Texas State Looks for a Path Forward Under Spavital

The rudderless ship that is Texas State football hired a new captain in former West Virginia OC Jake Spavital. The Bobcat’s toe-dipping into the FBS has been a tire fire, and not the good kind. Dennis Franchione, in spite of modest success, couldn’t get the ‘Cats over the hump. Everett Withers won more than two games just once in three years and in spite of assurances of an improved talent level, his Bobcats never showed more than sparse progression, specifically on offense.

Welcome, Jake Spavital back to the Lone Star state and a job that even with its mediocre recent history is still coveted because of geography and the culture associated with football in these parts.

Jake is a good, young offensive mind who’s surrounded himself with a legendary old offensive mind in Bob Stitt. (You can read more about Stitt happening here.) Former Tech assistant Clay McGuire is also lending a hand coaching the offensive line. Those three have an impressive cumulative resume and, we hope, will forever eliminate the quarterback draw and horizontal passing game from Texas State’s lexicon.

He also brought on his brother Zac to run the Bobcat defense. That unit showed signs of significant improvement under Withers, and the ‘Cats return some playmakers that are intriguing.

We’ve got three, yes three, keys to Spav's first spring in charge in San Marvelous and it starts under center.

Is there a quarterback on campus?

A brief interlude of recent history, for most if not all of the Withers era, the offensive system was a rumor at best. The offense suffered from a lack of identity that plagued Tyler Jones, Damian Williams, and last year’s starters, Willie Jones and Vitt. Texas State couldn’t run the football, couldn’t protect, and couldn’t score. We’re not sure what else an offense is supposed to do, but in those three areas, the Bobcats failed. We think Spavital changes that. Whether he can comprehensively run a program from fundraising to recruiting to game day and back again is anyone’s guess, but he knows how to run an offense.

Big Willie Jones saw the writing on the wall an announced his intention to transfer from the program earlier this winter. Jones flashed the kind of smooth, athletic, almost effortless talent that made us almost subscribe to his gospel, but he also showed a penchant for errant throws, turnovers, and other issues that kept us from buying in. He’s not a fit for Spavital’s system, but he’ll be a fit somewhere. We wish him the best in finding that somewhere, it’s collegiate football’s manifest destiny.

He leaves behind one Tyler Vitt. Vitt thrust into the limelight in the opener at Rutgers, and in spite of a rough weekend in New Jersey, he performed well. Vitt was the first Bobcat quarterback since Tyler Jones to complete 60% of his throws in significant action and looked the part in games against UTSA and Louisiana Lafayette. At times he plays like a poor man’s Sam Ehlinger, with little regard for his body and with a sharp competitive edge. He also threw too many picks and took too many sacks last year, but that’s not unusual for a first year player and no doubt, Vitt has bravado.

Gresch Jensen has a resume. In 2017, Jensen earned freshman All-American honors and finished third in voting for the Jerry Rice Award, given to the top freshman in the FCS, for Stitt at Montana. When Stitt packed up after the 2017 season, so did Jensen, taking his talents to Fullerton College where he completed 58 percent of his pass attempts for 2,330 and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions in 10 games. He knows Stitt’s offense, and he’s demonstrated two seasons of good productivity even if at lower divisions. He’s stiff, and if he runs it’s purely for self-preservation, but he can move inside the pocket decent enough.

Chase Hildreth is also listed on the roster by way of Independence JC, where you too can be compared to Hitler and Blinn JC. Hildreth played his prep football at Clear Creek, south of Houston. On film, he’s a better athlete than Jensen, with a quick release. He, like Vitt, is a bit turnover prone, but he’s an option.

The wildcard might be Jaylen Gipson. Gipson is another holdover from Withers’ second recruiting class, when the Bobcats when dual-threat QB crazy, signing five. He saw his first action last season after a redshirt year. He threw six passes, completed three in a backup role. He’s at the top of the group athletically, but he might be a package, goal line short-yardage option rather than an every-down player.

For Spavital, finding a trigger man to run his offense is job one. If he succeeds doing so by the end of April, he’s already ahead of Withers in that regard.

Fix It Up Front

If you’ve read our coverage of Texas State, after the typos and terrets induced cursing, you’ve probably gathered that we are big fans of Bobcat lineman Aaron Brewer. Brewer is a dancing bear with a mean streak. The previous regime shifted him all over the line, from center to guard to tackle. We can only assume they had him throw some nine routes and run the QB draw. Brewer is a lynchpin of the line. We hope the current staff situates him somewhere in the middle of the line and builds around him, rather than using him as a swiss army knife.

Last year Texas State used six different line configurations.

The ‘Cats have some tools to work with around Brewer. Let’s start with Reece Jordan, a multi-year starter at guard and center. He’s a steady interior player that gives new line coach Clay McGuire two fits. David Tachie flashed a mauling style that we have a man-crush on and Jalen Momerelle didn’t flinch much as a true freshman.

Jacob Rowland is an experienced tackle, and Kylar Cooks didn’t seem overmatched stepping in on the edge as a first-year player either. The temptation with the new redshirt rules is to over-experiment and dabble. For Texas State, the offensive line seemed to be overly tinkered with an evaluated. Like a chef over thinking mac and cheese. Put your staple elements together and let them gel. When you're overseeing on the job evaluations in the heart of the conference schedule, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage.

There are some parts to mix and match and find a combination that will work. Our biggest beef with Texas State’s line play over the last three years is that they rarely allowed their front to fire off and move people. They failed to impose a physical initiative. We doubt that philosophy changes much with the new offense, but if Texas State can get consistency from this unit that’s a huge step forward.

Deploy the Defense

New DC Zac Spavital came from that cradle of great defensive football, Texas Tech. At least he got to work under David Gibbs for the past three seasons.

He has a luxury at Texas State, talent and depth.

At linebacker Bryan London, Niko Daniels, Hal Vinson, Kumonde Hines, Clifton Lewis Jr., and Gavin Graham all return. London and Daniels combined for 217 tackles last year. London, in three years, posted seasons with 141, 91, and 109 stops. Daniels stepped into the starting role and was a revelation as well.

The secondary returns just about everyone, including super freshman Jarron Morris, the toughest guy in Hays county Jashon Waddy, Alvin Pacheco, Kordell Rogers, and Anthony J. Taylor. And that’s just at corner.

At safety verified thumper Josh Newman and Fresno transfer, Jalen Smith are both back. So are their backup, Preston Dimery and Auston Deason.

The font will need to retool a bit, and that will be a storyline to watch this next month. Defensive end Ish Davis’, who we thought was gone in our first draft (thanks to our tweeter friends) is a force when healthy. Sami Awad’s departure on the interior leaves a gap. Caeveon Patton becomes the experienced member of the middle of the defense. Jaquel Pierce and Nico Ezidore provide some options inside, but neither is a known commodity. On the edge, Jakharious Smith was a disruptive player in spot duty, and hopefully, he can put some weight on to become an every-down contributor.

Spavital is Texas State’s third defensive coordinator in as many years, but he has tools to work with that should help make the Bobcats hard to deal with in the Sun Belt. These weeks of install and evaluation are crucial to putting their best eleven on the field.

The Bobcats are putting on the pads today and wrapping up spring ball on April 13th.

The Roundup…