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

October 14th, 2010
Bobcats look to bounce back against Nicholls

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Texas State kicker Justin Garelick has made all 20 of his point-after attempts this season. Texas State sports information photo.

STAFF REPORT

As the word today goes, Texas State’s 49-24 football loss at Southeastern Louisiana last Saturday is “unspinnable.”

Even the good news turned mysterious in that loss, during which the Bobcats, in need of an occasional defensive stop, gave up 493 total yards, 368 of them and five touchdowns through the air. Two Texas State running backs averaging more than 84 yards each combined for 101 yards. The freshman quarterback, charged for the first time with taking his team over the hill, struggled in that first public learning experience.

Then, Texas State head coach Brad Wright popped in the tape and was surprised by what he saw. He said it wasn’t a lack of effort.

“There wasn’t a lack of getting after it,” Wright said. “You expect to see, you know … But the effort was there.”

So, if the effort was there, how could the execution have gone so awry? Was a 1-3 Southeastern Louisiana team going into the game that good? How will the Bobcats respond to this new, must-win stage of the season as they attempt to navigate an extremely unpredictable Southland Conference?

The answers to these and other questions will at least be teased Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium (6 p.m.), when a new-look Nicholls State operation will come looking for a big score with its spread-out passing offense.

In the last three full seasons, only one Southland Conference team, McNeese State, has finished in the top half of the league every year. No team has finished in the bottom half every year. Three different teams have won the league and two more have finished in the top two.

The Bobcats, who have finished in the top three in each of the last two years, aren’t immune from instability at the top of the league. And that’s what they face if they can’t keep the lid on a Nicholls State offense that is fighting through its transition from the option. A loss would make the Bobcats 0-2 in the league with games still to come against Central Arkansas, McNeese State and Stephen F. Austin (SFA), all of which are in the national rankings.

Nicholls State now is under the guidance of Charlie Stubbs, a 31-year coach who has worked all over the map of college football. He broke in on the staff of Brigham Young’s 1984 national championship team and won plaudits such as Southeastern Conference Offensive Coordinator of the Year at Alabama in 1999. In 2008, Stubbs dipped down to Division II to become head coach at Central Missouri, where the Mules led their conference in passing both years he was there.

But the Colonels have begun this season at 1-4, and they are a long way from leading the Southland Conference in passing. In fact, they are last, all games considered, completing only 45.2 percent of their throws and reaching just 125.2 yards per game. Opening the league season at home last week against Sam Houston State, the Colonels threw for 68 yards in a 26-7 loss.

The competence of the players apparently still lies in running the ball at Nicholls, which is fourth in the league with 140.6 rushing yards per game. Except that they rushed for only 29 yards against Sam Houston State.

Nicholls State’s defense has allowed a juicy 415.2 yards per game, including 170.6 on the ground. The Colonels have scored on only 50 percent of their trips to the red zone (six of 12), while their opponents have scored on 92 percent of red zone opportunities (23 of 25).

Nicholls is 1-4 overall and 0-1 in the conference, lasting past halftime only twice in five games. In short, Nicholls appears to not be very good. But you would say the same thing about the Bobcats (3-2, 0-1) based on their work at Southeastern Louisiana.

The loss dropped Texas State completely out of The Sports Network’s media poll and lowered them from No. 15 to No. 22 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) coaches’ poll.

Job One for the Bobcats will be the re-establishment of their running attack with Karrington Bush and Dexter Imade, if only to remove some of the pressure from their weaker points, such as the defense and the reliance on a freshman quarterback. So long as the Bobcats could run the ball and tackle during the three games before Southeastern Louisiana, they did not rely on quarterback Tyler Arndt to win games for them.

Trying to bring the Bobcats back from two touchdowns behind in at Southeastern Louisiana, Arndt completed only four of nine passes for 25 yards with an interception, he took four sacks and the Bobcats finished the game more than three touchdowns behind.

“It’s a life lesson for him,” Wright said. “You make mistakes and you learn from them.”

The game against Nicholls State might be a gauge of how well the team has learned lessons from last Saturday. But it’s much more than that. It’s a must-win situation. That’s not a mystery.

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