The beginning of the season is always tough to scout your opponent as you’re basically going off of game tape from last season, even with new players and coaches. Fortunately we’re now at the point of the season where we can assess a team based off of this year alone as the Bobcats (out of the Sunbelt Conference) have played three games; losing their opener 59-16 at 10th ranked Florida State, defeating Prairie View A&M 63-24 in their home opener the following week before losing 56-50 versus Southern Miss this past Saturday.
Texas State head coach Dennis Franchione (37-35 in his 7th season over two separate stints, 1990-91, 2011-current) has won 211 games in 30 seasons as a head coach. His stated goal is to upgrade his talent from an FCS to an FBS level and he’s slowly but surely getting there over the past few years. “Coach Fran” is a master motivator and will call trick plays whether they be on offense or special teams so his counterpart, Houston’s Tom Herman will have his staff on the heads up going his second game as a head coach.
Offensively, under coordinator Mike Schultz, the Bobcats run a multiple scheme which is equal power and spread with no huddle. One play an opposing defense will see a two tight end set with the QB under center running option plays; the next will be a pistol formation with three wide receivers. The Bobcats want to use pace efficiently as they were the 13th fastest team in snapping the ball last season, per Franchione during their media day, which led them to 140 yards in improving their total offense last season, finishing at 465 yards per game. This season through three games the Bobcats are averaging 43 points per game and 513 yards of total offense (243 on the ground, 270 through the air).
Signal caller Tyler Jones (6-foot-2 inches, 205 pounds) is the straw that stirs the Bobcats’ drink offensively. For Coogfans to understand how dynamic Jones is, imagine him as a combination Lamar Jackson and Kyle Bolin the Louisville Cardinals, the former running through the Houston defense, and the latter carving them up through the air from inside the pocket during the fourth quarter of their game last week. Much like the Coogs offense, the Bobcats want to get Jones in a rhythm early with the quick short passing game which moves the chains. The Stephenville product also shows great ‘ball handling’ skills which sell play-action passes and can complete passes from different angles when under pressure. Jones has completed 59-of-85 passes this season for 688 yards with 6 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. Franchione describes him as a great decision maker in the pocket as he’s completed over 65-percent of his passes during his 22 career starts over the past three seasons. Jones also has great ‘escapability’ from the pocket and a great burst through the line whether via a called scramble or not, as he’s also the teams’ leading rusher with 247 yards on a second best 33 carries with 3 scores. He’s also adept at keeping his eyes downfield while scrambling. In being able to bench press 375 pounds (per Franchione), many of the 7.5 yards per carry come from broken tackles.
Per respected college football analyst Phil Steele, the Bobcats had 72 career starts combined amongst their offensive line (ranking them tied for 54th nationally) with left (or quick) tackle Adrian Bellard (6’5, 314, Sr.) leading the way. The three year starter began the season on both the Outland and Lombardi Preseason Watch lists for best interior lineman. Lining up next to him will be Brandon Sarabia (6’4, 295, Sr.). The “runt of the litter” of the offensive line started only three games last season. Center Giuliano Cattaneo (6’4, 310, Jr.) transferred from Santa Rosa (California) Community College after last season. Felix Romero (6’4, 303, Jr.) lines up at right guard returns and is flanked by massive Ryan Melton (6’5, 329, Jr.) at right tackle, both two year starters previous to this season.
They’ll be blocking for running backs Robert Lowe (5’10, 200, Sr.) and Chris Nutall (5’8, 202, Sr.). Lowe averages 5.9 yards per carry (207 yards on 35 carries) with 3 TDs on the ground with Nutall averaging 4.9 (122 on 25) while also crossing the goal line 3 times as well. Nutall reminds me of our own Chuck Weatherspoon (Google Houston Run-n-shoot if you don’t know) as he’s hard to bring down to the ground with his low center of gravity as he’ll often hide behind his O-lineman before popping out to make a few extra yards after contact. The “vertically challenged” back is also a threat receiving out of the backfield as he adds 75 yards on 5 receptions (with a high of 25).
The Bobcats spread the wealth receiving wise with Jafus Gaines (5’11, 175, Sr.) leading the unit in yards (173 on 13 receptions with a score). C.J. Best (5’10, 185, Sr.) leads in receptions with 14 (for 117 yards) while Brandon Smith (6’2, 170, Sr.) and Demun Mercer (6’2, 197, So.) could be classified as the deep threats, averaging 20.5 and 16.5 yards per reception respectively. Smith has 123 yards on 6 catches with a score, with Mercer adding 132 on 8 while leading the receivers with 2 TDs. Ryan Carden (6’4, 247, Sr.) and Lawrence White (6’7, 240, Sr.) are the tight ends, adding 5 receptions each. Carden has 38 yards while White adds 33 and a score. Look for White to be a redzone threat against the smaller Cougar linebackers.
Defensively for the Coogs, under coordinator Todd Orlando, much like the Louisville game, the QB run game must be contained. Tyus Bowser (6’3, 240, Jr.) at rush end and Steven Taylor (6’1, 225, Jr.) at the strongside outside linebacker spot MUST keep contain on the Bobcats signal caller. This means the two veteran ‘backers must not get pushed too far up the field when rushing the passer in fears of opening up outside rush lanes which Jones will exploit. According to the Cougars depth chart, via uhcougars.com, it appears inside linebacker Mathew Adams (6’0, 230, So.) is back from injury after leaving the Louisville game early. After making a quick impact during his true freshman year, Adams has registered only three tackles through two games (really one). Adams has a knack to always be where the ball is which will be important against a Texas State offense that likes to deceive opposing front sevens via ‘eye candy’ such as motion and the use of counters, boots and option plays in the run game. Adams backup, Emeke Egbule (6’3, 230, Fr.) seems to come in the same mold as Adams but is still just a true freshman and is susceptible to first year player mistakes due to over aggressiveness. Elandon Roberts (6’0, 235, Sr.) has stepped his game up since the middle of last season and is the leading tackler with 21 (including 4 for loss) from his inside linebacker spot, taking over for Derrick Mathews and Marcus McGraw before him.
The defensive line of Tomme Mark (6’2, 305, Sr.) and Cameron Malveaux (6’6, 270, Jr.) at ends, with B.J. Singleton (6’4, 305, Jr.) at tackle must maintain their run fits or stay in their assigned gaps in order to shut down the Bobcats’ run game or Jones will run loose as he had 160 yards last week versus Southern Miss. Reserves Nick Thurman (6’4, 290, So.), Melvin Holland (6’1, 300, Sr.) and Zack Vaughn (6’4, 270, RFr.) will be important as the Bobcats employ a no-huddle in hopes of wearing down opposing defensive lines. Through two games the defense has allowed 27.5 points per game and 368 yards total offense, but only 50 on the ground. Of course they did allow the Cardinals speedy QB Jackson some room to rush around the edge on adlib scrambles, but much of the rushing yards were negated via tackles-for-loss as the Coogs have 13 through 2 games, led by Roberts’ 4, Taylor’s 3 and Bowser’s 2.
Many of the 318 yards passing allowed by the Coogs secondary has come via miscommunication. This has probably been the surprise of the early season as four veterans returned in three year starters Trevon Stewart (5’10, 195, Sr.) and Adrian McDonald (5’11, 195, Sr.) at safety and Brandon Wilson (5’11, 200, Jr.) and William Jackson (6’2, 195, Sr.) at corner. Much of this has come with the linebackers and safeties passing receivers, especially tight ends, off to the corners when Orlando has gone to zone coverage. The zone blitz was not effective for Orlando when he tried matching up Bowser on the Cardinals athletic tight end as he was burned for 70 yards on 3 receptions alone in the fourth quarter, including a 29-yard score (while amassing 103 yards on 6 total catches on the game). The secondary, particularly the corners, must improve their coverage as Stewart is great at playing “in the box” as he’s tied for second with Taylor and McDonald with 12 tackles (including 2 for loss). “Worldwide,” as he’s named himself, also has an interception and a recovered fumble while McDonald has 2 picks and passes defended. The safety duo leads the “Jack Boyz” with 36 career turnovers amassed, Stewart with 16 (7 fumbles recovered and 9 interceptions) with McDonald adding 20 (15 interceptions and 5 fumble recoveries). Wilson has been a pleasant surprise adding 11 tackles, including 2 for loss, with Jackson leading the way with 3 passes defended as the shutdown corner.
Defensively, the Bobcats, under veteran coordinator John Thompson, have struggled versus the three QBs whom they have faced them this season as they’ve completed a combined 63-of-89 for 924 yards with 10 TDs and zero interceptions through three games. That’s a 70-percent completion percentage and a 342 passing yard average against a secondary featuring two new starters, including replacing boundary corner Craig Mager who was a four-year starter and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 3rd round of this year’s NFL draft. Overall the Bobcats have allowed a whopping 46.3 points per game and 550 total offense (208 on the ground).
It all starts up front and the Bobcats seem to be outmanned in Thompson’s 4-2-5 scheme as starters Karee Berry (6’3, 225, So.) and Rusmin Nikocevic (6’4, 258, Sr.) at end and Dallas McClarty (5’11, 270, Jr.) and Mershad Dillon (6’3, 300, Sr.) only average 263 pounds per man across the line. Look for defensive linemen Jeff Banks (6’5, 212, So.), Dondre Elvoid (6’4, 305, Sr.), Landon Beck (6’4, 245, Fr.) and Roosevelt Patterson (6’5, 255, Sr.) to get more playing time as the eight have only combined for 8.5 tackles-for-loss (behind Nikocevic’s 2.5) and ZERO sacks.
Thompson loves to bring the pressure from different angles in his aggressive scheme but if the linebackers miss tackles the secondary is left out to dry, which has happened too often this season in the early going. It’s also been difficult replacing David Mayo at his strongside outside backer spot as he was drafted in the 5th round by the Carolina Panthers. Tim Gay (5’11, 248, Sr.) is a converted running back who is now playing the “Stinger” (or strong side) linebacker position but has only 10 tackles through three games. Trey McGowan (6’0, 247, Sr.) has 15 tackles, with a forced and recovered fumble, from his “Mike” position. Easy Anyama (6’3, 220, So.) is a converted safety who’s playing the “Wolf” or weakside outside linebacker spot and has 10 tackles with a pass defended. The former Stafford Spartan (my alma mater on the southwest side of Houston) ran track at the University of Texas before transferring to San Marcos before last season. Athletic genes run in his family as he has three brothers who played major college football including Shelter (who played for the Bobcats during the 07-08 seasons), Boris and Best (both of whom played at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2010-14). Best was cut by the Atlanta Falcons during the pre-season.
Damani Alexcee (6’2, 195, Jr.) leads the defense in both tackles (17 including 3 for loss) and sacks with 2 from his “rover” or nickel position. Dila Rosemond (5’10, 175, So.) is fourth on the team with 13 tackles from his free safety spot. Brandon McDowell (5’10, 183, So.) took over for the aforementioned Mager at boundary corner and has 8 tackles with a pass defended and a recovered fumble. David Mims II (5’11, 188, Sr.) is the Sunbelt Preseason Player of the Year after being named to the conference’s All-First defensive team last season with 5 interceptions and 48 tackles. As their ‘shutdown’ corner, Mims has only one pass defended as teams rarely thrown his way but he is tied for second with 15 tackles as Thompson will run blitz using his corners quite often.
If I were Coogs first year offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, you would see much the same game plan as you did versus Tennessee Tech when the Coogs rushed for 266 yards behind 101 yards on 14 carries with 2 scores from QB Greg Ward Jr.(5’11, 185, Jr.). The next week at Louisville Ward almost hit the century mark again with 98 yards on another 21 carries. Ward has completed 73.3-percent of his passes (44-for-60) for 511 yards (255.5 yards per game) with 5 TDs through the air to only 1 interception. Overall offensively the Coogs are averaging 43 points per game with 541.5 yards total offense (295.5 yards passing and 246 yards rushing).
Running back Kenneth Farrow (5’10, 220, Sr.) should easily surpass the 100-yard mark against the Bobcats smaller defensive line, many up the middle on inside-zone power runs as he rushed for 109 yards on 27 carries at Louisville a week after struggling against Tennessee Tech when he rushed for only 49. According to the Coogs depth chart, Javin Webb (5’10, 190, Sr.) has overtaken Ryan Jackson (5’10, 195, Sr.) as the backup after averaging 7.3 yards per carry (51 yards on 7 carries) with 2 TDs. Herman has mentioned that Webb has a quicker and more explosive burst through the hole as Jackson has only rushed for 41 yards on 10 carries with a score. Wide receiver Demarcus Ayers (5’11, 180, Jr.) has added 43 yards on the ground on 7 carries, many coming on speed sweeps, option pitches or zone-read handoffs after motioning into the backfield from out wide. Farrow and Jackson had a combined 27 yards on only 5 carries during that previously mentioned 2012 matchup.
The game plan for Applewhite should include heavy doses of the run game much like in their season opening victory versus Tennessee Tech as the Bobcats are also severely outmanned up front with their front-4 averaging only 263 pound to 300 pounds for the Cougars offensive line of Marcus Oliver (6’3, 295, So.), Carter Wall (6’4, 300, Sr.), Colton Freeman (6’4, 300, RFr.), Alex Cooper (6’4, 305, Sr.) and Zach Johnson (6’7, 315, Sr.) from left to right tackle. With the late injury to left guard Ben Dew (6’4, 315, Sr.) at Louisville (torn toe ligament), Wall slides from right to left guard with Cooper moving from right tackle to guard and Johnson taking his place at right tackle. Cooper is a fifth year senior and Johnson started 11 games at right tackle during the 2013 season so it’ll be interesting to see how much they gel in such a short amount of time coming off of their bye week. After playing sparingly against Louisville, look for tight end Tyler McCloskey (6’2, 245, Jr.) to have more of a role against the Bobcats, especially in the run blocking game.
Ward has been more adept at passing on either called roll-outs or on scrambles once the pocket has broken down. Ayers has been his main target so far on the young season in both receptions (18) and yards (174). Chance Allen (6’3, 215, Jr.) is the deep threat, averaging 15.3 yards per reception but has only caught 7 passes as Ward has just missed the Oregon transfer on several deep posts, most off of play-action. The surprise of the core has been Kyle Postma (6’3, 205, So.) as the former QB has run clean routes on his way to 96 yards off of 5 receptions to go along with a TD. Steven Dunbar (6’3, 210, So.) has still shown inconsistency each game. He didn’t have reception versus against Tennessee Tech but contributed 54 yards on 4 receptions including a beautifully run corner route for a 29-yard TD for the first score of the game at Louisville last week. Linell Bonner (6’0, 200, So.) and Isaiah Johnson (6’4, 205, RFr.) also need to continue to show improvement to take the heat solely off of Ayers as both have 4 receptions for 53 and 29 yards respectively, with Bonner adding a TD on a 22-yard pass from Ward on a scramble drill last week.
Another key Saturday night will be special teams. Brandon Williams changed the complexion of the game at Louisville with an ill-advised return (per Herman) that turned into a 100-yard kickoff return for a score giving the Coogs the second half momentum they needed. Minus that return, Williams has returned his other 6 for a 21-yard average. Ayers has returned 3 punts for an 8.3 yard average. Brandon Smith has returned 11 kicks for a 21.6 yard average with a long of 33 for the Bobcats. Brandon McDowell meanwhile, returned a 95-yard punt for a score two weeks ago versus Prairie View A&M. His other 4 punts have been returned for an 8.8 yard average.
Lumi Kaba (6’2, 182, Jr.) has a 71-percent touchback percentage on kickoffs (15 touchbacks on 21 kickoffs) for the Bobcats, ranking him 11th nationally. Opponents have returned kickoffs for an average of 42 yards on their 6 returns with a high of 59. The Tyler JC transfer also is 39th nationally averaging 42.5 yards on his 12 punts, booming 2 at least 50+ yards and pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line twice. Bobcats’ opponents have averaged only 4.2 yards per return on 5 punt returns.
For the Coogs, Logan Piper (6’0, 200, Sr.) would rank 17th nationally with his 45.1 yard average but doesn’t have enough punts to qualify with only 7. Coach Herman and special teams coach Jason Washington would be happy if Piper doesn’t qualify come seasons end as it obviously means the offense has been highly successful. Ty Cummings (6’0, 185, So.) has 6 touchbacks on 16 kickoffs and the Coogs kickoff return units have allowed opponents to return 9 kicks for a 20 yard average with a high of 36. Herman prefers his kickers to keep the ball in play on kickoffs, allowing his coverage units (composed mainly of starters) to tackle returners inside the 20-yard line, as opposed to the touchback which places the ball at the 25-yard line.
Field goals have been problematic for both teams thus far on the young season with Kyle Bullard (6’1, 190, Sr.) having missed two last week, shanking one from only 26 yards. Overall he’s connected on 3 of his 5 but nearly 76-percent for his career (25-of-33). James Sherman (5’10, 175, RFr.) has connected on his only attempt, a 26-yarder at Florida State as he’s the ‘short’ field goal kicker for the Bobcats. Kaba meanwhile, has missed on 3 of his 5, from 33 and 38 yards out as the ‘long’ kicker.
Keys to the Game
As always with the Coogs, turnover margin is one major key as the defense has forced 5 turnovers through 2 games (3 interceptions with 2 fumble recoveries). The “Third Ward Defense” is at a plus-3 this season, ranking them 14th nationally. Jones is a smart QB but has that gunslinger mentality thinking he can get the ball into small windows, so the Bobcats passing game versus the Houston secondary will be an interesting matchup. For the season Texas State has turned the ball over 3 times, all on fumbles. Defensively they’ve forced 4 (all on fumble recoveries). Their plus-1 ranks them tied for 50th nationally. The Bobcats defense also allows opposing offenses to convert third downs at a 53-percent clip (23-for-43), ranking them 123rd (out of 128 FBS teams). The Coogs meanwhile convert third downs at a 43-percent clip (49th).
The Coogs convert 60-percent of their redzone opportunities into TDs (6-of-10), while the Bobcats convert 67-percent of theirs (10-of-15). Each team has basically been in the redzone 5 times each game, with the Bobcats having played one more game accounting for the extra 5 trips. Bobcats’ opponents score at a 73-percent clip (11-of-15) with the Coogs defense allowing opponents to cross the goal line at 63-percent (5-of-8). Which team can score “7’s” instead of “3’s” when inside the 20 will go a long way in determining who wins this game.
While both teams have a lot of firepower offensively, the Coogs defense will force more turnovers giving the offense a shorter field to work with. Even with a revamped offensive line, the power ground game of Houston will control the game and eventually wear the smaller and inexperienced Bobcats defense out. And while as dynamic as Jones is for Texas State, Greg Ward Jr. for Houston is even more unpredictable in Michael Vick-type running plays.
Final Prediction: Houston 45 Texas State 24