By Alexander Haynes
The lasting impact of a team; the one line of questioning that will haunt coaches for a lifetime. Legacy is a term many coaches do not like pondering in the middle of a season, foremost because of the distracting headlines and frivolous speak it creates. That is, legacy is not brought up until it confronts a team in the face and reminds them exactly of why they are out on the field. In college football, those one or two ‘legacy’ weeks which lift a team to imagining fresh, unlimited heights are homecoming and rivalry week. For the Texas State Bobcats, homecoming and the schematic rivalry week came all in one, battling the New Mexico State Aggies on the field and the rival of turnovers, penalties, and the subtle error. This week also ended differently, with Texas State capitalizing on a lack of subtle errors in a 27-20 victory; a victory which, for the hopes of the coaching staff, represents a profound moment on the impact of legacy as the team was able to celebrate with the champions of past Texas South West State teams after the game. Head Coach Everett Withers’ emphasis throughout his Monday press conference was precisely about how history creates a fervent vision moving forward – “Our goal was to honor, and I think we honored… The effort our team showed and their responsibility to honor those guys was really important, and they got it. That in and of itself was a win. They knew who was in the stands watching them and who was on the sidelines watching them.”
Homecoming, Tradition, and Winning
One of coach Withers’ talking points throughout the season has been his fight to move the trophies from the media room into a more visible, focal display point. Even last week, he was discussing the importance of, “studying and knowing your history.” This week, he was willing to share many players no little to none about those who have been champions in the past. Thus, as homecoming brought an enforcing ideal on history, the Texas State players were not only able to get a quick history lesson on the championship teams of South West Texas State (wearing throwback jerseys), they were able to celebrate with two of the program’s champions: Mike Dunn (1982-83) and Ricky Sanders (1981-83, future Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons player).
Coach stated that throughout the week many of the program’s past champions had been coming back to practice and spending time with the team. Dunn and Sanders took that into the locker room postgame, leaving coaching stating, “It was like those two guys played the game with us. They were jacked, they were excited, jumping around with the players, and hugging Ricky, Ricky hugging them.” Even for Dunn, coach shared it was an indelible moment on his life, “I got a text last night Mike Dunn that choked me up… it was a long text, and to hear from an ex-Texas South West Champion, and he was so excited and said it was one of his favorite moments of his life to be in that locker room.”
Pressing forward, the hope is for players to begin connecting the legacy of South West Texas to the current program, playing with a proud legacy behind them and creating a new legacy for future players. Coach Withers stressed the importance of studying your history, “Or you are doomed to repeat the negative pieces to it. You have to study the things that haven’t gone well, and the things [that have gone well], and try to enhance those things. And I think it is important that recruits know there are two national championship trophies in this building.”
In quick summation, it was a weekend where players and coaches alike were able to get a taste of winning football from the past and present, leaving an impression that ought to translate onto the gridiron.
The Mark of an Improved Offensive Line and Willie Jones
Translating legacy onto the football field, however, is a bit more of a talking point than reality for a team starting two redshirt freshmen on the offensive line and a sophomore quarterback who found out he was starting on Wednesday night. Regardless of the opposition from those markers, it was a Saturday of improvement for the young offensive line and Willie Jones, starting in place of the injured Tyler Vitt.
(For those curious about Vitt, the coach was coy, stating he was at practice and he had shoulder pads and a helmet. He jokingly commented that the starter would be decided 15 minutes before game time – in other words, wait and see.)
Jones would complete only 50 percent of his passes, landing nine completions on 18 attempts for 113 yards and two touchdowns. There were moments his processing appeared to be shaky and withheld, but in the end, he punctuated in the moments that mattered, including a third and 11, a 39-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Haydel. The third quarter touchdown was a moment for Jones to play with form, displaying an understanding of play evolution; he had to circumnavigate incoming defenders with a quick scramble, reset his feet, maintain downfield eyesight, and then pinpoint the ball into a jump ball foray so Haydel could maintain a competitive advantage.
Coach Withers’ notation regarding the best improvement for Jones was a joint effort of Jones and the offensive line. For Jones, “He did a great job of reading in the run game,” thrashing the gridiron on 19 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. Regarding the offensive line, “That is the most physical we had been with that particular unit to date,” as running backs Anthony D. Taylor and Robert Brown combined for 24 carries, 122 yards, and a touchdown.
For more specificity on Jones, the coach went back to a play against UTSA when Jones pitched the ball on an option instead of keeping it. “Again, there were some things he did Saturday better than, I will go all the way back to UTSA, he pulls that ball he is going to his head on the goal post, he pulled that ball on Saturday and scored the touchdown. I see that as a progression in a young man.” Yet, after incurring another fumble, the most urgent area of improvement for Jones is indeed ball security, “That is something we are on him daily about, ball security.”
Bringing the focus to the offensive line, the coach quickly notated that while the young crew of Morgan Moore, Reece Jordan, Kylar Cooks, Jalen Momerelle, and Aaron Brewer were physical, the performance was not perfect, demanding improvement in pass protection. Part of the struggle was preparing for one type of pressure all week, then having New Mexico State bring an entirely new concept to the field. The result was Jones moving about too much, but the coach was happy with the maturity the crew showed as they came to the sideline ready to adjust and diagnosing how they needed to adjust.
The Defensive Stand
The defense and the team as a whole suffered a dear loss as Defensive Coordinator Chris Woods’ father passed away earlier in the week. Yet, the defense stood tall, fought for their coach, and turned his game plan into definitive results. New Mexico State’s Josh Adkins threw 59 times, completing 29 with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Maybe more telling was the tackling, as the average attempt was a 4.7-yard dump off, resulting in a dismal 9.5 yard per completion – hence, the secondary efficiently tackled and contained pass receivers at the point of reception. Furthermore, three sacks and a plethora of tackles in the backfield resulted in the New Mexico State offense never breaking the defense.
“When we got in the red zone, I thought our defense stood up. The year before we would find the way to not make the play there, but Saturday night we made the play… JT [Anthony J.] Taylor making his first career interception down the sideline on a back-shoulder fade, just an incredible play… The big stand down here was big for our entire football team, but for Jashon Waddy and those guys in the back end to make those plays give them a boost of confidence.”
Being tested 59 times will leave the proverbial door of doom open for a young secondary, but under the guidance of a veteran linebacker corps and Waddy, a safety who has come into his own the past several weeks, a last-minute attempt by New Mexico State to comeback showed that the Texas State defense took Woods’ plan to heart.
Taylor was not the only player to turn the tide with a turnover, linebacker Clifton Lewis Jr. had an interception in the first quarter which led to the Texas State offense scoring six; that one moment in the game which retrospectively crushed New Mexico State’s heart.
Traversing to Georgia State
“Moving forward, we are excited to get back into conference play… The month of November, we talked about that as a team this morning and starting the month of November off right, going on the road to try and win our first conference game… It will be a challenge for us, but we have to make it about us and not about them.”
The month of November starting in Athens, Georgia will be a tough test for Texas State, but a test where the team can improve for the long-term. Coach emphasized Georgia State’s 18 fumbles, notating that the team must continue to obtain turnovers and say in the positive turnover differential (they are currently at plus one). However, he also discussed the need to improve on special teams. A blocked punt due to misalignment to a new, eight-man formation created confusion and disaster; in other words, a play which the Georgia State coaches will attempt to exploit on film.
More applicable, the impending matchup will be told on third downs, with the defense, “Forcing them to get their lunch money early,” and then stopping the team on third and long. While the goal may appear cliché, the method is how Texas State has methodically and consistently forced teams into uncomfortable situations, creating turnovers.
Featured Image by Justin Manor.