By BILL PETERSON
Those who follow the Texas State football team with any level of sympathy or expectation will hope for a decisive victory Saturday afternoon at Southern Utah, the team that really made the Bobcats respond to last season.
The Bobcats have shown convincingly since Sept. 27, 2008, that they’re not really the team that really had it handed to them in a 34-20 loss to Southern Utah at Bobcat Stadium. They won the Southland Conference, went to the playoffs, then started this year on a strong foot, cutting apart teams they should cut apart and losing at Texas Christian, which could happen to a lot of pretty good teams.
Along the way to the Southland Conference schedule, the Bobcats encounter a bit of unfinished business Saturday at Cedar City, UT for a 2 p.m. kickoff. This game is about score settling, rinsing a bad taste out of their mouths and, if nothing else, showing the guys on the other side of the ball what they’re about.
A year ago, when Texas State coach Brad Wright didn’t know from week to week if his team would be ready to play, he talked a lot about the intensity of every game. But that’s not a point Wright has to make right now.
“I think our team’s personality has changed,” said offensive tackle Calvin Gore, looking back on the progress since last year’s Southern Utah game. “We shouldn’t have lost that game, but we did.”
Said defensive end Travis Houston, “It was a big thing. We shouldn’t have lost to Southern Utah. We want to show them that we’re better.”
No wonder Wright seemed to downplay Saturday’s game. Wright said “It’s another game,” explaining that the team should prepare the same way for every game.
Southern Utah is 1-3 and hasn’t beaten a Division I team. The Thunderbirds had their way with Division II Dixie State, 38-7, but lost at San Diego State (35-19), at Northern Arizona (42-39) and at Utah State (53-35).
Unlike last year, though, the Thunderbirds don’t appear hapless entering the Texas State game. Last year, they came to San Marcos averaging 21.5 rushing yards per game and 0.9 yards per carry. Now, the Thunderbirds average a respectable 4.0 yards per carry and 143.0 rushing yards per game, and they throw two times as much.
Quarterback Cade Cooper has an efficiency score of 137.91, compared with 133.69 for Texas State’s Bradley George. Cooper’s average game this year is 22 for 36 with 255 yards and two or three touchdowns against one interception.
Southern Utah’s real problem is a defense allowing 452.2 yards per game, including 177.2 per game on the ground and 10.8 yards allowed per pass attempt. On the plus side, the Thunderbirds have recovered seven fumbles.
So if the Bobcats hang onto the ball, Saturday stacks up as a productive day for their offense, which stacked up 525 total yards last Saturday in a 52-18 home win against Texas Southern and could bring back Karrington Bush. Wright said Bush, who has missed all but the first series of the season with a knee injury, will come back depending on his health and how well he practiced. Alvin Canady gave the Bobcats Bush’s kind of production last week, rushing for 116 yards in 14 attempts as the team rushed for 200 yards.
George became the school’s all-time leading passer by yardage last week, arriving at 7,287 yards. The Bobcats rank ninth in the FCS with 290.7 passing yards per game, and they’re fourth nationally in scoring offense at 40.33 points per game, even after a game at TCU.
The Cameron Luke question has been answered by Da’Marcus Griggs, who averages seven catches for 87 yards per game, and Daren Dillard, who averages 3.67 catches for 44 yards. Griggs reached career marks with ten catches for 142 yards against Texas Southern.
The Bobcats rank 98th in total defense, giving up 412.67 yards per game. Especially troubling is the pass defense, which ranks 112th with 285 yards per game. The most direct path to improvement, Wright indicated, is improvement in the pass rush, which is 81st with four sacks in three games.
“The best pass defense is a good pass rush,” said Wright about the approach of dealing with Southern Utah’s passing game.
“If we can get in his face, he can make his own mistakes,” Houston said about Cooper.
If the Bobcats come off the ball like a team with a grudge, that might be how they settle it, which would be another step. The Bobcats are 0-3 in Cedar City, lost five of nine in the series and haven’t beaten Southern Utah since Sept. 10, 2005.