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

September 4th, 2009
Bobcats look for hammer in football opener

Executive Editor

As the Texas State Bobcats open their season Saturday, hopes are high that the season will go at least as well as last year. And that the opener will go much better.

Like last season, the opposition for Saturday’s opener at Bobcat Stadium is Division II Angelo State, which gave the Bobcats more than they wanted in 2008. The Bobcats won that game, 21-14, but no one was impressed.

Before 13,952, the largest home crowd in two years to that point, the Bobcats trailed, 14-7, through three quarters. The Bobcats finally won the game on a one-yard touchdown run by Blake Burton with 1:48 left, after Cameron Luke made a tough catch while taking a brutal hit at the three.

In the end, the Bobcats escaped. It certainly helped that Angelo State kicker Ryan Smith missed all three of his field goal attempts, none longer than 36 yards.

Said Texas State coach Brad Wright after the game, “It’s one of those days where I think we had Division II-itis. I think we went at it not to lose instead of to win.”

A lot of water has gone under the Sewell Park bridge since that game. The Bobcats were losers before that evening, coming off two straight losing seasons, and they weren’t much more than that when the game ended. Somewhere between then and now, though, they became winners.

The Bobcats rallied to win six of their last eight regular season games to take the Southland Conference and qualify for the NCAA playoffs. The league title somehow made the previous two years of losing less consequential, as the Bobcats now could define themselves as a playoff team in two of the last four seasons.

Quarterback Bradley George, who played so poorly against Angelo State last year that Wright benched him, responded with such explosiveness later in the season that the Bobcats ended the year ranked seventh among Bowl Championship Subdivision (FCS) teams in scoring offense (36.38 points per game) and eighth in total offense (487.45 yards per game). The defense, though it never rose to greatness, played well enough to give the team chances to win.

And now, a year after that barely-winning performance against a Division II foe at Bobcat Stadium, the program’s aura is much different. The university will announce a huge athletic department donation before the game. The pre-game festivities will include tours of the stadium’s upgraded west side, which includes 15 luxury suites and 450 club seats as stadium capacity has expanded to 16,000.

The national preseason polls have room for Texas State, with the Sports Network ranking the Bobcats 20th and the FCS coaches poll putting them at No. 21.

George is back for his senior year, looking forward to working with a group of receivers, which, he said, is the deepest and fastest he has had at Texas State. Four of five starting offensive lineman from one of the very best FCS offenses are back, and the main man they’re blocking for, junior running back Karrington Bush, already has two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt.

The defense returns five starters, and, more important, it comes back playing in the same scheme as the year before, which has become something of a rarity at Texas State. The entire coaching staff is back intact, which is next to unheard of anywhere and especially unlikely at Texas State, considering that coaches are upwardly mobile and they must have been valuable after working last year’s turnaround.

Now, how can all of this possibly go wrong?

That’s the little bug-a-boo that flits about Aquarena Springs Drive and Post Road, because the Bobcats have made their share of jilting memories in recent seasons, and the possibility of another one Saturday evening is the elephant in the room. Too often, the Bobcats have brought too little force to games like this, games in which form says they should win, games like last year’s opener against Angelo State. Too often, the Bobcats played as if they thought they could get by with a stomp, when they really needed a hammer.

“You want to bring a hammer to every game,” Wright said earlier this week. “That’s the point I’ve been trying to make to these young men. You have to be ready for every game.”

Making the matter a little more rugged for Texas State is that Angelo State will go into this one with a game already played. Thus, the first game, with its jitters and foibles, is out of the way for Angelo State, which beat Texas A&M-Commerce, 21-7, last Saturday in San Angelo.

The Rams defense registered five sacks against Commerce while allowing only 34 rushing yards. However, no great offensive weapons emerged for Angelo State, save for the return of quarterback Josh Neiswander, who completed 18 of 34 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Neiswander tore up Texas State last year, completing 18 of 25 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was injured late in the game and missed the remainder of the season.

As always, Wright expressed his concerns about playing a Division II school, which has nothing to lose against the likes of Texas State. More troubling for Wright, from the competitive standpoint, is that Division II schools can take on athletes without worrying so much about their academic merits.

“Our grade point averages are higher,” was how Wright put it earlier this week.

The bigger factor in this game could be a matter of which team’s interior lines are heavier. The Bobcats average 300 pounds across their offensive front, compared with only 245 across their defensive front. Meanwhile, all the returning letter winners on the San Angelo offensive line weigh at least 270 pounds (five of them weigh 290 or more), while the lightest returner to the San Angelo defensive line weighs 245 and most are between 250 and 260.

But there can’t be any comparison between the skill players on the two teams. If no more than a half-dozen FCS teams can match Texas State’s offensive candle power, then Angelo State shouldn’t be able to keep up, according to common sense.

But this isn’t about common sense. It’s about football, and whether the Bobcats will bring their hammer to Bobcat Stadium, where construction in the box seats, the weight room and the practice field bring in the 2009 opener with much more anticipation than a year ago.

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