for this week back in spring, spending four days of spring practice on defending the triple option. More preparation went into the technique during summer training camp and bye-week practice.
In short, defending the triple option is about being comfortable against an uncomfortably awkward offense. The upcoming week will be epitomized by practice so each player naturally flows to their assignment whether that be the sweep, dive, or play-action pass.
Hutch White’s Career Day
After a career high of 11 receptions for 60 yards and throwing a dazzling trick-play touchdown pass, wide receiver Hutch White had a career day. His performance was a major component to the team turning around during the second half, once again, notating his performance to the preparation. “It [his career day] was really just stuff we go through at practice. Coaches make it where Saturday’s are fun, where you don’t have to be stressing over the game. Practice is harder than the game.”
Much of practice turns to learn the opponent’s tendencies based on work with the scout team, “Coach [Ron] Antoine and coach [Joseph] Kirchon, really all our staff, they give us a great look of who we are facing, what technique they use, what size, their tendencies, and we get a great look on the scout team.” He spoke to the importance of starting off strong in the first half with cerebral play, “… Executing plays, calming down by taking it play by play and not going through the motions.”
White is a player who understands the importance of hard work and leaving nothing to chance. He only recently received a scholarship after walking on the team, “I came in here, I didn’t think that I would ever get on scholarship, I just came on because I wanted to play but it is something I will never forget. I am so thankful for coach Withers, this whole staff, everything they taught me, not just in football, but in life, I am just super thankful for that.”
He also knows the game of football can be crazy and fun. His trick pass touchdowns (one in 2017, one in 2018) come naturally to his love for the game. Although the coaching staff did not know he played quarterback his freshman and sophomore years of high school, he was the willing guinea pig that could make the trick play work. He also has developed a recent habit of hurdling would-be-tacklers on the punt return, something he never worked on but instead, “…Pulled it out my back pocket. I saw the punter try to go low on me, so I tried to go high,” in the athletic feat displayed against Texas Southern and UTSA.
Since bye-week, the injury report has extended to worrisome. Team captain and lead-safety, A.J. Krawczyk, is in concussion protocol with no word on when he will return. Nose tackle Dean Taylor did not play due to a neck strain suffered against UTSA and will be questionable for Thursday. Defensive lineman Jaquel Pierce suffered an ankle injury and will be questionable for Thursday. Freshman safety Pierce Withers suffered a pectoral tendon tear on August 21 and will be undergoing surgery on October 9. Quarterback Willie Jones (shoulder injury against UTSA) was prepared to play on Saturday and will be ready to go Thursday as well. However, further questioning on Jones was met with, “Willie [Jones] is available to play Saturdays,” leaving a strong indication Vitt will be the starting quarterback moving forward.
Featured photo by Madison Tyson.