In golden uniforms, from left to right, number 47 A.J. Krawczyk, number 92 Grant Lanza, and number 94 Dean Taylor prepare to command the gridiron against ULM in the 2017 matchup. The defensive front will be seeking better results this season after losing 45-27 to the tune of a finesse, spread offense last season

Mondays With Coach Withers – Stabilizing Consistency in Preparation for ULM

By Alexander Haynes
Sports Reporter

Consistency. A cliché statement for any coach to iterate halfway through the season, but in the end, after the Texas State Bobcats fell to 1-5 following a 15-13 loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles last Thursday, it might be the most precise way to summarize the season. “I think our biggest concerns are just consistency throughout our football team. One half our offense plays well our defense doesn’t play well. One game our defense plays well, and we can’t get our offense going. We don’t kick the ball well on Thursday night. We have to go back to the drawing board and fix some things,” were the capstone words for Head Coach Everett Wither’s commentary on the team. Looking backward, the loss was the split of two units – a defensive unit which saw linebackers Bryan London and Nikolas Daniels post-double-digit sack totals with an offensive staff that saw two quarterbacks play behind a run game averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Yes, there were bright spots, such as tight end Keenen Brown’s 61-yard jet-sweep run and his three-yard jet sweep touchdown run – the problem was the bleakness and intermittency of thebright spots, which turn coach Withers’ call for consistency from cliché to urgent as the team prepares to travel to take on the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks this upcoming Saturday.

In black jersey and white pants, number 16, cornerback Jashon Waddy aligns across a white clad Appalachian State wide receiver, number 17. Waddy has since trasitioned from cornerback, making a concerted effort to move to safety this season. He has commanded the transition, receiving praise from Head Coach Withers while becoming a communicative leader on defense
Cornerback Jashon Waddy has made a concerted effort to move from cornerback in 2017, to safety this season. He has commanded the transition, receiving praise from Head Coach Withers while becoming a communicative leader on defense. Photo by Justin Manor.

Inconsistency

Coach Withers was blunt in most of his commentary on areas where the team clearly struggled. For example, the running game, which produced just 82 yards on 20 carries, discounting Brown’s two explosive runs, to coach was a matter of consistency up front. “I just think consistency up front more than anything. We have to be consistent blocking in the run game and the pass game.” If it was not consistency, then it was a lack of focus, iterating that theme on the kicking game, “Missed assignments and a lack of focus. They [kicking struggles] are not schematic at all, to be honest, I don’t know why just a lack of focus.”

Without giving away personnel packages or decision making on who may be starting moving forward, the offense received the simple admonishment of “…needing to generate more to give a chance.” Although quarterback Tyler Vitt started the game, Willie Jones replaced him in the third quarter, completing only one pass. Eventually, Vitt re-entered the game in the fourth quarter but did not purely replace Jones as the quarterbacks began interchanging snaps on the same drive.

By the end of the game, neither were overtly productive after being sacked four times, including Jones for a safety after aligning in shotgun on his own goal line. The duo combined for a mere 14 completions and 135 yards on 27 attempts. The lackluster performance should not be isolated to just Vitt and Jones; football is a team effort and the fundamental point is that the team “must go back to the drawing.” Once the team does find a consistent pattern, the picture coach is drawing on his board can be put in the terms, “Physical in the run game, explosive in the pass game.”

Defensive Improvement and Other Areas of Consistency

Last week one of coach Withers’ main talking points was the emphasis of practice. Naturally, one of his first praise points was the team handling the quick turnover from Saturday to Thursday. “I thought our entire team handled the short week well as far as preparation and getting ready for the ball game, a testament to our team and coaches for getting our team back from the Saturday night game and having a couple days short to get ready for the game…” Putting the general terms of preparation into a finer point, the defensive execution against Georgia Southern was dynamic, speaking to the synthesis of practice to tackle the whimsical triple option.

By the end of the game, the Texas State defense combined for five tackles for losses, two sacks, and held the Eagles high-flying offense to only 3.2 yards per carry (164 yards, 52 carries). Opposing quarterback Shai Werts was consistently forced to option to his running back, carrying the ball only 13 times for 18 yards. While Werts’ lack of carries is a subtle note, the consistent flipping of the football toward other options was a sign of the defensive success. The intent of the triple option is to balance carries between the running back (short, three to four-yard gains) with explosive (five leading to 10 plus yard gains) from the quarterback. Without that balance, the offense was left dysfunctional, needing to attempt half as many passes (12) as they have had all season.

While London (11 tackles, first career fumble recovery) and Daniels (10 tackles) lead the charge up front, the coach is not going to let the defense rest on the complacency of stopping a vaunted triple option. He spoke toward the new challenge coming, praising the Warhawks’ versatile spread offense, commanded by quarterback Caleb Evans, running back Derrick Gore, and wide receiver Marcus Green, “… So it’s not like it will be a throw fest, it will be, ‘Can you stop a talented running back and can you stop some talented skill guys.”

The stark contrast between a triple option team and a versatile spread offense could not be understated. To stay consistent, there is an equal need to study the opponent’s scheme and play with pride. Cornerback Jashon Waddy, speaking after coach Withers, stated as much when discussing how the defense has evolved, “Mostly just having a different mindset when coming to the field. I felt like early in the season we were just playing, but now there is a sense of urgency to have pride and stop the other team from scoring.” For the new safety and his secondary, this week will be, “… A good telling of where we are on the defense…” Coach gave Waddy praise for momentously approaching each week and becoming, “A quarterback on the back end, he has grown in that role each week.”

Coach Withers also gave a summative paragraph on the importance of preparing the defense with the balance of study and pride.

“The one thing you have to do is show, and we did this a little bit yesterday, ‘Here you go guys, you are locked in and focused on what you have to do and job description and how you practice’… Each individual has to put last week behind because there is a totally new challenge and now we are playing a spread offense that can throw it and run it. Now there is a unique challenge and you have to be able to face new challenges. Hopefully, we are more mature on that side of the ball. I think our guys last week were embarrassed by how they played against Lafayette, and I think the pride factor came into play with our defensive kids, a lot of those guys have played a lot of snaps. Hopefully, there won’t be any complacency and we want to get better because we need to.”

Saturday At the Warhawks

On Saturday, the offense will be fervently searching to find a new consistency – their own magical and mesmerizing mix of power running and explosive passing. Two players who have continuously grown into their passing roles on offense are tight end Keenen Brown and wide receiver Jeremiah Haydel.

Brown finished the game with only three receptions for 24 yards but still proved all essential. Showing an evolution to the play-calling, Brown delivered a moment of shock and awe with a 61-yard jet sweep run. Even without receiving the ball in the pass game, he proved to be the engine of a McLaren with his running, epitomizing the call for step-up players and serving as an example; his explosiveness left coach once again stating, “… We need other guys to step up and be as consistent and explosive as he [Brown] has.”

Haydel, a sophomore wide receiver, has exploded onto the scene the past two weeks, serving as an example of a young player stepping up and receiving opportunity based on his crisp and urgent practice. “He has gotten better with each opportunity. We just need to find more opportunity and touches for him. Works extremely hard, sharp kid, physical kid in the run game, he will block on the perimeter. It is our job that we have to get him more opportunities with the ball…”

More opportunities could be in the game plan this week for Haydel as coach recognized the “Aggressive” ULM defense – an aggressive defense that carries a weak secondary, “We have to find a way to exploit some of those weaknesses in the secondary.” ULM has allowed an average 73.9 completion percentage (129th in the nation) to the tune of 312 yards per game (127th in the nation).

Finally, to address a rumor that quarterbacks’ coach and former offensive coordinator (2016) Brett Elliott has been calling plays, the coach stated, “Brett has not been calling plays. No. But he might start,” punctuating the italicized with a brimming smile.

The game against the University of Louisiana-Monroe is another Sun Belt game, but not just a Sun Belt game. ULM, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Texas State recruit from the same region, leading coach to see the three schools growing a rivalry, “Once you have that [competitive recruiting], I think the three schools, that is a pretty good chance to have a rivalry with those three schools because we are not that far away from one another and we recruit a lot of the same type of kids.” A convincing win on Saturday could be a convincing testament for prospective Bobcat football players.

Injury Report

No official injury report was given. However, a source has indicated safety A.J. Krawczyk (reported out with a concussion last week) and defensive lineman Dean Taylor (reported as questionable with an ankle sprain, did play last week) are limited and will be game-time decisions.

Coach Withers stated the extra days off after the Thursday night game was used to, “Get back healthy,” and that the players used Friday and Saturday as off days to receive treatment and get off their feet.

Featured Image by Madison Tyson.

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