If Texas State is to reach its goal of more than two wins and leap into competitiveness in the Sun Belt, much will fall to the Bobcat's young offensive line. Other positions groups considered were quarterback, but let's be honest, Texas State's suffered through bad quarterback play the last two seasons. Defensive line came up, but the 'Cats continue to improve in that area. So we'll take the grunts up front.
Why they matter: Nothing in football happens without controlling the line of scrimmage. The Bobcats conceded the line the last two seasons thanks to inexperience, attrition, and flat out lack of talent. If Everett Withers is moving this program in the right direction, and we believe he is, then the offensive front must move forward as well.
What's the key? Recruiting and developing offensive linemen is a nuanced field. For Texas State the four and five-star maulers aren't coming to San Marcos, so Eric Mateos must grow his own. Mateos is a gifted teacher of the dark arts along the offensive front. He coached with Brett Bielema at Arkansas and coached tight ends at LSU. Finding game ready products from day one on campus is almost impossible. Texas State has made the conscious decision to develop linemen from the prep ranks in Texas. UTSA meanwhile has dipped into the JC ranks to speed up the process. The latter philosophy can produce quicker results but the turnover is more rapid, and thus you'd better keep restocking the shelves with immediate impact players.
What to watch for: Offensive lines, good ones, are amoebas of protection and attack. When a twist or stunt happens, they must work in unison to deal with it. When a blitzer comes, they'd better be on the same page. Watch for communication on the line. Watch how blockers transfer defensive threats among each other. Watch for free rushers. Sometimes that's a blown assignment, sometimes, in Texas State's spread offense the quarterback must account for the free rusher in the passing game. Most importantly, watch the three yards around the line of scrimmage. Can Texas State's front move people in a positive direction, into the opponent's area or at least get a man on a man and get to a stalemate. Are they "skating" or catching and forfeiting real estate into their own backfield?
Also watch a few keys technically. Watch for the Bobcat's pass sets. See if they're upright, chest proud, not bent at the waist, eyes up. Watch their hands, are they creating space with punches or hand placement, are they using their length to redirect or control? Are defenders getting into their chest? Pass protection is a race for space; defenders want to close it, protectors want to create it.
Meet Aaron Brewer: If you've followed this site, you know that we've had a healthy man-crush on Brewer since his freshman year out Dallas ISD power Skyline. He played center as a freshman, moved to guard, and last year worked at tackle. That's where he'll work this season. Brewer is underrated among Sun Belt linemen, perhaps because it's hard to nail down where he's playing. This season he'll play tackle, and that consistency should showcase his athleticism and his mean streak.
Problem Areas: After Brewer and center Reece Jordan, the unit is a blank canvas. Josiah Washington moves down to guard, Washington was a prize recruit from the 2016 class. He's yet to produce consistently on the field. Jacob Rowland will man the other tackle spot. Nic Foster gained valuable experience at left tackle last year as a true freshman, but again, playing young players up front is problematic. Last year the Bobcats played a junior, two sophomores, two redshirt freshman, and a true freshman. One of those redshirts moved to defense midway through the season.
The Bobcats are primed to show improvement with this group, assuming development. Assuming development is another risky proposition, but Texas State recruited well, and they've got the critical mass of numbers that they lacked in Withers first year when a lot of dudes skipped town.
Withers signed five offensive linemen in each of the last two spring cycles and redshirted roughly half of each class. Ideally, unless an offensive lineman is going to start, giving them a redshirt year is best for development. Redshirting gives them a full year in the offseason program and the chance to get scout team reps rather than live action. All that to say, Texas State, from a numbers standpoint is probably turning the corner. Athletically and size-wise they're certainly better off. Now those developments must show on the field.
The Big If: If Texas State can't hold its own up front, as has been the case, the Cats will continue to rely on shock and gadget plays to gain meaningful yards. Such reliance isn't a strategy. The Bobcats must be able to function by keeping ahead of the chains, running the ball efficiently, and protecting their young quarterback. If they can do that, they'll be able to pressure the defense and free up their skill talent. Perhaps as importantly, they'll be able to give their defense a breather.
Numbers (Usually) Don't Lie
- Last season the Bobcats finished ninth in the Sun Belt in yards per carry at 3.35. Still, that number was a yard better than 2016's 2.32 yards per carry.
- Texas State allowed a Sun Belt worst 109 tackles for loss last year. Fifteen worse than the next highest team.
- The 109 tackles for loss was 129th out of 130 FBS teams.
- Opponents sacked Texas State quarterbacks 36 times and hurried throws 29 times.
- When Texas State dropped to pass, opponents sacked or hurried their quarterback 17% of the time. Among Sun Belt teams that was ninth worse. Sun Belt teams with winning records averaged sacks or hurries on 9% of pass attempts. Teams with losing records averaged double that.