Well, here we are. New coach, same result. The ‘Cats are 0-3, which, coincidentally is where I had them through three weeks. I thought they’d give Wyoming a stiff afternoon in San Marcos, and they did. Hooray for blind prognostication.
What I didn’t expect was that the offense, under Spavital and OC Bob Stitt would look as impotent as it has.
Can I get the scary part out now? Whatever, it’s my blog. Start your blog about delusional conference reunification; see if ThatsWAC.com is available.
I watched, reasonably up close, as Jake Spavital succeeded the great and powerful Kliff Kingsbury as OC at Texas A&M. Then, from afar, I watched him at Cal. Finally, I watched him stand next to Dana Holgorsen. My fear, based on those memories, was that Spavital’s offense wouldn’t have the requisite lead in its pencil to reverse the shortcomings of the Everett Withers era, i.e., the ‘Cats now half-decade long pursuit of a functioning running game.
Those A&M teams from 2013 to 2015, when the bloom started to come off the Kevin Sumlin rose, lacked the same ability to get yardage on the ground and close games when necessary.
The real scary part is that Texas State’s 2019 defense might be the best unit the ‘Cats have seen since, I can’t think of when, 2013, maybe dating to the 1999 unit that placed five starters on the First Team All-Southland list. Whatever. This defense is good. A lot of them run out of eligibility here in a few months, eight starters and thirteen off the 22-man depth chart. How long does it take to rebuild that unit?
Never mind, we’re three games in, let’s enjoy the ride, sort of.
Three games in and what conclusions can we draw from the 2019 Bobcat offense?
You’ll want to draw a direct correlation to quarterback play and offensive failings, but I think the issue is slightly different, at least at the top of the to-do list. Texas State still cannot run the football. Against SMU, bless their hearts, 3rd and 1 was a risky proposition. The ‘Cats ran the ball 29 times and netted 16 yards. Take away sack yardage, and Texas State ran for 51 yards on 23 attempts, or 2.2 yards a carry. If they ran it four times, going for it on fourth down, they’re still short. They’re ballsy, but short.
Saturday, let’s look at how Texas State announced its presence with authority.
1st and 10, no gain.
3rd and 3, one yard.
3rd and 1, no gain.
3rd and 21, 3 yards.
3rd and 2, 1 yard.
Five rushes, FOUR OF WHICH CAME ON THIRD AND SHORT!?! and you’ve accounted for five yards and no first downs. When Gresch Jensen ran for six yards with twelve minutes to play in the second quarter, cue up the fight song.
The issue was and is the offensive front combined with a lack of physical culture. A minute on culture, again, my blog.
Every coach talks about creating a physical football team, but still, most football teams aren’t. Two types of football teams exist in the world, those that are more physical and those that lose. It starts with a mindset that permeates the weight room, the recruiting trail, the practice field, the training table, and finally springs forth from the womb on Saturday.
Texas State hasn’t been physical in four years or more, and that’s a cultural problem that Spavital has to address. Can he do it? Refer to the paragraphs above for my reservations, but he either will, or he’s on the block.
As to the quarterback position, they’re doomed to run for their lives because they don’t have the necessity of a running attack that makes teams think twice before they pin their ears. They’ll work behind the chains/off schedule because they offense will lose on first down on the ground. This team averages .58 yards per carry on first down. Texas State is playing offense one-handed.
If your quarterback play was better, you’d go full Leach/John Jenkins and damn the running game to throw it 80 times an afternoon. Texas State doesn’t have that quarterback talent, and that approach would destroy any advantage your defensive ability has.
What Spavital does instead is manufactures a running game with the quick passing game. It’s the same thing Zak Kuhr did under Withers. It’s all well and good, but defenses will work to close space, tackle in the open field and force the ‘Cats to execute that offense for long periods. That approach, long-term, is high risk, low reward. Once the field condenses and you can ignore any threat of a deep ball, windows get tighter. Still, it’s Spavital’s only option. It might even be his first option based on history.
Let’s talk good news.
Hutch White is one of the better possession receivers in the Sun Belt. He’ll start to get a lot of attention, especially if Jensen stays the starter. Trevis Graham and Jah’Marae Sheread are both talented playmakers. I’m waiting for Jeremiah Haydel to flash like he did last season.
Tight end/H-back Micah Hilts is a Swiss Army knife and a true freshman. So far they’ve used him primarily on stalk routes, but he’ll start to draw attention from linebackers and safeties given what he’s put on tape. Drawing attention isn’t a bad thing. If Texas State skill players start to gather more and more attention, green space opens up somewhere. There’s a balance to the game, and the offense’s job is to force the defense to commit assets and lose that balance in parts of the field.
I’m not holding my breath that the Bobcats get much better running the ball. If I did, I’d been dead midway through last season. Still, they won’t see talent like A&M, Wyoming, or SMU consistently in the Sun Belt, so perhaps they can improve, but they’re a long way from average.
Georgia State is a winnable game at home on Saturday. Spavital’s offense should have more room to operate. It’s the start of a three-game home-stand and three opportunities for this team to get better.