Texas State 2019 Season Preview

It’s Texas State week, and our preview of the ‘Cats rolls out like this, today we’ll look at their quarterback situation. Tomorrow, scroll down, and we’ll delve into the Bobcat skill players. Wednesday we hit the big uglies and our offensive X-Factor. Thursday we switch to the defense and the front seven. Friday let’s look at the Texas State’s secondary plus a defensive X-Factor, and Saturday we’ll cover specialists and our predictions for the 2019 campaign.

Offense

Everett Withers arrived on the scene after the 2015 season promising Bobcat fans a #Partyintheendzone. As hashtags go it missed the mark in several areas, most notably, the party in the endzone part. If San Marvelous is known for anything, it’s a good party, and Bobcat fans need a rager.

In Withers three seasons, Texas State finished dead freaking last in the Sun Belt in scoring average every year. That consistency got Withers fired and provided the impetus for Jake Spavital’s hire in December. What Spav can do is finally bring a coherent offensive attack to Bobcat Stadium. We’ll guarantee that Texas State will be better with the ball in 2019. If not, the San Marcos City Counsel should decriminalize several controlled substances to help numb the pain.

Team Rush Yards / Gm (Nat'l Rank) Pts / Gm Off % of Poss w/ TOs Plays of 10+ Yards TFL Allowed Per Game
Texas State 147.2 (98) 19.8 (122) 13.9 (106) 152 (112) 7.3 (117)

The 2018 offensive footprint is not unlike the 2017 or 2016 version. Texas State struggled to run the ball, put the ball in the endzone, turned it over far too often, fell below average in explosive plays, and worse, gave up way too many negative plays.

In the Withers era, the Bobcats averaged less than four yards per carry, over half a yard less than the national average. They were dead last in the Sun Belt two out of those three seasons and for the three year Withers’ tenure, the ‘Cats were -34 in turnover margin.

Improvement is on the cusp and better than that for Bobcat fans, Texas State might make an offensive leap in 2019 for a variety of reasons.

Quarterback

You’d have to take the Delorean back to 2014 to find a decent season from a Texas State quarterback. That’ll take you back to Tyler Jones’ sophomore season when the Stephenville product completed 65% of his pass with 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Jones 2014 campaign yielded a top 20 completion percentage season, nearly top 50 in yardage, and his 140.7 QB rating eclipses any Texas State quarterback since.

Last season Willie Jones was a square peg trying to fit into the mulcher that was the Texas State offense. Jones had all the athletic ability but never benefited from a system that understood what it required of him. The failures didn’t fall on Jones’ abilities, the staff and/or the scheme never fit him. That’s a failure in evaluation, development, deployment or all three.

If Texas State is going to find an offensive revolution, the catalyst must be efficient quarterback play. Gresch Jensen and Tyler Vitt look to get the first shot at hitting that efficiency mark.

Spavital turned to Yoda-like figure Bob Stitt to run his offense. Spavital is an offensive mind, but good on him for handing the keys to a more experienced caretaker so Spavital can focus on the program at large rather than micro-managing the offensive attack. Stitt is in the pantheon of 21st-century offensive innovation. You’d probably have to say he, Hal Mumme, Rich Rodriguez, Chip Kelly, Mike Leach, and Art Briles had the most to do with transforming the game. Stitt’s the guy you’ve probably never heard of unless you were really into the Colorado School of Mines or the Montana Griz.

The Montana/Montana State game has, by the way, the greatest moniker in all of college football - The Brawl of the Wild. Instead of overtime they settle tie games with broken bottles of Coors Original and pool cues.

Stitt influenced the game schematically for years, with high profile coaches making annual pilgrimages to Colorado to learn about fly sweeps and screens. His screen work, by the way, is revolutionary by its self. His schemes changed decades of defensive keys and teaching.

Here’s another interesting thing about Stitt, he gives his quarterback a lot of freedom to change plays or adjust pre-snap, especially against man coverage. Not just change a play, the quarterback can adjust a route with a hand gesture. Stitt loves to force a defense into man coverage, his offenses thrive on it.

Stitt will mastermind the offense, but his trigger man will have wide autonomy to execute it. We talked about Jensen here, but it bears repeating that he left Montana when Stitt did and followed him now to Texas State. Jensen knows the system, and he has the skill set to be successful in the new fangled Bobcat offense. Jensen played for JUCO Powerhouse Fullerton College. Powerhouse might not be strong enough. The Hornets won the 2017 JUCO National Title and were well on their way to another when an ineligible player derailed their 2018 season.

Jensen threw for 2,500 yards in one season at Montana along with 20 touchdown passes and ten interceptions. At Fullerton, he threw for 2,330 yards, sixteen TDs, and just five picks. For his collegiate career, he’s completing 59% of his throws.

Jensen gives the Bobcats their best shot at a quality starter in several years, but Tyler Vitt might make this a position of strength.

Asked to step in during his true freshman campaign, Vitt, a San Antonio MacArthur product, made five starts and connected on 60% of his throws with seven touchdowns. He also proved a willing runner with two rushing scores as well.

Tyler Vitt’s 2018 Radar Graph.*

Vitt’s a gamer who went through some growing pains in 2018, throwing ten interceptions and struggling with sack avoidance, but those are reasonable deficiencies for a young quarterback.

His completion percentage is a reason for optimism. Accuracy tends to be a variable you either have or not; you rarely see a vast improvement in completion percentage the way you would in any of the other major measurable areas.

Completion percentage even tends to translate from high school to college. If you remove a horrific performance at Troy, including a 39% completions and five of his then interceptions, Vitt’s numbers are more impressive and his accuracy moves into near elite levels. Not bad for a freshman.

Chase Hildreth, another JUCO transfer from Independence. The 6-3 southpaw who played high school ball at Clear Creek, south of Houston, is a plus athlete with a big arm. He moves well in the pocket and looks to be a willing runner when things get hot and heavy. Two areas of concern, first Hildreth completed less than 50% of his throws for Indy. Second, he threw more picks than touchdowns. Still, if Hildreth, who arrived in time for spring camp, can pick up the offense, he’ll challenge for playing time.

Finally, the ‘Cats can turn to sophomore Jaylen Gipson out of Mexia. The former three-star recruit played in five games last season for Texas State completing half of his twelve attempts.

This group is potentially one of the stronger groups in the Sun Belt. They’ll have the benefit of a coherent offensive scheme with a track record of success. The college game is made up of squads that have competent quarterback play and those that lose. Texas State has seen enough of the latter and hope the former exists on its roster.

* We track percentile ranks among quarterbacks with 100 or more attempts in a given season. We take statistics like yardage accounted for, touchdowns per play, completion percentage, yardage per attempt, yardage per play, plus sack and interception avoidance and put them into a visual of efficiency and explosiveness. The bigger the radar area, the better the player performed.

Skill Players

If quarterback suffered from inefficiency, running back suffered from lack of service. The ‘Cats ground never rumbled under Withers. In three seasons Texas State averaged 3.23 yards per carry, and finished 124th among FBS schools in total rushing yards.

Running backs are an environmentally dependent species. A running back with average abilities can become great with the right playcalling and, more importantly, a great offensive line. A running back with great natural abilities can become average real quick if they aren’t getting the ball and/or no one is blocking.

Texas State’s issues running the football start up front and work backwards. The Bobcats have talented, physically gifted backs, but if you ask them to plow ahead on their own, they become pedestrian. Bill Connelly’s line statistics bear this out. Texas State finished 124th in power success rate, the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. The ‘Cats finished 122 in stuff rate, or the number of times an offense achieved none or negative yards.

Over the past three years Texas State averaged 8.4 tackles for loss per game, the Bobcats averaged 68.8 points per game, meaning that on 11% of snaps they gave up negative yardage. Looking back the 2016 season was abysmal, the Bobcats mustered more than 150 yards rushing in a game just once. Last year if you watched the ‘Cats rush for 26 yards on 25 carries at UTSA, God bless you. Your eyes have seen some awful football.

Here comes Bob Stitt who we’ve already described as Yoda, perhaps we should qualify that can say he’s not a physically imposing Yoda. In his three seasons with the Griz of Montana, his rushing attack fell below four yards per carry twice. Spavital, at A&M, Cal, and West Virginia, wasn’t exactly known for a physical downhill rushing attack.

Enough of the bad news, let’s talk about 2019.

The good news is that a cogent passing game should create space for Texas State running backs this season. Texas State won’t be a bruising, four-minute, clock draining offense, but they’ll get by.

Name Yr G Att Yards Avg. TD Att/G Yards/G
Anthony D. Taylor SR 12 86 312 3.63 4 7.17 26
Robert Brown, Jr. JR 10 67 303 4.52 1 6.7 30.3
Alec Harris RS FR
3 5 72 14.4 1 1.67 24
Jaylin Nelson JR
7 6 23 3.83 0 0.86 3.29
LeDarrius Harris SR
12 1 1 1 0 0.08 0.08

Anthony Taylor looks the part. The 5-10, 205 pounder has grown into an All-Hotel Lobby player. He looks like he’s carrying more than 205, but hey rosters never lie, right? He’s the leading returning rusher and finished second on the 2018 squad behind Willie Jones. Taylor is a one cut, direct back who finishes runs well. He just had to finish a lot of runs in the backfield last season.

Anthony D. Taylor txstatebobcats.com

If we had a name to keep an eye on it would be Jaylin Nelson, a junior from Duncanville. Nelson was one of the more decorated and versatile Dallas area players in high school. He played quarterback and led First Baptist Academy to a TAPPS state title as a freshman. He also made 70 tackles that season on defense.

Nelson played receiver and quarterback as a sophomore for DeSoto hoping to follow in another undersized Metroplex signal caller’s footsteps, Desmon White. At Duncanville, he came into his own as a quarterback before injury cut his season short.

At Texas State, he’s played running back and is versatile and athletic enough to get into some serious rotation time this season.

Robert Brown adds depth and a choppy, between the tackles rusher to the mix, while Alec Harris flashed decent speed in his redshirt season. He rushed for 72 yards against Arkansas State with a score. The Bobcats signed Calvin Hill out of Baytown Sterling this offseason. He’s nifty, with excellent vision, though not a game breaker from a speed perspective.

That might be the biggest deficit heading into 2019; the Bobcats lack a homerun threat. Harris looked promising in minimal action last year. If Nelson can get the ball, he might be able to make some things happen. Otherwise, this teams lacks a back that can make a player miss and turn a small gain into an explosive play. Jones filled that role last year from the quarterback position.

Mark it down, a player or two from the Texas State receiving corps are going to have big seasons. The ‘Cats offense will create more opportunities than in years past, and with better quarterback play, it could be a big season for a talented, if underused segment of the roster.

While Withers didn’t get his offense on track, his evaluation efforts were pretty decent. The Bobcats boast some eye-opening athletes at receiver. Stitt doesn’t require sub 4.5 guys to execute his offense, a 4.7 or 4.8 guy will work as long as he can perform the routes and combinations the offense deploys. Spavital helped turned David Sills, a one-time quarterback prodigy, into the most lethal receiver in the Big 12 with 135 catches and 33 touchdowns the past two seasons.

They know what they’re looking for and the receiver position has the most raw material to work with on the Bobcat roster. The receiving corps, when matched with the new system and competent quarterback play, might be the key to the above rushing issue. Teams didn’t respect the Bobcat passing attack, so they’d sneak up on the box to contain the rushing attack. Efficiency in the passing game should make it harder for defenses to dictate.

Hutch White is the leading returning receiver with 34 catches. White is a jack of all trades, returning punts, and even throwing a few passes. Other than tight end Keenen Brown, White led all Bobcat pass catchers with 51 targets in 2018.

Jeremiah Haydel turned into a bonafide deep threat, catch sixteen passes for a 20.3-yard average. Bobcat quarterbacks targeted Haydel 37 times. He has excellent ball skills and adjusts well to the ball in the air as well as any Bobcat receiver. Overall, physically, he might be the most gifted of the Bobcat receivers, but he tends to disappear for long periods. Whether he can develop into more than a deep threat could be a key to the Bobcats.

Javen Banks is a young player who, like Haydel, showed a nose for the endzone last year. Banks, as a true freshman made ten catches for a 16-yard average and three scores. Again, due to circumstances beyond his control, he disappeared as well, but he’s a talented young receiver.

Mason Hayes txstatebobcats.com

Mason Hayes returns for his senior year, and while the stars haven’t lined up after a promising 2016 campaign if healthy, Hayes caught nine balls on just thirteen targets in 2018. Caleb Twyford split time between receiver and running back last fall. This season he’s listed as a full-time receiver again. He logged 60 rushing attempts out of the backfield last season to go along with sixteen catches.

The Bobcats will test out several redshirt freshman in addition to Banks, including 6-4 Stephenville product Blake Aragon. Aragon caught one pass last season, and high jumped 6’10” as a high school track athlete. He caught 52 passes as a senior for the Yellowjackets. Jah’Marae Sheread caught six passes last year before settling into a redshirt role. He could excel in the Bobcat’s quick game from the slot and also as a running back on fly sweep action.

T.J. Graham from Mansfield Lake Ridge caught one pass for 34 yards in 2018 and is another, long, rangy pass-catching option. The Bobcats signed 6-5 Micah Hilts out of Colorado. He’s a monster in one on one, if not a burner. He could eat himself into a rather nice tight end, he’s a willing blocker, and his frame can undoubtedly hold more weight.

Spavital also signed one of the most versatile athletes in the State in Gunter’s Dylan Jantz. The small school wonder played receiver, safety, and running back. Hudl lists Jantz at sub-4.5 in the 40, and that might be accurate given his impressive track numbers and what he shows on film. 24/7 had Jantz as the highest rated 2019 signee for the ‘Cats. Interestingly, Syracuse, those unabashed poachers of Texas talent, offered Jantz. Dino Babers loves speed, so that might be a decent endorsement.

Last year the Bobcats found a force of nature in Oklahoma State Keenen Brown. Brown became the Texas State offense after a few weeks and parlayed that into a shot with the Los Angeles Rams. He led the ‘Cats with 51 catches for 577 yards and five touchdowns. He also added two more rushing scores and a 9.4 yards per carry to his stat line.

We’re going to assume the tight end will be “de-emphasized” in this season’s new offense. Bear Wesco caught 24 balls for the Mountaineers last season but how much of that scheme came from Dana Holgorsen as opposed to Spavital is a great question to ponder. Stephen Anderson caught 41 passes in Cal’s offense back in 2015, a year before Spav’s arrival. The next season Cal tight ends caught two passes.

It’s probably safer to say if Texas State has an athlete that can challenge a defense like Brown, they’ll use him. If not, then as A&M fans complained of from 2013 to 2015, tight ends will be de-emphasized.

Brendan Rushing’s been a few steps from greatness, backing Brown and Gabe Schrade. Rushing has ideal size for the position, and he’s been an asset on special teams. Seth Caillouet, pronounced “Caillouet,” is back after a redshirt season. He’s the best blocking tight end on the roster after that Jackson Lanam and Hunter Hebert will endeavor to see the field for their first times in 2019.

Offensive Line

If you’re an offensive lineman on the Texas State campus, your ears have justifiably been burning. We’ve taken some shots at you and your brethren - justified criticism but shots nonetheless. Let’s begin the process of healing now and work through things together. Maybe grab a snack.

In 2019 the Texas State offensive front might be as blank a canvas as there exists on the roster. Move’em around, switch’em out, sit’em down, whatever you want, fix it.

We’ll look back at Aaron Brewer’s Texas State career I hope we give him the proper credit. Brewer’s played every position on the Bobcat front, where ever they need him, they plug him in, and he does it all well. He’s an All-Conference performer at any of those five positions. I’d love to see what he could do with a consistent assignment.

Brewer is a freakish athlete, a real dancing bear. He’s also got a fair amount of nasty to his game and is the most technically sound lineman we evaluated on the Bobcat roster. He played right tackle for the ‘Cats this spring. We think he’s better inside, but as we’ve learned, he’ll go where he’s asked to go and perform admirably. Let’s hope, as a senior, he catches the eyes of pro-scouts, or at the very least he gets close to the respect he deserves.

After Brewer, you get to Reece Jordan at center. The junior from Boyd has moved around his fair share as well. He’s penciled in at center, but he can flex to either guard position. His eighteen career starts are third most up front after Brewer and tackle Jacob Rowland.

Aaron Brewer txstatebobcats.com

Rowland’s seen the line inside and out as well, moving between both tackle positions last season and starting a few games at guard. His length makes him one of the better candidates on the roster to play tackle, and he’s good enough get merit All-Conference consideration. In a perfect world, you’d have better talent outside, and allow Rowland to maul people inside, but Texas State’s line situation is far from perfect.

All the switches and movement, a hallmark of the previous regime, smacked of either grasping at straws or poor evaluation. The ‘Cats auditioned a bunch of guys at different spots, then switched them out during games. Continuity suffered both game to game and within games. As the staff looked for the right combination, the product suffered. By my count, they started six different line combinations, and even in those combinations a player like Brewer moved from tackle to center. Rowland moved from right tackle to left tackle and inside to right guard.

At guard the Bobcats have issues. Some amalgamation of Tate Heitmeier, Tanner King, David Tachie, Josiah Washington, and Jalen Momerelle will start. Of those options Tanner King will see his first significant action. The Deer Park product played tackle in high school, but he’s a people mover. I like the way King plays. He’s not technically proficient enough to survive on the edge. Inside he might work out because he’s better in close quarters. We’ll be interested to see how Momerelle looks after a full offseason in the weight room and drilling in on technique.

A mammoth athlete in high school won’t see many equal or superior skilled big men across from them. There be monsters in college. Large men who with clubs for hands, springs for hips, and cruel intentions in their hearts. At the collegiate level, stance, spatial relationship, leverage, hand placement, and eye discipline play a huge role in a young lineman’s ultimate success. If you can learn those skills to some level of proficiency, then your physical attributes become much more effective.

Washington is back after two starts at guard. The former three-star recruit from powerhouse DeSoto was a massive get for Withers’ staff early in his tenure, he’s yet to find a consistent spot on the front.

The ‘Cats signed Eddie Rivas out of Glendale Community College. At 6-4, 298, he had ideal size to contribute at guard. His tape looks like the last fifteen minutes of The Departed, lots of kills shots. I’m not sure about the level of competition; my understanding is the Arizona JUCO programs shut down after 2018. In a phone booth, Rivas seems hard to handle.

Those are your guards. Again, if your interior were Rowland, Jordan, and Brewer, you’d have one of the better units in the Sun Belt, but Rowland and Brewer are forced to play out of position because the options at tackle aren’t ready yet.

Depth at tackle is all about potential. Kyler Cooks is a good looking athlete but overmatched in limited action last year. Morgan Moore started six games at left tackle last season as a true freshman. Shockingly he looked like a true freshman for most of the season, but his start against Troy in the season finale left me encouraged. Kameron Jemison is in year two after transfer in from Hutchison JC, and provides depth.

Spavital brought in Dalton Cooper out of Prague, Oklahoma. He’s a massive humanoid at 6-7, 280 pounds who held offers from New Mexico State and ACU. Texas State didn’t have to go far to find Ronald Copney out of nearby Smithson Valley. Copney is a two-star prospect who played tackle for the Rangers. I can’t tell if he’ll play guard or tackle, but he’s got a pretty high athletic baseline.

Offensive X-Factor

I’m about to make a leap, but I think it’s justified. Besides, I’m a glass half full kind of guy, and I want to see Texas programs succeed.

How about a brief history lesson from north of the Red River? In 1996, John Blake took over the storied Oklahoma program after an aged, but deadly handsome Howard Schnellenberger failed to rebuild the Sooner dynasty. Blake was known as a top-flight recruiter, but he’d never run a program at any level. He won twelve games in three seasons in Norman, the worst three year period in school history.

Blake didn’t win, but he did recruit. After the ‘98 season, OU turned to then Florida DC Bob Stoops to resurrect the program. Stoops brought in a quirky OC from Kentucky in Mike Leach, and they set the Big 12 on its ear. Stoops went up to Snow Junior College and found a trigger man for his offense, Josh Heupel and the rest is history. A national title, ten Big 12 titles, two Heisman trophies later, and Stoops rode off into the sunset to land that XFL job he’s always coveted. Wait; what?

Ignore that last part. Way back in 1998, I spoke to a guy who covered the Sooners for a local magazine, when print media still existed. He said, as Stoops rolled into town, that OU would be back and challenging for the Big 12 in no time. Why? I asked. Because Blake left a full cupboard of talent and Stoops would figure out how to use it. I rolled my eyes and kept playing the nickel slots. Two years later the Sooners won the Big 12 and a National Title.

Finish your Schlitz because this is where the comparison starts.

Say what you will for Everett Withers, but he was a decent talent evaluator. He couldn’t deploy the Bobcats into a Sun Belt contender, but the program got better. Last year’s team left at least two wins on the table. The defense, as we’ll talk about soon, improved markedly. The offensive skill talent is way ahead of where it was in 2016. That’s not to say Withers didn’t miss in evaluation and recruiting, but he turned the roster over. There are some legit speed guys and rangy athletes in San Marvelous.

Enter Jake Spavital, a coveted coordinator with serious Power 5 credentials and impressive coaching staff. He’ll have a cupboard that is in a much better place, and he’s even got a quirky OC and a couple of JC quarterbacks to try and transform the Bobcat attack from a laughing stock into something potent.

If the offense can get anywhere close to respectable, the defense will cover up a multitude of sins, and this squad could make a move. Six or dare I say seven wins aren’t out of the question. We’ll be watching the home opener against Wyoming intently. The ‘Cats get a favorable three-game homestand starting the end of September, and they’re talented enough to cash in on it.

Don’t expect Texas State to contend for the 2020 National Title, but there’s talent on this roster, and they have a couple of offensive minds that can do something with it. The ‘Cats won’t be the cellar of the Sun Belt for long.

Defense

After finishing in the bottom third of the Sun Belt the previous two seasons, the Bobcats moved to the middle of the pack last season. They improved from allowing 41 points a game in 2016 to a respectable 27.7 last year. The steady improvement came as a group of young players matured into every-down defenders. This fall, for many of those young players, is the last stand.

Jake Spavital’s brother Zac is in the fold to run the defense. Zac spent the last three seasons working under/with David Gibbs at Texas Tech and followed Gibbs to Lubbock from the University of Houston. He, like most teams these days, will play multiple schemes, he’ll switch between a 4-3 and a 3-4. Spavital has a history with the 4-3 under Gibbs, but the personnel in San Marcos dictate otherwise. Those monikers are dated regardless. It’s all nickel, dime unless you’re lined up against a service academy flexbone. Even in a 4-3 one of the defensive ends will play a “rush” end and stand up most of the time.

He brought Archie McDaniel, the former A&M linebacker as Co-Defensive Coordinator and to coach the Texas State ‘backers. McDaniel coached for Bob Davie at New Mexico last year after a run with Chad Morris and SMU. Brett Dewhurst and Tremain Jackson are also on board with Dewhurst coaching the secondary and Jackson on the defensive front. Former Longhorn Tevin Mimms came over from Tech as well and will coach outside linebackers.

Here are some key stats from 2018’s Bobcat defense.

Team Opp Passer Rating (Nat'l Rank) Opp Pass Att / Sack Opp Pts / Gm Def % of Poss w/ TOs Opp 3rd Down %
Texas State 122.4 (42) 26.4 (125) 27.7 (74) 10.7 (83) 39% (69)

The ‘Cats forced a respectable 122.4 opposing QB rating, a respectable number considering this team didn’t threaten the quarterback, finishing 119th in sacks and 125th in opposing attempts per sack. The Bobcats weren’t great at forcing turnovers, but that number signifies continued improvement in that area. Finally, in critical third-down conversion prevention, Texas State dropped by three percentage points from 36% in 2017 to 39% in 2018. That’s not a huge drop, but any improvement in that area this year would be welcomed.

Zac Spavital will bring a more aggressive style to Texas State, at least if he holds his Gibbseon roots. That might help pressure the quarterback, but the exchange could be costly as the Bobcats did an excellent job limiting explosive plays in 2018 (26th in the FBS).

Front Seven

Depth is the key on the defensive line for the 2019 ‘Cats, the first unit should be serviceable, but rotation players lack right now.

Ishmael Davis returns for his fifth year in San Marvelous. Davis, a former walk-on from Killeen transitioned from linebacker in 2016, battled injuries in 2017, and became the Bobcats most consistent edge player in 2018. He’s back and will be called on to force the action from the strong side. At 260 pounds, he’s an every-down asset.

At the other end position, I like Kumonde Hines, like Davis, a senior. He was one of Withers first commitments, coming from Virginia. At 6-3, 240 he can hold up as either an outside linebacker or a “rush” end/ 5-technique. He made one start in 2018. Hal Vinson is another candidate at the “rush” end position. He can also flex to a more traditional 3-4 outside linebacker.

Jakharious Smith made two starts at defensive end last season. Undersized at 210 pounds, we’ll see if he’s added any weight, but he’s an athletic plus at the position. He added 35 stops and a sack for the ‘Cats. 6-3, 250 pound Emmanuel Galvan-Vazquez moved into the depth chart last year after redshirting in 2017 out of Hayes Consolidated.

The ‘Cats will miss Sami Awad as a one-gap fire hydrant in the middle. They’ll also miss Dean Taylor on the outside who retired from the game after injuries cut into his Bobcat career.

Inside Caeveon Patton is back after a 2018 season that saw him in heavy rotation and start to come into his own. Patton uses his arms well to control and shed. He’s a load against the run and setting the edge. He’s probably better suited as a 4-tech defensive end, where you can balance his movement with his strength. His 15 career starts are the most up front after Davis.

Nico Ezidore worked his way into the rotation last season as a true freshman from Naaman Forest. He’ll play a more significant role this year. Jaquel Pierce is another big body inside who contributed last year after moving over from offense in 2017. Gjemar Daniels and John Lilly are one-gap interior linemen.

On the recruiting front, Spavital signed Jordan Revels out of 6A Champion North Shore. He plays with a high football IQ and was a very productive prep player. He’s a tweener, Revels is listed at defensive end, but I wonder if he can’t grow into quick first step interior player. They also brought in a high motor kid out Belton in Devin Martinez. He checks in at 6-3, 220 pounds.

Sticking with the Devin theme, Spav signed Devin Henderson out of LaPorte at 6-2, 275 pounds and playing inside. Henderson is explosive off the snap, and I like his hips and his effort. He doesn’t give up on plays and went up against decent competition, including two state title finalists, North Shore, and Westbrook.

The critical question is, can you find seven or eight players to rotate and contribute in some way in 2019. The ‘Cats start with games against Texas A&M and Wyoming, two teams that will test your mettle on the defensive front. Normal attrition dictates that this could be an area of concern.

Bryan London III txstatebobcats.com

Linebacker is not an area of concern. Interior linebackers Bryan London and Nikolas Daniels are both back after 100 plus tackle seasons. For London that production is old hat, but Daniels exploded on the scene last year to give the Bobcats one of the better linebacking duos in the Belt.

London will end his career at Texas State holding most if not all the Bobcat’s tackling records after one of the most decorated four year runs in school and conference history.

Frankie Griffin is the Luke Skywalker of the defense - he’s our only hope at this point to pressure the quarterback. He accounted for two sacks last year and eight tackles for loss. The league named him Honorable Mention All-Sun Belt for his efforts, his second all-league selection in his career.

We mentioned Vinson above, he and Clifton Lewis are experienced hands as well. Vinson is one of the more versatile athletes on the roster, he played SAM backer last season, outside linebacker in 2017 and could, flex down to play a 5-technique in Spavital’s 4-3. Lewis’ experience is a massive bonus after starting six games in 2018 with good productivity.

Gavin Graham and another senior Malik Alley provide depth as does junior John Brannon, who by my count is the only underclassman on the linebacker two-deep.

Which brings me to a point about timing, this might be the most experienced linebacking corps in the country. Note we didn’t say the best, but seven seniors will contribute at one position this fall. It won’t get much better for Texas State in the foreseeable future. Next year this position becomes a liability as the ‘Cats break in a new depth chart. As we’ll see the secondary will lose some heavy hitters after this season. If this defense has a window to be great, shocking, or surprising, that window is right now.

Secondary

Let’s wrap up the Bobcat defense with a look at the secondary. Spoiler alert, I like this bunch.

There’s no higher point of stress in college football today than a defensive backfield. Offenses have adapted to spread you out sideline to sideline pre-snap, and vertically post-snap. You’d better have six to seven cover guys on your roster. The days of Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater, the enforcers, are over. If you’re a safety, you must be versed in man coverage, and you must cover ground.

Last year Texas State intercepted six passes. That’s not a huge number but is comes after a 2017 season where the ‘Cats were the only FBS team without a pick. That said, expect the Bobcats to run into a few more interceptions in 2019. The 2018 pass defense ended as a top 40 to 50 unit in the FBS, I think they can tick up even a few more notches in 2019.

Team Opp Comp % Opp Pass Yards / Att Opp Pass Yards / Gm Def % of Passes w/ INT Opp. QB Rating
Texas State 57.74 (53) 6.42 (29) 203.75 (43) 1.57 (116) 119.8 (39)

The Bobcats have some cover guys with Anthony J. Taylor back along with super sophomore Jarron Morris. Taylor, a senior, is in his third year starting. Last season he broke up six passes and nabbed a pick. Morris walked right in off the West Orange-Stark campus and took over at the other corner. The coaching staff couldn’t keep him off the field, he started the final ten games at corner. I like him because he’s got some dog in him; he’ll put a hat on you.

Kordell Rodgers txstatebobcats.com

Kordell Rodgers led the squad in interceptions last year and started half the season. He took his first interception 51-yards to paydirt in the opener at Rutgers. Taylor, Morris, and Rodgers give the Bobcats a good corps, and Alvin Pacheco gives them flexibility. Pacheco is the tallest of the corner group at 6-0. Kieston Roach saw minutes as well, and the Bobcats were able to redshirt Yoakum prospect Isaac Pope after letting him see action in one contest.

Jashon Waddy has long been a Roundup favorite, he made the successful move from corner to safety last year, starting eleven of twelve games. He’s an asset against both the run and pass; Waddy led the team with seven passes defensed, caused two fumbles, and, most important, he’s able to handle receivers in man.

Josh Newman started ten games at the other safety spot. He made 56 tackles, finishing fourth on the team. Jalen Smith made two starts at safety after transferring in from Fresno State. Preston Dimery provides depth, as does 195 pound Austin Deason.

Several younger players will get a shot to bust up the depth chart. Pierce Withers, son of former head coach Everett Withers, sat out most of 2018 with a misdiagnosed injury. He was a three-star prospect from Austin Bowie and a grayshirt last season. Tyrese Heard redshirted last year after signing out of Teague High School. Heard held offers from several Power 5s as a prep player and the highest rated Bobcat prospect from the 2018 class according to 24/7. C.J. Johnson from Allen also redshirted last year.

The ‘Cats brought in Kevin Anderson, a bigger safety prospect out of Lewisville, during the 2019 recruiting cycle. They also signed Texarkana, Arkansas product DeJordan Mask. He projects as a safety as well. Mask does some exciting things with the ball in his hands in the return game. Unless either of these young players standout, they’ll find playing time hard to come by in a crowded defensive backfield.

Specialists

Texas State finished 127th out of 130 FBS squads in net punting. Oddly that was one spot above Alabama. We're sure Nick Saban revoked that punter's citizenship, repossessed his parent's house, and saddled him with predatory school loans.

Texas State will try to get better at punting and tackling. We'll see which strategy pays off. Clayton Stewart is back after his freshman year. He put nineteen of his 69 punts inside the 20.

Foster Hilborn will assume the placekicking duties after sitting out last season. He'll take over for James Sherman who made six of his nine attempts. Stewart attempted eighteen extra-points, making fifteen. In 2017 Hilborn nailed six of his seven attempts with a long of 37-yards.

The 'Cats return game is solid with sure-handed Hutch White on punt returns and Jeremiah Haydel on kickoffs. Haydel averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns last season. Jah'Maerae Sheread is also available in the return game.

The Bobcats' average starting field position was the 32, that's nearly square in the middle of the FBS pack.

One Last Thought

The Bobcats have lost a lot of equity in the past few years. The athletic department has hit bumps, and the school mismanaged the football program. The previous staff operated on a shoestring budget with little institutional support. That's a recipe for seven wins and 29 losses.

The ramifications hit hard at the box office where attendance lagged to historic lows, and handfuls of students attended games in October and November. A fanbase beaten down by years of mismanagement and losses is in desperate need of an adrenaline shot to the proverbial heart.

If this FBS move is ever going to bear fruit in San Marcos, the athletic department and football program have to be in something Urban Meyer calls "alignment." For Meyer, that means he got what he wanted from the higher-ups. At Florida or Ohio State that's a different animal, but at Texas State, it's no less important. While the Bobcat football facilities won't have the retinal scans or water features that Meyer's had, the Texas State athletic department should strive for excellence even on a budget.

You don't have to look far to see examples of alignment and excellence. It wasn't that long ago that outdated facilities defined the North Texas program and Portland State handed the Mean Green a 59 point beatdown on homecoming. Drive up I-35 to Denton now and see a sparkling Apogee stadium, a new indoor facility, and an enthusiastic donor base. Wren Baker and the athletic department did all that thanks to shrewd hires, targeted marketing, and seemingly boundless energy.

Winning football programs bring in applications and donations; both are critical in a G5 landscape where you are lagging tens of millions behind your Power 5 neighbors, every dollar and every donor matters. Texas State has been shockingly efficient at neglecting its fan base and its football program. You'd be hard pressed to find an AD who's been able to make four head football coaching hires with minimal success, but that's the oddity of the situation at Texas State.

Here's where Jake Spavital provides another chance to wake the sleeping giant on I-35 South. Spavital could prove an inspired hire. He's young, offensive-minded, and he knows the state well. He needs to wear a couple of hats, from building a program to inspiring a fan base. The athletic department, Larry Teis, in particular, is tethered to his success. They'd do well to learn from the mistakes of the past three years and help Spavital do some heavy lifting.

2019 Schedule

If you're looking for a favorable schedule, Texas State has it. Ignore the paycheck game at A&M, the rest of the non-conference is manageable, including a trip to SMU and a critical metroplex recruiting area. They get an FCS opponent in Nicholls State to round out the out of conference schedule.

Date Opponent Location Prediction Notes
Aug 29 (Thu) 7:30 p.m. at Texas A&M Kyle Field L Just stay healthy against the Ags.
Sep 7 (Sat) 6 p.m. vs Wyoming Bobcat Stadium L Bobcats could make the home opener interesting.
Sep 14 (Sat) 6 p.m. at SMU Ford Stadium L SMU will score, the question is can Texas State?
Sep 21 (Sat) TBA vs Georgia State Bobcat Stadium W Bobcats had the Panther number last year.
Sep 28 (Sat) TBA vs Nicholls State Bobcat Stadium W Former Southland foe gives the 'Cats a winning streak.
Oct 10 (Thu) 8:15 p.m. vs ULM Bobcat Stadium W A chance to get to .500
Oct 26 (Sat) TBA at Arkansas State Centennial Bank Stadium L The Red Wolves are difficult at home.
Nov 2 (Sat) TBA at Louisiana Cajun Field L TXST could give the defending Western Conference champs a run.
Nov 9 (Sat) TBA vs South Alabama Bobcat Stadium W Cats get revenge after blowing lead in 2018.
Nov 16 (Sat) TBA vs Troy Bobcat Stadium L How does Chip Lindsay fare as a head coach.
Nov 23 (Sat) TBA at Appalachian State Kidd Brewer Stadium L Cross country trip to defending Sun Belt champs.
Nov 30 (Sat) TBA at Coastal Carolina Brooks Stadium W A bowl bid could be in the balance.

The three game home stand starting with Georgia State is where this season either spring boards into something special or deflates like a whoopi cushion. The Sun Belt itself is in a bit of a transition. Coastal Carolina, like Texas State also finds itself with a new head coach as well as traditional powers Troy and Appalachian State. The ‘Cats season ending road trip to Coastal could have historic implications.

Checking Our Work

So you’re asking yourself, yeah, but what do you know? You’re right, not much, so in the interest of full disclosure, let’s look at our predicted wins in years past vs. the actual wins. We hang our hat on transparency and grammatical indifference.

Year Predicted Wins Actual Wins
2016 2 2
2017 3 2
2018 4 3

The Roundup…

Posted on June 10, 2019 and filed under Texas State, Southwest Round-Up.