Texas State’s Chris Nutall rushes, with Tyler Jones (2) on the right and Charlie Will Tuttle (72) on the left (Texas State sports information photo).
The Texas State football team will try to stay on the victory side of life Saturday evening against a South Alabama team that will not make it easy.
Of course, it’s never easy for a football team that struggles to move the ball and score points, which aptly characterizes Texas State for its last three games.
The Bobcats climbed out of the Sun Belt Conference basement with their first-ever league victory, a 24-17 win against Georgia State last Saturday at Bobcat Stadium. For its merits, though, the win probably didn’t convince anyone that the Bobcats are primed to tear it up down the stretch.
The Bobcats, 4-3, need two wins in their final five games to meet the requirement of six wins for bowl eligibility. But if you’re 6-6, and two of your wins are against Georgia State and Idaho, you probably need another win for credibility. In that case, the stretch calls for three wins in the last five games, which would take the Bobcats to a winning record.
Three games into their Sun Belt life, though, the Bobcats are 1-2, and their readiness to win two more games in this league is not an established fact. As to what is established in the Sun Belt, there’s nothing, except that Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) is the best team. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won all three of their league games by comfortable margins of 16 points or more. Of the seven Sun Belt Conference games that haven’t involved ULL, only one has been decided by more than a touchdown.
South Alabama began its football program from nothing in 2009, didn’t lose a game until 2011, then joined the Sun Belt in 2012 and finished 2-11. But the Jaguars are hanging in there at 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the league. Only one of their games has been decided by more than a touchdown, last week’s 38-21 win against a 2-6 Kent State team.
When South Alabama was just starting a football program from scratch in 2009, Texas State faced, perhaps, the more daunting task of upgrading a football program dragging along two generations of mediocre memories. The Texas State coach at the time, Brad Wright, said the place had “a losing culture.”
Texas State is a different place now, where the culture of bowl-level football is unknown. Moving up gave the Bobcats new life, just as new as South Alabama’s football life starting from scratch.
They’ll meet at Bobcat Stadium Saturday (6 p.m.).
Like Texas State, South Alabama has a strong, experienced defense. The Jaguars can give some up, but they also take a lot away. Senior defensive linemen Alex Page and Romelle Jones each have seven tackles for loss and have combined for 8.5 sacks.
“Their whole front is good,” Texas State coach Dennis Franchione said. “This is as good a front as we’ve been around … The front may not be as big as Lafayette’s was, which we had a lot of trouble with, but this front is quicker. They’re playing pretty relentlessly.”
Unlike Texas State, the Jaguars have a productive senior quarterback. South Alabama’s Ross Matheny is averaging 8.71 yards in 148 passing attempts (1,289 total yards). He’s also very competent running the ball, totaling 242 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
The Bobcats are still going with freshman Tyler Jones at quarterback. In his last two games, though, Jones is only 11-for-26 and 114 yards, total, throwing the ball. The Bobcats are run heavy, rushing 280 times against 160 passes this season.
A better reason, of course, is that the Bobcats have two backs, Robert Lowe and Chris Nutall, who can move the ball. Lowe has 619 total rushing yards and seven touchdowns, topping 100 yards in four of his last five games. Nutall has 346 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Both average 6.4 yards per carry.
“These two guys with the ball in their hand, are taking care of the football,” Franchione said. “They’re running well. They’re seeing the seams. They’re making people miss. They’re getting yards after contact.”
Saturday, they’re going at a very tough defensive line. How they fare will go a long way towards deciding if the Bobcats take this important step forward.
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