By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
The Texas State Bobcats returned home Saturday night to play Southern Utah in a game that stood to reveal the local eleven’s mentality. If the Bobcats intended to demonstrate a tough-minded approach to football, the evening began and ended as a dismal failure.
In no aspect of the game were the Bobcats superior to Utah State, which finished last season 0-11. At the end of this 34-20 loss, the Bobcats were 2-2 and heading to the Southland Conference schedule without earning a shred of confidence from their public. The first half revealed porous defense, special teams misplays and a curious reticence about running the ball no matter how well it stood to work. The second half was even worse, except the refusal to run was more understandable.
The Thunderbirds went ahead by as much as 34-7 late in the third period before Texas State scored two touchdowns in garbage time to give the slight impression of making a comeback.
So poorly did Texas State perform that Head Coach Brad Wright took full responsibility, tearing into himself more directly than any critic for the team’s lack of preparedness to play one of only 12 games on its schedule.
“I can’t think about anything that was really good about what we did tonight,” Wright said. “Ultimately, it’s my fault as the head football coach. I didn’t do a good enough job of getting us prepared to play a football game. I failed this football team and I failed this university.”
After witnessing the thorough whipping the Texas State players absorbed, it might have been interesting to hear if any of the players available in the post-game press conference might man up and take responsibility for this debacle. However, a question to the players as to whether it really was the coach’s fault was ruled out by the athletic department’s publicity department because it didn’t arise within the prescribed players’ portion of the press conference.
Later, said linebacker Marcus Clark when asked about the defense’s performance, “The main thing today is heart and having the right mentality to make the right play.”
The Bobcats struggled after early injuries to cornerbacks Morris Crosby and Will Thompson compromised their plan to use four and five corners at a time against Southern Utah’s spread offense. But those injuries didn’t explain how the Bobcats made heroes of a previously anemic Southern Utah running attack.
Southern Utah (2-3) entered the game averaging 0.9 yards per rush, ranking 117th out of 118 championship division teams with 21.25 rushing yards per game. Against the Texas State, the Thunderbirds rushed 42 times for 199 yards, 4.73 yards per carry. After the game, first-year Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb gave a game ball to strength and conditioning coach Dan Bennion.
“Our offensive line has been a maligned unit,” Lamb said. “We made a lot of progress in one week.”
Disaster on the opening kickoff shouldn’t derail an ambitious football team, but Karrington Bush’s fumble of the kickoff Saturday night set the Bobcats on the path to despair. After Southern Utah recovered at the Texas State 18, the Thunderbirds scored in four plays, ending with Deckar Alexander’s eight-yard run.
“I was trying to catch the ball and run, and it went by me,” Bush said.
The Bobcats held onto the ensuing kickoff, immediately notched a first down on Mishak Rivas’ 12-yard run, then failed to turn up another first down on four running plays before turning it over on downs at the 50. Southern Utah converted the good field position into a 38-yard field goal by Steve Pulver for a 10-0 lead just 6:16 into the game.
From that point, though they still were in the game, the Bobcats all but abandoned the running game and put their fate into the hands of journeyman senior quarterback Clint Toon, who is in the lineup because two-year starter Bradley George has been unable to hang onto the ball.
After Bush ran five yards on first down to start Texas State’s second possession, the Bobcats threw passes on eight of their next ten plays, producing two first downs. They went back to the run early in the second quarter, first with Stan Zwinggi running nine yards for a first down, then with Bush going 52 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown to bring themselves within 17-7.
Aspirations of victory ended right about there for Texas State, which puzzled its public with play calling against an opponent it should have been able to handle physically. Consider that Southern Utah ranked 105th among championship division teams in run defense after ranking 94th last year, the Bobcats have a 1,000-yard rusher in Bush and two other good ones in Zwinggi and Alvin Canady, and they’re playing a quarterback who’s not in there to set passing records. Yet the play calling leaned towards passing in the first half of a winnable game.
For the first half, Texas State threw 17 passes, completing 11 for 87 yards (5.11 yards per play), and rushed 13 times for 96 yards (7.38 yards per play). Not only did the Bobcats frequently face long down-and-distance situations, but their inability to notch first downs exposed an injury-scathed defense whose presence on the field isn’t to be trusted even when it’s healthy.
“We have a couple of pretty stout guys up front and it might have been the right approach for them to throw the ball,” Lamb said. “Before anyone knew it, it was 17-0. If I were reading their minds, that’s what I’d say.”
Southern Utah finished the game with 369 yards of offense as Alexander rushed for 119 yards and quarterback Cody Stone threw for 170 yards with two touchdowns. The Texas State defense, a bugaboo for more than two years, also couldn’t pick up the offense after wide receiver Cameron Luke fumbled at his own 30 early in the third quarter. Stone threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Nick Miller on the next play, giving Southern Utah a 27-7 lead four minutes into the second half.
On Southern Utah’s next possession, Stone threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tysson Foots, giving the Thunderbirds their 34-7 lead. Thus, the game was long out of reach when Toon threw a 20-yard touchdown to Daren Dillard less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, then George threw a 20-yard touchdown to Luke with 3:39 left in the game.
The game thus ended as it began, except Texas State’s loss at that point became official, rather than predictable.
“We were very fortunate because the penalties went in our favor early in the game and the turnovers went in our favor early in the game,” Lamb said. “Our guys were able to take advantage.”
Wright knew even before the game what he could anticipate early in the game.
“I knew in the pre-game warm-up that we weren’t ready to play,” Wright said. “You know when they’re ready, and you know when they’re not. Again, that’s my responsibility.”
As Bobcat Stadium emptied into a San Marcos Saturday night, Wright’s assumption of responsibility suggested why he’s fighting against a culture of losing. Maybe, when the players take ownership of their own football team and responsibility for being ready to perform a mere 12 times per year, they’ll stop getting blown out in games like this.Email | Print