San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 31st, 2008
Bobcats bring in Northwestern State for SLC playoff lead

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

Maybe the tide truly is turning for Texas State football. But with Texas State, there’s always that “maybe.”

After three wins in their last four games, the Bobcats still drag that “maybe” around like a piece of tissue paper stuck to their shoes. Just based on street conversations, believers and skeptics are about even on this football team, but the believers are gaining.

The Bobcats can gain a lot more believers Saturday afternoon, when Northwestern State visits Bobcat Stadium (3 p.m.) in a game that will, at last, break a tie in the race for the Southland Conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs. Texas State and Northwestern State both are 2-1 in the league. Though both trail Central Arkansas (3-0), the Bears are ineligible while they transition to Division I.

As always – and Head Coach Brad Wright alludes to this constantly – the Bobcats are fighting against perceptions deeply rooted in their history. Incredibly, their 5-3 record ties for their second best performance through eight games since they went to Division I in 1987.

Their best such performance came in 2005, when they went to the NCAA semifinals. The Bobcats also reached 5-3 in 1990, 1991 and 2000. That means the Bobcats have been .500 or worse at this point of the season 18 times in their 22 years of Division I football.

So, the believers see a football team playing for a strong shot at a playoff berth, while the skeptics see all that history. Wright sees something quite different, an improving football team needing still more improvement.

“We’re getting better,” Wright said. “We’ve had spurts where we played well on offense. Defensively, last week (a 62-21 win at Stephen F. Austin) was our best performance … You wish every week would be like, but we’ve become more consistent all the way around and we’re becoming a better football team.”

By every account, the Bobcats played their best game of the year at Stephen F. Austin. Excepting an uneven performance against Central Arkansas’ tough defense on Oct. 18, the Bobcats have found their stride offensively, twice topping 60 points since Bradley George returned to quarterback against Texas Southern on Oct. 4.

Just as important, if not more so, the Bobcats are coming around defensively. They pretty well stopped McNeese for three quarters in a 48-45 win on Oct. 11, all parties in the Bobcat camp agreed that the defense played well enough to beat Central Arkansas, and the defense did its job during key junctures at SFA.

The Bobcats have improved their rushing defense this year, allowing 148.75 yards per game to rank 61st, right about in the middle of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Last season, they allowed 190.27 rushing yards per game to rate 83rd.

Another sign of improvement, as well as a sign of how the Bobcats can improve more, lies in their defensive performance when opponents advance to their 20 or closer. The Bobcats rank ninth nationally in red zone defensive efficiency, allowing 24 scores in 37 tries, a 64.9 scoring percentage. Opponents have scored 21 touchdowns and three field goals on those trips. As the Bobcats tighten up defensively on the shorter field, it gives a clear sign that they need more speed in the open field.

More good news emerges in that department, though. Cornerback Will Thompson returned from injury to play against Central Arkansas, and cornerback Morris Crosby came back against SFA. So, the Bobcats might be in the middle of markedly improving their defense.

“We hope so,” Wright said. “The only thing that’s going to tell that is the end of the year and we’ll see if there’s been some consistency. A game and a half doesn’t make you a good defense, but, hopefully, we’re going the right direction.”

Meanwhile, Texas State fans can enjoy the most productive offense in the FCS. The Bobcats moved to the top of the national yardage rankings with 678 yards at SFA, improving their average to 484 yards for the season. Texas State also ranks sixth in scoring offense at 38.36 points per game.

Running back Karrington Bush continues his big-play propensity, averaging 9.9 yards per carry to lead the nation. Bush is well on track for his second 1,000-yard season in his sophomore year, rushing for 716 yards in Texas State’s first eight games. Bush also leads the country with 193.75 all-purpose yards per game.

George is up to fourth in national passing efficiency with a rating of 167.9 after completing 25 of 35 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns at SFA. A junior, George now ranks third in all-time passing yardage at Texas State with 5,234. David Williams (1994-97) is second at 6,677. In his last four games, George has completed 88 of 130 throws for 1,314 yards and 13 touchdowns with only one interception.

Cameron Luke remains the most likely touchdown target, setting the school record with his 13th scoring catch of the season at SFA. Luke ranks second nationally in touchdowns catches, sixth in receiving yards (109.5 per game) and 19th in receptions (6.25 per game).

That high-powered offense will have to be at its best against Northwestern State, which passes for the best defense in the high-flying SLC by allowing an average of 362.1 yards per game.

The Demons are cut from a different mold than most SLC teams, relying on their defense and running game to record a 5-3 performance. Running back Byron Lawrence leads the Northwestern State attack with 737 rushing yards.

“They play defense and keep the ball away from the other team,” Wright said. “We had about 15 possessions last weekend and we’ll be lucky to have eight to ten this week. We have to stop the run this week and take advantage of every situation we have on offense.”

If the Bobcats can do that, they can go a long way toward knocking that “maybe” off their shoes. And, by the way, strengthening their shot at the NCAA playoffs.

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