The Texas State defense mostly surrounded Cal Poly ball carriers in a 21-12 win Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
The Texas State football team returned to its loop Saturday night and reminded the world that it belongs there, taking down No. 17 California Polytechnic, 21-12, at Bobcat Stadium.
After two weeks of playing against the best offense in Division I and the worst offense in Division II, the Bobcats finally lined up against one of their own, a “Division 1A” nationally ranked team, which is the level the Bobcats have achieved for the last two seasons. And they showed that they’re worthy of it again Saturday night in a solid performance.
The Bobcats improved to 2-1 with the win against Cal Poly, which entered the game off a 35-33 win last week over top-ranked Montana. The win put the Texas State season into focus, partially ratified their three-year commitment to a defensive approach and established that the Bobcats can beat the kind of team they need to beat if they are to make this season memorable.
“After the Houston game (a 68-28 loss), you had a feeling,” Texas State head coach Brad Wright said. “After the Southern Arkansas game (a 31-17 win), you had another feeling. As long as our defense keeps playing like tonight … ”
The defense has been a long work in progress since 2007, Wright’s first year, when the Bobcats couldn’t stop anything or anybody from anywhere. In 2008, Wright brought in defensive coordinator Fred Bleil and his staff of assistants that have stayed put since then. It hasn’t been a miracle turnaround, but by last season they were able to clamp down on Stephen F. Austin quarterback Jeremy Moses.
After allowing 497 yards to Houston’s machine two weeks ago, the Bobcats gave up 193 to Southern Arkansas last week and 328 Saturday night to Cal Poly, which was averaging 338.5 yards. The Bobcats have only four takeaways in three games, but in the last two weeks they haven’t allowed big plays or many long drives.
“We’re coming together in little pieces, but we’re coming together,” said senior free safety Kenneth Hampton, a three-year starter.
The Cal Poly offense had its moments Saturday night, but they were few, and mostly involved in a nine-play touchdown drive in the third quarter that ended with the Mustangs’ only touchdown. The Mustangs fought hard for their 328 total yards, needing 80 plays to do it. Playing without starting quarterback Tony Smith, the Mustangs were ineffective in their passing game, completing 11 of 24 passes for 66 yards, fewer than three yards per attempt. Moreover, the Mustangs couldn’t make key passes near the goal line.
As the defense solidifies, the Texas State running game has blasted from the shadows of this preseason’s uncertainties. During fall drills, the Bobcats didn’t know who they would have from week to week, except that it wouldn’t be Karrington Bush. Saturday night, Bush and Dexter Imade were so effective that Frank Reddic couldn’t even get into the game.
Imade returned from injury with 95 yards in 16 rushes, while Bush rushed for 86 yards in 14 tries. Thus, the pressure was off freshman quarterback Tyler Arndt, under whose direction the passing game ended with nine completions in 14 attempts for 123 yards.
Wright said there was no specific reason for Reddic to not play. However, it was obvious to anyone watching the game that Bush and Imade were doing the job well enough. Wright said Reddic will get his turn.
“Every dog has his day,” Wright said. ” … When we’ll really be happy (with the depth at running back) is when we’re in the middle of the conference season and we have fresh legs.”
So unlike last season, when the Bobcats could only go as far as veteran quarterback Bradley George could take them, the Texas State team right now is solid enough on the ground to break in a true freshman quarterback.
With 522 total yards, three touchdown passes and four interceptions this season, Arndt isn’t lighting up the stat sheet. But it’s a good start when it’s combined with Arndt’s composure. He doesn’t work the team into confusion or hand the game to the other team by straining for transcendent moments on the field.
As the Bobcats kicked off in Houston two weeks ago, Arndt was just going to get some playing time. Now, he is becoming the position, as if he were supposed to be there all along. After leading Cuero to three straight appearances in Class 3A state championship games, Arndt plays quarterback as if he’s been doing it for a while.
“Can’t panic,” Arndt said when asked about the interception he threw Saturday night. “Just trust the offense, stick to the basics.”
Said Wright, “Tyler is one of those guys where you walk up to him and you don’t know if he just threw a touchdown or just threw an interception … He doesn’t know our whole offense yet, but he’s got a great grasp of how to play the game. We’re glad to have him.”
The Bobcats never had it going better than on their second possession of the game, when they whisked to a 7-0 lead by moving 71 yards in three plays. The first two were Arndt completions of 28 yards to Daren Dillard and six yards to Corey Scott. The last was Bush’s 37-yard touchdown run.
The defense responded with its own assertiveness after Cal Poly’s Mark Rodgers returned the ensuing kickoff 65 yards to the Texas State 20. The Bobcats held Cal Poly to four yards in the next three plays and the Mustangs settled for a 32-yard field goal by Jake West.
The Texas State offense put on another good show on its next drive, going 52 yards in eight plays before Justin Garelick missed a 45-yard field goal.
Through the first quarter, the Bobcats had 148 yards and looked to be on their way to a big night offensively. But the offense died in the second quarter, when it totaled eight yards. The low point came when Cal Poly failed to convert a fourth down and the Bobcats took over on the visitors’ 49 with 3:54 left in the half. Given a chance to pressure the opponent, the Bobcats couldn’t throw a punch. They punted three plays later from the 44.
However, the Cal Poly offense wasn’t going anywhere, either, totaling 126 yards in the first half. At halftime, the Bobcats held a 7-3 lead.
Early in the third quarter, Cal Poly established the advantage in field position and took over at the Texas State 48. The Texas State defense did not give in. It was only because of a holding call against the Bobcats that Cal Poly was able to hold the ball for 11 plays and 32 yards before settling for West’s 33-yard field goal to make it 7-6.
The Bobcats came back at Cal Poly with a power running game as they marched 72 yards in nine plays, including a 30-yard run by Bush and a 26-yard run by Imade, who also covered the final two yards for a touchdown to make it 14-6.
Appreciating a good idea, Cal Poly discarded its esoteric designs and went to a power running game on its next possession, producing its best offensive work of the night. Jordan Yocum went through the middle three times for 39 yards and quarterback Doug Shumway rushed four times for 20 yards, including the final yard for a touchdown.
Twice during the nine-play, 74-yard drive, Shumway completed tiny passes on second and short. But when the Mustangs needed a pass for a two-point conversion to tie the game, they couldn’t complete it. Thus, the Bobcats maintained a 14-12 lead at the end of the third period.
On their next possession, the Bobcats moved quickly from their own 22 to the Cal Poly 32, thanks to holding and facemasking penalties against the defense, along with Arndt’s 16-yard pass to Da’Marcus Griggs. After the Bobcats reciprocated with an illegal motion penalty, Imade rumbled through the middle to a 37-yard touchdown. With the point kick by Garelick, the Bobcats held a 21-12 lead with 13:01 left in the game, barely out of Cal Poly’s reach in one possession.
The Bobcats controlled the remainder of the game with field position and defense. Thus ended a brisk game, polished off in 2:45 before 12,236 paying customers on the Texas State campus.
Saturday night’s win gave the Bobcats some definition. If this team aspires to distinguish itself, the opportunity is at hand next Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium against Southern Utah (6 p.m.).
In 2008 and 2009, the Bobcats finished with winning records back-to-back for the first time since 1991. In each of those two years, the Bobcats finished in the national rankings, winning a conference title and going to the playoffs one of those years. And in each of those two seasons, the Bobcats have lost to Southern Utah.