By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
The day after his Texas State Bobcats absorbed their disappointing 34-31 overtime loss at home against Northwestern State last Saturday, head coach Brad Wright saw a good sign.
The players showed up Sunday ready for work. They appeared to be taking themselves and their season very seriously, declining to wallow in a tough defeat. And Wright will tell you the Bobcats need exactly that approach, because their game today at Southeastern Louisiana is as important as ever following last Saturday’s loss.
“That’s why we changed the offseason back in February, trying to teach them how to work,” Wright said. “If you work hard, you get results, and if you don’t work hard, you get results, too. It’s fragile. It could still go in any direction. The players showed up Sunday in a ticked off mood understanding that good things could be ahead of us if we do what we’re supposed to do.”
The Bobcats (5-4 overall, 2-2 Southland Conference) will try to right themselves today at Southeastern Louisiana (2 p.m., Time-Warner Channel 77), They remain in the SLC playoff race, though they now need help because they are behind Northwestern State (6-3, 3-1), having lost to that team. McNeese State, Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State are all 2-2 in the league, but the Bobcats have defeated McNeese and SFA.
Southeastern Louisiana (4-5, 1-3) shares the league basement with Sam Houston State (3-4, 1-3), but it is the only SLC team that has defeated Northwestern State, turning in a 26-21 win on Oct. 18.
In an SLC that’s much more evenly matched than anyone expected, game predictions are all but futile. In the league’s other games today, Sam Houston goes to Nicholls, Northwestern goes to Central Arkansas and SFA goes to McNeese. The one outcome with the most riding on it is the Central Arkansas-Northwestern game.
A win for Central Arkansas (7-2, 3-1) gives the Bears the best shot at the league championship while dropping Northwestern into the scrum with the 2-2 teams for the league playoff berth, since Central Arkansas is ineligible while it transitions to Division I. A win for Northewestern puts the Demons in the lead for both honors, though they will be on the road against McNeese and SFA in their last two games.
After today’s game at Southeastern, the Bobcats play at home against Nicholls, then finish at Sam Houston State. Three wins for the Bobcats could put them in the NCAA playoffs, but they also would need Northwestern to lose twice.
Beyond the playoff race, of course, the larger story is the effort up on the hill to develop a bowl-level football program. The Bobcats can keep working towards that, even if they don’t go to the postseason. It’s a matter of setting a base line of good, hard practices and showing up to play every game.
The Bobcats can certainly say they’ve done that for the last five weeks. Though they lost two of those five games, they were a play or two from winning both times. It’s not a long stretch of the imagination to think the Bobcats could be 5-0 in the league, which illustrates a long move up this season.
“We’ve made a move in the right direction,” Wright said. “Every team’s makeup is different, but I was proud that our guys fought through what could have been a mediocre day (against Northwestern State) and we should have won the football game … Did we lose? Yeah, we lost. Our kids didn’t play as well as they could, but they played as hard.”
Today’s game stands to bring a certain challenge, particularly for the Texas State defense, because Southeastern plays the game in disguise like few other teams. In the end, the general strategy is the same. They want to put the ball in the hands of running back Jay Lucas about 20 times per game. Lucas has rushed for 570 yards in 125 carries and caught 40 passes for 401 yards.
“They show up in every formation that you could possibly draw on a piece of paper of offense,” Wright said. “They run the same couple plays, trying to get it to Lucas as much as they can. Obviously, you have to stop Jay Lucas. He’s a big back and he’s explosive … Sometimes, they don’t give you a box. The main thing, you’ve got to know where (Lucas) is and you’ve got to defense him before you defense the rest of them.”
The good news for Texas State is that Southeastern doesn’t put quite the same emphasis on running the ball as Central Arkansas and Northwestern State, which both beat the Bobcats. And the Southeastern defense, multiple as it is, still has allowed 406.1 yards per game.
The Bobcats remain one of the country’s most potent offenses, though they fell from first to third in the national rankings this week after Northwestern State did a good job containing quarterback Bradley George, running back Karrington Bush and wide receiver Cameron Luke. The Bobcats average 469.33 yards per game.
But those kinds of numbers are quite secondary, and they’ll either have a lot more or a lot less meaning after today. As long as the standings remain meaningful, the yardage numbers won’t.Email | Print