By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
Brad Wright is in only his second year as a head coach at the collegiate level, but he’s been around football long enough to be worried this week.
Wright sees signs that the mentality of his football team will be revealed Saturday night, when his Texas State Bobcats play Southern Utah at Bobcat Stadium (6 p.m.). One might say that a small moment of truth lies right there in front of him and his players.
Following Wednesday afternoon’s practice, Wright bemoaned the “culture of losing” at “my university,” from which he graduated in 1981 after playing for highly competitive teams under Bill Miller and Jim Wacker. Back then, the football program developed a culture of winning.
A lot has changed since the formerly named Southwest Texas State won Division II national titles in 1981 and 1982. A culture of winning became a culture of losing. Here’s where that culture of losing either surfaces or begins to fade from view.
The Bobcats (2-1) are coming off a 38-35 win at Northern Colorado, their first non-conference road victory since 2001. The Bobcats totaled 422 yards of offense, scored the first two times they had the ball, and were lucky to win.
The Texas State defense turned in a decidedly mixed performance, allowing 592 yards of offense, but also producing five turnovers, two of which set up touchdowns and another of which directly produced a touchdown.
But no turnover generated by the Bobcats defense loomed larger than the last, when Northern Colorado set up at the Texas State one-yard line with 19 seconds left, needing a touchdown to win and a field goal to force overtime. That’s when Texas State linebacker Courtney Smith dived over his defensive line surge, put his hat on the ball to pop it away from Northern Colorado quarterback Bryan Waggener, and cradled the loose ball to save the day.
So, now the Bobcats are glowing in a clutch win that took a seven-year-old monkey off their backs, and the next opponent comes in with three straight losing seasons and a 1-3 record after losses to Air Force, FCS power Montana and Northern Arizona. And Wright is asking himself: Does his football team understand – really understand – that the last win wasn’t really that great, and the next opponent isn’t really that bad?
“Only time will tell if the win in Northern Colorado is something we can build on,” Wright said this week. “We had several different ways to win through four periods, and we went with the last one … It depends on how our kids handle it. If they see that we have a ways to go and that we still have a lot of work to do, that will put us on the right path. If they think they should be patting themselves on the back too much, we could be in trouble.”
To be sure, Southern Utah is no kind of a powerhouse. The Thunderbirds finished 0-11 last year and claim only five wins since 2004, their last winning season.
Then again, Southern Utah doesn’t have to be a powerhouse to beat Texas State. A 3-8 Southern Utah team beat the Bobcats 30-21 in 2006, a 4-7 Southern Utah team beat the Bobcats 31-28 in 2003, and a 4-7 Southern Utah team beat the Bobcats 41-27 in 1996. Texas State last beat Southern Utah in 2005, when its Division I-AA semifinal team hung the Thunderbirds with a 34-0 defeat.
As always, the Bobcats will have to improve their pass defense, which is back in the rankings basement at 114th out of 118 championship division teams by allowing 329.67 yards per game. Northern Colorado torched the Bobcats for a 75-yard touchdown pass at the end of the third quarter last week, tying the game at 35-35.
However, Smith played an excellent game to be named Southland Conference defensive player of the week. Smith made 12 tackles, eight of them solo, including an eight-yard sack, while also returning an interception nine yards and forcing the game-saving fumble.
“It was a bend but don’t break defense,” said Smith, who appeared to understand that he was stretching the euphemism. “When you play a good offense, you will see plays, but we have to get better.”
Offensively, Wright was pleased with most of Clint Toon’s work in his first start at quarterback. Toon completed 18 of 36 passes for 227 yards, along with a touchdown and an interception. Toon spread the ball around to nine different receivers. Cameron Luke led the way with four catches for 70 yards, while Alvin Canady made four catches for 50 yards.
“There are things that (Toon) does right, and there are things that he does wrong,” Wright said. “The great thing about him is that he knows what he does wrong and when he does it, you don’t see it again.”
Junior quarterback Bradley George, the starter for the last two seasons and for the first two games of this one, didn’t throw a pass against Northern Colorado. Toon will start again Saturday after George’s struggles in the first two games of this season.Email | Print