By Alexander Haynes
Finding inspiration from the heroics of past Texas State Bobcat teams has been one of the leading mantras during homecoming week; the Jim Wacker championships being celebrated as the Bobcats wear alternate Southwest Texas State uniforms for the first time since 2003. In some ways, the excitement of homecoming is a fitting aura for the football team to combine the spark of the future offense with the spark of the electric, veteran defense. Last year’s homecoming against the New Mexico State Aggies saw Texas State put 35 points on the board, only to lose to the dynamic Aggies offense 45-35. A year removed, both teams are staging for a different homecoming battle in San Marcos, a battle in which both teams are fighting for a win to salvage the season and put some momentum in their restructuring. But for Texas State, a homecoming win is more poetic than a simple win in the books; a win is a moment of capitulatory success for a team that has clung together on the bond of competition formed during training camp, and a moment of poignant pride for returning alumni.
Texas State Bobcat Headlines
The most telling sign of how the season has gone could be found in the exasperated voice of Head Coach Everett Withers at the beginning of Monday’s press conference. His words, “Winning is hard man,” pouring over a deep and regretful sigh have been all too true of the now 1-6 Texas State team. Three of those losses, however, have come at six or less points. The team has unquestionably fought throughout the season, and even when the team looks confused within their fighting, as coach Withers stated, the team has never given up. Their superlatives and execrable plays have been made with equal urgency, and that is a sign of positive pride in their performance even wallowing at 1-6.
The defense has been the brightest spot as of recent, seeing Bryan London, Nikolas Daniels, Frankie Griffin, and now Clifton Lewis secure the middle of the field at linebacker. They play at the heart of the 3-4 philosophy, London and Daniels punishing running backs while Griffin and Lewis haunt the edges. At the beginning of the season their individual knowledge of sorting through offenses was clear. Now deep into the season, their knowledge has combined on the back of adamant film study, creating a singular, linebacker unit attacking as one un-relinquished, prideful, and hungry force.
Lewis’ transition has been an epitome of the urgency the team plays with. After a decent start to the season, Lewis moved to Bandit, sparking his defense and shocking opposing quarterbacks; the perfect combination of playing without restraint supported by the film work to know where to fly with feverous speed. The Bandit position has the role of diagnosing the quarterback’s decision (or indecision) on the option play, a common play call in the Sun Belt. Lewis has a knack for playing down-hill and reacting appropriately to the flip or lack of flip. The assignment is simple in words, but in the scrum of the field, an assignment where mistakes turn into egregious yardage, implicating an emphasis on Lewis’ continued resiliency.
Another player who has taken a new position in commanding fashion is safety Jashon Waddy, moving to become the “quarterback of the defense” (to quote coach Withers), during training camp. Waddy has become one of the defensive leaders, diagnosing plays and aligning players. Naturally, the start to the season was rough for Waddy and his secondary, where a string of punctual stops turned into explosive plays. Now with more time and a better understanding of how his teammates work, Waddy has assisted the secondary stop opposing pass attacks at 58.7 percent completions (60th in the nation) and 188.3 yards per game (30th in that nation).
On the flip-side of the football, the offense will one day be hoping to ring the same praises of young players creating a unit of attack. Last week, freshmen Morgan Moore, Jalen Momerelle, and Kylar Cooks all started on the offensive line as Aaron Brewer moved to center – the results were not pretty as Tyler Vitt suffered three sackings. The offensive line has not been functional the entire season allowing a string of 21 burdensome sacks. The turnstile has led to a lack of consistency in the running game, leading to the arguable underutilization of Robert Brown and Anthony D. Taylor. Although Texas State runs the ball an average of 36.3 times per game, many of those runs are forced quarterback escapes or ancillary quarterback operations. As Brett Elliott has officially taken over play-calling, the running backs may be seeing more design runs after getting the ball on 66 percent of runs last week.
New Mexico State Aggies Headlines
The New Mexico State Aggies are no longer the dominating, high-flying spread offense of a season ago. After finishing 7-6 in 2017, winning their first bowl game in 57 years with a dramatic showcase against Utah State, New Mexico State lost a plethora of offensive veterans, have been unable to control the football, and sit at 2-6. Their most telling swing was the rematch against Utah State which New Mexico State was embarrassed in a 60-13 loss. Furthermore, they are no longer part of the Sun Belt, electing to become independent for the 2018 campaign.
Head Coach Doug Martin has guided his program through a rebuild, hit a maxim, and since, have perplexingly regressed. Their most recent game, a 46-31 loss to Georgia Southern, has been the flow of most games this season, their point differential now sitting at a depressing negative 154 (354-200). In some regards, the loss of operative ability despite running the same pattern of plays is the loss of the operatives themselves. Losing a bevy of starters such as running back Larry Rose III or wide receiver Jaleel Scott has ripped the all common explosive plays from coach Martin’s playbook.
The team averages 3.5 yards per rush with only 105.9 per game. Their passing is a whelming 241.75 yards per game at a complacent 6.06 yards per pass, numbers that are not synonymous to the spread offense. The most worrisome sign is a lack of ability to move the ball into the red zone, making a dismal 24 attempts after eight games. In those attempts, they have found the end zone 14 times and the field goal six times. The disease behind the symptom of a lack of red zone trips is a lack of third down conversions: 37.19 percent.
The defense has allowed teams to merrily run the ball for 275 yards per game, 128th in the nation. At 5.1 yards a pounding, opponents have controlled the clock and thus controlled the Aggies without needing a magical turning point. The pass defense allows 214.3 pass yards per game (49th in the nation), floating through the compass of the field. Then again, teams have not had to own the duty of truly testing the secondary due to the running at will.
If the New Mexico State Aggies season could be put in a term, it would be overwhelmed confusion. Coach Martin must find his team’s ebb and balance, less the culture deteriorates to the point of needing a second rebuild in his tenure.
Scheme, Players, and Game Flow to Watch For
New Mexico’s biggest loss with regards to game flow is a loss of players which make the spread offense truly special. The spread does not intrinsically inflate numbers as observed in the Big 12. The inflation of those numbers are dynamic athletes making the concepts radical and exuberant. However, New Mexico has a recruiting problem in an isolated region, and thus, has been able to obtain the most dynamic athletes which produce magical spread numbers. Without wide receivers to break open on deep routes, the team has settled short to intermediate routes. Eight wide receivers have one touchdown, but no wide receiver has more than two. Furthermore, six wide receivers have 15 or more receptions. While the literal spread effect is playing out, there is no stand out threat to distract cornerbacks and thus leave the second and third routes uncovered.
Hence, the objective for Waddy, Kordell Rodgers, and Anthony J. Taylor is to enforce the pressure with more physical coverage than usual. Quarterbacks Josh Adkins and Matt Romero have thrown a combined 10 interceptions to 10 touchdowns, implicating the lack of precision in fitting the ball into a tight window. The intermediate routes pull from a traditional spread offense playbook, with subtle breaks to the outside followed by sharp inside breaks or a curl route drawing a corner down while a deep post goes over the top. However, pressure coverage closes the deeper windowed passes, leading to incongruency on those timing concepts, thus interceptions.
On offense, Texas State’s evolution in Elliott’s second week of play calling will be the schematic story to which. While the plays will be much the same as earlier in the season, the pattern and flow will be drastically different. As stated, Elliott should be calling more runs to establish tempo; a strategy arising equally from their own need to balance the offense and New Mexico State’s over dedication to one side of the offensive line.
Running from shotgun has been one of the best schemes for opposing offenses. The extra three-yards which usually make running from shotgun a problem allow the running back an extra three-yards of vision to find the cut back lane. New Mexico State’s defensive line will flow to the crash of the offensive line, allowing opposing running backs plenty of room to cut back with a quick, lateral bounce.
The more Texas State can control through running from shotgun, the more linebackers are kept moving forward to spy on Vitt or one of the running backs. And the more the running backs are drawn upward into the scrum, then the more tight-end Keenen Brown can break into the middle of the field and become an explosive pass option.
In short, with a new and energetic identity for the Texas State offense, this is a game about what Texas State can do for Texas State; how they can help themselves conform to that new spark. Homecoming may be the first game all season the full expanse of coach Withers’ offensive vision comes to fruition.
Featured Image by Madison Tyson.