Two years ago, when you scrolled down Bill Connelly's 2016 team statistical profiles the last name you came to, the worst team in college football, was Texas State. If you're a Bobcat fan, avert your eyes for a paragraph, this stroll down memory lane doesn't end well.
The 2016 Bobcats were dead last in adjusted line yards, rushing yards, 26% of their rushes went for zero or negative yards, the 'Cats were "successful," i.e., gaining half the yardage required for first down, just 35% of the time. As a team, they averaged 2.3 yards per carry. If you gave the Bobcats a fifth down and asked them to run for a first, first downs were still a crap shoot.
There, we got that out of our system.
In 2017, low and behold, better talent and a second year in the system saw an improvement. The Bobcats improved by a full yard per carry, improved from dead last in the Sun Belt in rushing to eighth, and improved their power success rate by 20 percentage points.
Those were good improvements, but the rushing effort still fell below average. Opponents stuffed the 'Cats for zero or negative yards on 28% of attempts. Their rushing success rate remained stagnate at 35% and against programs with winning records Texas State averaged just three yards a carry, 107th in the FBS.
From a practical standpoint, Texas State's offense, like every other offense outside of Pullman, cannot operate without an effective rushing attack. Rushing success for Texas State is a cultural landmark for the program or maybe better said proof of concept.
Everett Withers is recruiting like crazy to get his team out of a two-win ditch. He's also taken the radical step of redshirting a lot of that talent. This year his notoriously young roster is older, but 66% of the 109 man squad are either freshman or sophomores. Of 20 offensive lineman, fifteen are either freshman or sophomores.
If Withers' statement that you recruit your problems is accurate, then he's got no one to blame but himself because this roster is now almost entirely his.
Winding this back around to the Bobcat rushing attack, everything plays a part. Everything. The Bobcats duct tape line in 2016 gave way to a remarkably young front in 2017. 2016's leading rusher didn't return to the team. In neither season was quarterback play average or better. Texas State's bevy of young lineman blocked for three first or second year running backs.
If offense outside of Pullman is a symbiotic relationship, Texas State needed therapy. Bad quarterback play, a rusty screen door for an offensive line, and no consistency at running back worked to make the Bobcats inefficient, improved over the 2016 dumpster fire, but ineffective.
Now Withers efforts to recruit FBS caliber linemen and explosive skill players will face its test - proof of concept. From 2012 to 2015 Texas State signed eleven three-star prospects. From 2016 to 2018, the Withers era, that number jumped to 26. The composite ranking of his three classes, according to 24/7, increased as well.
Better players should mean better teams and eventually more wins. But the cultural component is essential. Coaches preach the importance of physicality and nothing snort physicality more than lining up and moving a defender against his will. If you can run the football efficiently, your offense opens up as defenses are forced to defend more of the field and commit assets closer to the line of scrimmage. Teams that average better than the national average in yards per rush (4.52) win, on average, 7.9 games per year.
Further reinforcing the physicality argument teams that stop the run at a better than average clip and run at a better than average clip averaged 8.4 wins last season. Running the ball well gets typically equals more wins.
For Texas State, continued improvement running the football is critical this season and could translate to wins.