Texas State quarterback Tyler Arndt carries the ball during the Bobcats’ 42-28 win against Southern Utah. Texas State sports information photo.
Through the years of steady improvement, the Texas State defense has had its ups and downs. The ups set new standards, and the downs are very stern reminders.
We are reminded, because the Bobcats are going to Southeastern Louisiana Saturday, that they blew a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter against the same team last year at Bobcat Stadium. The Lions prevailed, 51-50 in overtime, when Justin Garelick missed the point after kick.
A loss like that can trigger a psychological meltdown, or it can be well placed blow against complacency. That loss, the Bobcats’ second straight, dropped them to 2-3 overall and put early pressure on their defense of the Southland Conference championship.
But the Bobcats have responded commendably, going 8-2 since then and extending their winning streak in Southland Conference road games to seven. Costly as it was — it probably cost the Bobcats a league championship — it also put the team into a different gear. The defense that collapsed against Southeastern Louisiana is now is a respectable fighter within its weight class. Garelick, who missed the last four games of 2009 with a knee injury, leads the conference by making his first 17 point-after kicks this season.
“I would hope that the lesson was learned,” Texas State coach Brad Wright said. ” … We had some relaxing going on, lost some focus.”
The Bobcats go to Saturday’s Southland Conference opener as something of an underdog in the league, but riding a nice run of three games and looking like a better team than the preseason might have predicted. They’re not world beaters statistically. But they have moments of brilliance in all facets of the game, while their defense and running attack give them the basis for winning.
The pollsters are paying attention, with the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) coaches moving the 3-1 Bobcats up to 15th in their poll and the media in The Sports Network upgrading them to 17th this week.
The most obvious challenge Saturday will be a Southeastern Louisiana defense that ranks 13th nationally among FCS schools by allowing only 97.25 rushing yards per game. The Bobcats have two running backs — Karrington Bush and Dexter Imade — each of whom is doing close to that by himself. Bush averages 88.5 rushing yards per game, while Imade averages 84.33.
Wright said a good portion of Southeastern Louisiana’s defensive number against the run comes from yardage lost by opponents due to sacks. The Lions average 2.75 sacks per game. Wright indicated that the Texas State running attack will be up to the challenge.
“You know, we’re probably going to try,” Wright said wryly when asked if his ball club can run on Southeastern Louisiana.
A more enticing possibility for the offense lies in going against Southeastern’s pass defense, which ranks 115th out of 117 FCS teams by allowing 296.25 passing yards per game. Tyler Arndt, the Texas State freshman quarterback, ranks 20th in FCS passing efficiency with a score of 139.49, but he reached his high in passing yardage with 221 on Sept. 25 against Southern Utah, completing 15 of 19 passes.
Averaging 342.8 yards per game, Southeastern Louisiana appears to be feeling its way around offensively. The Lions have thrown the ball 156 times and run it 115 times. Quarterbacks Tyler Beatty (37 for 75) and Brian Young (42 for 73) have thrown about the same number of passes. The marquee offensive player is tight end Simmie Yarborough, who has 24 catches for 224 yards.
If you like to compare scores, Southeastern lost to Tulane, 27-21, and Tulane lost to Houston, 42-23, and Houston beat the Bobcats, 68-28. Southeastern’s only win came by 24-10 against Tennessee-Martin. The Lions also lost, 21-20, to a Louisiana-Monroe team that has lost its other three games, and they lost, 29-28, to Lamar, which is just now back in the football business.
The first two Texas State games, the loss at Houston and the win at home against Division II Southern Arkansas, mean little at this point. It says something about Texas State’s improved status that the pollsters were ready to count the Bobcats as soon as they won their first FCS game. The 21-12 win against Cal Poly put the Bobcats on the map, and Cal Poly helped keep them there by demolishing McNeese State, 40-14, on Sept. 25. The Bobcats also kept themselves there with the 42-28 win against Southern Utah the same day, finally defeating a team that thwarted them for the last three years.
Wright said the Bobcats used their bye week not to emphasize any certain point, but to refine themselves across the board. Wright said the team approached that goal by practicing the first string offense against the first string defense to a much greater extent than during an ordinary game week.
“We’re growing,” Wright said. “I think we’re a better football team from week one to week two, from week two to week three, and up to now.”
The game will be shown on KBVO-MyAustin TV in the Austin and San Marcos areas and KCWX-TV (channel 2 in San Antonio). KBVO MyAustin TV channel listings are channel 7 on ATT U-Verse, channel 1525 on Time Warner Cable, channel 51 on DirecTV and channel 18 and 818 (HD) on Grande Communications. The game also will be shown tape-delayed on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. on Fox College Sports Pacific.