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September 1st, 2010
Texas State football team: Different or not?

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Head football coach Brad Wright is entering his fourth season running the Bobcats. Texas State sports information photo.

STAFF REPORT

We’ll finally get a look at the Texas State football team Saturday night. Then, maybe, we can get beyond semantics. Until then, all anyone can do is talk about how the Bobcats will look with an experienced defense and a new quarterback in a different style.

By the meanings of those words, a fan might expect a different kind of football team than the 2009 Bobcats, who struggled defensively and only went as far as record-setting passer Bradley George could take them. But many words in football amount to nonsense, and these could be proved just as wrong as the Bobcats pursue their third straight winning record.

For the record, Texas State head coach Brad Wright doesn’t want or believe he has a different kind of football team, which doesn’t mean he thinks experience on defense and inexperience at quarterback won’t make a difference this season. But those differences are just in the facets. On the whole, said Wright, “We’re going to be the same type of football team.”

Wright is speaking to an approach to football, a sense of discipline that made the Bobcats the least penalized team in the Southland Conference last season. The philosophies don’t change. But the players change, and that’s the difference.

And it will be a considerable difference for the Bobcats when they line up at Houston Saturday night (7 p.m.) to begin the new season.  Recruitment, fortune and the process of time have created the appearance that Texas State will be entirely different in its execution, if not in its plan.

Defensive coordinator Fred Bleil and his staff entered a lousy situation in 2008, inheriting a Texas State defense that could be counted on to give up two or three big plays per game. Bit by bit, the Bobcats have tightened it up in the last two years. By the end of last season, the Bobcats turned up defensive standard with their 28-7 win against Stephen F. Austin during which they stifled quarterback Jeremy Moses.

Now, the Bobcats come back with nine starters on defense, depth on the defensive line, depth and experience at the linebackers and even more depth and experience in the defensive backfield. They still gave up 415.7 yards per game last year, but continuity matters in football, especially on defense.

Whether the Bobcats have assembled enough continuity to succeed on Saturday is a further question. They will go against, perhaps, the most productive quarterback in the history of college football in Houston’s Case Keenum. Entering the season, Keenum needs but 3,170 total yards to become the NCAA’s all-time total offense leader, and only 4,123 passing yards to become the NCAA’s all-time passing leader. The discrepancy occurs because the holder of both records, Hawaii’s Timmy Chang (2000-04), passed for 17,072 yards and rushed for minus-162 yards, coming in with 16,910 in total offense.

Keenum passed for 5,671 yards last year, 405.07 yards per game, leading the Cougars to a 10-3 record and an appearance in the Armed Forces Bowl. In two years with Kevin Sumlin as head coach, the Cougars are 18-9, extending their home winning streak at Robertston Stadium to 15 games.

The Cougars are on the verge of breaking into the national rankings, 27th in votes received in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll and 30th in the Associated Press media poll. As of last week, season ticket sales were up from 6,300 to 10,700. So, the Cougars come into this one with big ideas and the guns to back them up. The question is how far the Bobcats can back them down.

Wright said he expects a great deal of improvement in his defense.  If it comes together all at once, perhaps the Bobcats can launch a surprise. They have 131 games worth of returning starts on the defense among nine players.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have played in a lot of games,” Wright said. “Plays start to get made. That’s what you’re starting to see now.”

Plays on offense are another matter. The quarterback, sophomore Tim Hawkins, has never made a college start at the position. The running back situation is in flux. A team that has been able to at least move the ball, one way or another, for a couple years, now looks like it could be in for some growing pains.

Wright said Hawkins, being more versatile than George, opens up the playbook.

“He’s getting better at all of it,” Wright said.

But better than what? Hawkins has only 29 career touches, breaking down to 20 carries for 165 yards and nine passes (five completed) for 36 yards.

At the very least, a running threat at quarterback is a plus for a team with little solidity at running back. Karrington Bush, Frank Reddic and Marcus Curry are all going through injury problems. Fullback is up in the air now that Jeff McVaney has left the team to concentrate on baseball.

The most mystifying case is Bush, about whom Wright offered very little clarity Tuesday. A knee injury put Bush out of commission halfway through last season, then he ran into legal problems during the spring. Indications had it that Bush would be ready for practice in the fall, but he has not been a factor and, said Wright about Bush, “Right now, he will not be playing.”

But the rest of them will be. It remains to be seen if those who remain can start the season with a big upset on the road.

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