For maybe five years now, I’ve entered the college football season with irrationally high expectations for the Texas State Bobcats. All the ingredients for gridiron success appear to be readily available – a rich recruiting ground, a handsome campus, a solid football history and a feisty fan base. When the program hired Jake Spavital from West Virginia, I felt that the final piece had been inserted into was once a frustrating jigsaw puzzle left unfinished on the coffee table.
One game shy of a full three seasons at the helm, Coach Spavital is 8-27 with just six conference victories. A win over the Red Wolves on Saturday would actually double the Bobcats’ win total from last season. It would also represent the program’s second consecutive victory over Arkansas State, which when you consider the current condition of the Red Wolves is hardly a positive measure of growth.
What’s the deal with the Bobcats? In the season opener, Texas State dropped a competitive game against Baylor then took care of business against FIU the next week. But a Week 3 loss to FCS Incarnate Word seemed to sap nearly all of the energy from San Marcos. The game I witnessed between the Bobcats and Eastern Michigan featured some of the worst Sun Belt football I’ve ever seen. Spavital’s interesting strategy to populate the roster exclusively with transfer talent appears to be a novel failure. In my opinion, this was a pivotal season for Spavital, a young coach among an increasing number of up-and-coming Sun Belt coaches who are seeing their stock rise.
One wonders if the train has passed Spavital by.
“We have some difficult decisions to make down the road.”
Coach Butch Jones uttered these words – pregnant with mystery and meaning – following the 28-20 loss to Georgia State. Only Jones knows what was meant by “difficult decisions,” but we do know that the Red Wolves missed too many golden opportunities to win the game in Atlanta.
WARNING: YOU HAVE JUST ENTERED THE CONJECTURE ZONE
The season finale with Texas State will give many within the program (player and personnel alike) one last shot at buying into what Jones is cooking, or exploring more agreeable realms. At this point in the season, the 2-9 Red Wolves are evaluating talent and identifying contributors for 2022. A victory over the Bobcats will be the result of delivering extra effort and attention, after which I suspect we’ll see some Kong-sized shifts within the program.
Already, we’re seeing players leap (shoved?) into the transfer portal, like wide receivers Akeem Hays and Javan Hawes, and longtime favorite running back Marcel Murray, who seldom saw the field the last couple seasons. I suspect it’s gonna be a wild December.
Now the defense is good and the offense is bad?
Against the Georgia State Panthers, whose strength isn’t defense, the Red Wolves offense struggled to put up 13 points – none of which were obtained in the game’s second half. The defense, meanwhile, supplied the team’s second TD while taking the ball three times from the Panthers.
Since the blowout against Coastal Carolina, the Red Wolves defense has surrendered a not-awful 29.6 points per game. The offense has rewarded the effort by failing to score more than 27 points in any of those five games. In fact, the Red Wolves offense has put up less than 20 points in 3 of the last 5 contests, which must give defensive coordinator Rob Harley some interesting feels.
Trouble on the offensive line hasn’t helped at all. Already shallow, the Red Wolves never found a solution for replacing the production of the injured Robert Holmes. As a result, we frequently see quarterback Layne Hatcher scrambling in the backfield and ultimately making mistakes. Hatcher has thrown 10 picks in his last four starts.
The Red Wolves are stuck on “2nd Down and 12,” with only one team in the nation allowing more negative yardage plays than Arkansas State (thank you for the Truth Bomb, Kara Richey). The run game is so bad, it inspired its own special article from Football Scoop.
Listen, we don’t need this smoke right now. However, Zach does make a keen observation that makes you want to punch Blake Anderson’s recruiting strategy in stomach:
On a per carry basis, A-State operates at a 4.34-yard deficit per snap. Again, the fact that Arkansas State has surrendered an even 40 sacks in the 10 games above serves as both a mitigating factor and a blinking red light above the offensive line.ZACH BARNETT
No team in the nation has managed fewer rushing touchdowns (4) than the Red Wolves. The Red Wolves offense has been out-rushed by its opponents 601-2,888 yards. It’s not just the stats that tell the story; you can get anecdotal too. How many times have the Red Wolves attempted to run up the middle on the first play of the series, only to be lucky to make it to the line of scrimmage? Butch Jones was so desperate to put a spark in the run game that he entertained designing a few carries for freshman QB Wyatt Begeal.
Barnett’s parting shot: “With one game remaining against Texas State … jobs one, two, three and four for Butch Jones and his staff will be to improve their offensive and defensive lines by any means necessary.”
What’ya Got, Bobcats?
I’m asking because I don’t rightly know. At the beginning of the year, the Bobcats were committed at quarterback to Brady McBride, a transfer from Memphis who beat out another transfer, Ty Evans, and incumbent Tyler Vitt. McBride had his moments, but Tyler Vitt took over when McBride was injured recently – and has retained the position even though McBride is healthy now.
In three games as starter, Vitt has only thrown for 2 touchdowns, but he’s also thrown just one pick, which might explain the attraction for Spavital. McBride has thrown 10 interceptions (which is how many Hatcher has thrown in his last three games, not that I’ve noticed). Still, Vitt isn’t exactly setting the turf on fire.
So what else do you got, Bobcats? Texas State does have a run tandem, with Calvin Hill supplying the territory at 5.1 yards per carry and Jahmyl Jeter pounding in seven touchdowns. Another guy to watch: Javen Banks. The 6’2″ wide receiver has five touchdown catches.
Defensively, Texas State ranks 98th in total defense (Red Wolves rank dead last), and freshman linebacker Issiah Nixon has kept fairly busy with four sacks, but this isn’t the Bobcat defense of yesteryear.
The Dark Emotions Board Emotes Darkly
One Hundred and Ten Percent Coach Speak
“It’s going to be a competitive game and it will come down to the will to win” – Coach Butch Jones on the upcoming game with Texas State.
What Do We Want from the Red Wolves on Saturday?
Well, a win would be fantastic and not at all unrealistic. I know we’ll see effort. The Red Wolves have yet to phone in a game, and that’s a testament to a team that has bought in to culture. I wouldn’t mind seeing a few well-executed run plays. I definitely would like to see the magnificent return of the same offense that put up 50 against Memphis.
I’d like to see our departing seniors leave with a taste of victory. I want to see Dahu Green collect a touchdown catch. I want Jacob Still and Ivory Scott to dominate the line of scrimmage. I’d like sacks for Joe Ozougwu and Caleb Bonner, and another score on kick-return for Alan Lamar. These guys deserve a ray of sun.
But mostly, I’d like to receive a glimpse into the future. I want to feel a positive vibe that I can bring with me in the Spring of 2022. Flash me some of that Omari Walker speed. Let’s see some more tackles from Melique Straker. Dazzle me, Corey Rucker! Show me what you got, Lincoln Pare. Let me tweet CALL KIVON BENNETT THE BAG BOY BECAUSE HE LOVES TO SACK one last time this season.
Let’s go out big.
PHOTO CREDITS: Me! MEEEEE! (Me)