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5 Things To Know: Arkansas State

Written by Brant Freeman on 3:28 PM

I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

September 28th, 2013, at Bobcat Stadium, Texas State vs Wyoming.  That was the date and site of Tyler Jones’ Bobcat debut.  Texas State was 2-1 going into that game but the offense looked listless in those first three games and so the decision was made to turn he reigns of the offense over to the freshman quarterback out of Stephenville.

On Jones’ second play from scrimmage, he raced past several Cowboy defenders for a 38-yard run. Five plays later, he handed the ball off to Robert Lowe who ran the ball in for a 1-yard touchdown run, capping off a successful first drive for Jones as a college quarterback. 

There would be a 3 hour, 29 minute lightning delay later in the game but Jones remained unfazed, throwing his first career touchdown pass, a 26-yard connection with Ben Ijah to tie the game at 14-14 right before halftime.  Jones would guide the Bobcats on four more scoring drives the rest of the game as Texas State beat the visitors from Laramie 42-21.

Tyler Jones would start 40 more games after that night with several other memorable games along the way.  His 4th and 24 connection with Ijah later that season in a 33-31 win over South Alabama.  A bowl eligible-clinching win at Idaho a week later.  An emotional triple-overtime win at Tulsa in 2014, a game which saw Jones make play after play in the bonus football periods.  A come-from-behind victory at ULM and dominating wins against Arkansas State and Georgia State as well that season.  His masterpiece in a losing effort against Southern Miss last season and his clutch play against Ohio this year, another triple-overtime thriller that resulted in a Texas State victory.

No quarterback gained more total yards in their career wearing the maroon and gold than Tyler Jones.  To date, he has 9,847 yards, recently surpassing Barrick Nealy for the record.  He’s second all-time in school history in passing yards (8,450) and second in touchdown passes (55) and he’s done it all with a quiet confidence.

Unfortunately, Jones’ final season isn’t ending the way he, or anyone else would’ve liked and the same goes for the other 17 seniors who are suiting up for the final time on Saturday.  There will be no bowl game to go to or championship to celebrate.  But there are the memories, and Jones and this senior class have given us their share.  Perhaps they can give us one more memorable moment with a win over Arkansas State at Bobcat Stadium.  Here are five things to know about the game.

1) Arkansas State has had an unconventional path to success this season

To say the Red Wolves struggled to start the season would be an understatement.  The reigning Sun Belt champions were beaten soundly at home by Toledo in their season opener, 31-10.  After (an expected) loss to Auburn, the Red Wolves lost their next two games as well against Utah State (a team which finished 3-9) and FCS Central Arkansas (at home).  While Arkansas State had bounced back from a 1-3 start the year before to win the Sun Belt, it seemed highly unlikely that the Red Wolves could pull that trick off again.

Wrong.

According to a conversation I had with Arkansas State broadcaster Matt Stolz, the Red Wolf players held a players only meeting after that loss to Central Arkansas to try and figure out how they were going to dig themselves out of their 0-4 hole. 

Initially, it appeared that meeting had gone for not as Arkansas State was staring down the barrel of an 0-5 record, trailing Georgia Southern in its Sun Belt opener 26-20 with just two minutes left to play and facing 4th and 16 at its own 24-yard line.  That game, and really the Red Wolves’ season, looked over.  However, quarterback Justice Hansen scrambled for 18 yards to keep the possession alive and later threw the game winning touchdown pass to Omar Bayless with nine seconds left.

Arkansas State hasn’t looked back ever since.  The Red Wolves rattled off six straight wins after that 0-4 start, a streak that ended last Saturday in a 24-19 loss at Louisiana.  But that was just a minor bump in the road for the Red Wolves who are still in a position to win a share of the Sun Belt title on Saturday, what would be the programs’ fifth championship in six years.  All of this for a team that was 0-4, a play away from being 0-5, and left for dead.  Remarkable.

2) The Red Wolves’ Defensive Line is the Best in the Sun Belt

While Arkansas State’s offense improved dramatically during its six game win streak (from 17 PPG during the 0-4 start to over 32 PPG since), the Red Wolves’ defense is what has truly led the way to the team’s in-season turnaround.  A-State hasn’t given up more than 26 points since September 24th and in conference play, the Red Wolves are surrendering just 15.4 PPG.  They’ve enjoyed that success with a fearsome defensive line.

At the two defensive end positions are Ja’Von Rolland-Jones and Chris Odom who have combined for 20.5 sacks this season, the second best sack duo in the FBS.  Those two have more sacks than six Sun Belt teams do all season and a lot of their damage has come in recent weeks.  All but four of those 20.5 sacks have come in the last five games alone (9 for Rolland-Jones, 7.5 for Odom).  In fact, Rolland-Jones, who is only a junior, is one of the greatest pass rushers to ever play in the Sun Belt.  His 28 career sacks are the most ever for a Sun Belt player and are tied for the most in A-State history.

The job of a defensive end is easier when the secondary is good (and Arkansas State’s secondary is great) and also when you get some help from the interior of the defensive line.  Like the secondary, that’s another check for the Red Wolves who have one of the better nose guards in the country in Waylon Roberson, a pre-season 1st team all-conference defensive lineman.  Roberson, who will likely be drafted this coming spring, measures out at a massive 6’2”, 341 pounds.  Needless to say, the Bobcats’ offensive line will have its hands full Saturday night.

3) Justice Hansen is Developing Into a Solid Quarterback

The biggest hole to fill for Arkansas State this past off-season was at quarterback as Fredi Knighten, a veteran and talented quarterback, had graduated.  To fill that void, the Red Wolves turned to a couple of transfer quarterbacks, first handing over the reins of the offense to Chad Voytik, a graduate transfer from Pitt.  Voytik started the first three games of the season for Arkansas State and struggled, eventually being sent to the bench after a poor start at Utah State.  The Red Wolves gave the “keys to the car” to Justice Hansen (a former 4-star recruit and Oklahoma Sooner) and haven’t looked back since.

Hansen has been Arkansas State’s starting quarterback since Week 4, and while he lost his first start to Central Arkansas, he has since settled in nicely, guiding the Red Wolves to a 6-2 record in his time as the starter, including a 2-1 record on the road.  He’s twice been named as the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Week and is currently second in the conference in pass efficiency and is tied for third in touchdown passes with 14.  Even in defeat last week, Hansen played well, completing 35 of 57 passes for 393 yards and a touchdown at Louisiana. 

At season’s start, everyone knew Arkansas State would have a great defense, a veteran offensive line, and great players at the skill positions but questioned whether or not that would be enough to overcome a lack of experience at football’s most important position: quarterback.  While that in fact seemed warranted during the first month of the season, this appears to no longer be an issue for Arkansas State.

4) The State of Texas Has Been Good to A-State

It should come as little surprise that a good chunk of Arkansas State’s talent comes from Texas: 17 of the Red Wolves’ players hail from the Lone Star State.  The only state that Arkansas State draws more players from is from the state of Arkansas. In fact, the three defensive lineman highlighted a few paragraphs above are all from Texas. 

Not only do the Red Wolves poach the state for talent, but they have a habit of beating teams from Texas as well.  Over the past nine years, Arkansas State is 11-1 against teams from the state of Texas.  That lone loss?  I’ll give you one guess.

5) It’s Senior Day at Texas State

This of course is something I went into detail earlier, reminiscing about the great career of Tyler Jones.  He isn’t the only player taking the field for the final time on Saturday, so here is a list of the 18 seniors playing their final game on Saturday.  Please click the links provided for more information on each player and if you’re at the game, please be sure to give them your support and make their final college football experience as memorable as possible.


Thank you to each of them for what they’ve done for the Texas State Football program, here’s to hoping their careers end on a winning note Saturday night against Arkansas State. 

And those are five things you should know about Saturday’s game.  Eat ‘Em Up!


- Brant Freeman

5 Things To Know: Training Camp Edition

Written by Brant Freeman on 7:53 AM



It’s that time of year again!  We are 10 days away from the start of the 2016 football season, so now seems like an opportune time to start cranking out the “5 Things To Know” column which I started last year.  During the season, these columns will focus on the opponents Texas State’s football team will be facing, but this week I’m keeping the focus on the Bobcats themselves.  

Training Camp has just about wrapped up, and the team is starting to take shape.  On Wednesday, the Bobcats held their final scrimmage of camp. The team is holding a “mock game” on Saturday, however, the goals of camp have pretty much been met.  The install of the playbook is in, and most of the roles have been assigned. 

The last two and a half weeks have been dedicated to self-improvement and separating the wheat from the chaff, so much so that Ohio hasn’t really come up a whole lot. But that’s about to change.  The Bobcats can finally start setting their sights on, well, the Bobcats.  We’ll get to them next week.  For now, let’s look back at training camp and see where things stand for Head Coach Everett Withers and company.

1)      Tyler Jones is the starting QB and could be in store for a special season

At his post-scrimmage media session on Wednesday, Coach Withers announced that Tyler Jones will be the Bobcats’ starting quarterback and deservedly so.  Despite being pushed at times by newcomer (and Missouri transfer) Eddie Printz, Jones has looked sharp throughout most of camp and had one of his best days during the Wednesday scrimmage.  TJ didn’t have a strong finish to his junior season, and with the new coaching staff coming in, his job was far from safe heading into the spring.  Yet, he’s continued to prove that he’s up to the challenge and continues to win the respect of his coaches and teammates-- the latter of which voted him as one of the team captains on Wednesday.  

As noted above, Jones did struggle towards the end of the 2015 season, but to be fair the same can be said about the team as a whole, and we’ve all seen what TJ is capable of when he’s at the top of his game.  That of course is a clip from Jones’ 470 total yard, 5 touchdown day against Southern Miss from last season, one of the greatest single game performances ever for a Texas State quarterback.  I don’t know if we’ll see 12 of those in 2016 but I think fans should be optimistic about the chances of seeing some games like the one Jones had against those Golden Eagles from a year ago. 

First consider his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Brett Elliott.  At James Madison last year, Elliott served as Coach Withers’ co-offensive coordinator and QB coach and helped mold Vad Lee into arguably the best quarterback in the FCS.  Lee led the FCS in total offense (375 yards per game) and in completion percentage (68.3%) and was named as not only the Colonial Athletic Association’s Offensive Player of the Year, but also as the best college football player in the state of Virginia.   

Prior to that, Coach Elliott was the Offensive Quality Control coach at Mississippi State where he worked with Dak Prescott who blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in the FBS, breaking 10 school records in 2014, Coach Elliott’s final season with the Bulldogs.  The guy knows his quarterbacks, and now he gets to work with Jones who’s preparing to embark on his senior season.  Speaking of which…

There’s been a pretty solid track record of Bobcat quarterbacks having stellar seasons as seniors wearing the maroon & gold.  Take a look at the last three Texas State signal callers who served as the primary starters during their senior years.

QB (Year)
Comp %
Pass Yds
TD/INT
Eff Rating
Rush Yds
Rush TD
Barrick Nealy (2005)
57.5%
2,875
21/7
139.5
1,057
13
Bradley George (2009)
63.1%
3,121
23/11
140.4
26
0
Shaun Rutherford (2012)
64.5%
2,137
15/5
137.8
597
5


A few takeaways from that chart:  1) Nealy’s 3,932 total yards and 34 total touchdowns in 2005 are school records. 2) George averaged 286 yards of offense in 2009 which is also a school record. 3) Rutherford’s completion percentage in 2012 is the 2nd best in school history behind Jones’ 65.4% in 2014. 4) George didn’t run a lot. 5) Those pass efficiency ratings rank as the 5th, 7th and 8th best in the history of Bobcat football. 

It goes without saying that a senior year should be a player’s best let alone a quarterback but if anything, that should make you even more excited about TJ this year.  We’ve seen some great football from him and more could be on the way. 


2)      Who else will have the ball in their hands this season?

Good question.  Consider the skill position players the Bobcats are having to replace: Robert Lowe and Chris Nutall at running back, Brandon Smith, Jafus Gaines and C.J. Best at wide receiver and Lawrence White and Ryan Carden at tight end.  That’s over 8,000 total yards and 60 touchdowns worth of offense from their careers that’s now gone.  

Even if the Bobcats had a wealth of returning backs and receivers, there’s no telling what roles they would have with a new coaching staff.  What the staff has had to work with is a mix of newcomers and returning players who were either redshirted last year or had minimal in-game experience.  That led to a lot of shrugging of the shoulders by yours truly when asked who the playmakers would be on this year’s team. 

Now that training camp is essentially over, the picture of “what will this team look like” is now a lot clearer.  Based on what I’ve observed, here’s a rough-draft look at the offensive skill position depth chart heading into next week’s season opener.

1st Team
Quarterback: Tyler Jones
Running Back: Stedman Mayberry
Tight End: Gabe Schrade

2nd Team
Quarterback: Eddie Printz
Tight End: Chris French

3rd Team
Quarterback: Connor White
Running Back: Tyler Siudzinski

A few notes here: this is in no way set in stone, and there have been a lot of moving parts throughout camp.  Several of the “2nd and 3rd team” players listed above have run with the 1st team offense in camp.  In fact, it’s probably more appropriate to list this as 1st Team-A, 1st Team-B and 2nd Team.  I could easily see that group of 2nd team receivers getting ample playing time this season and the same goes for Siudzinski at running back.  Siudzinski has the most game experience of all the running backs, and let’s not forget he torched Idaho for 170 yards in the Kibbie Dome last year. 

Two of the best players in camp have been Mayberry and Worrell.  Mayberry had trouble getting playing time behind the likes of Lowe, Nutall and Terrance Franks the past couple of seasons, but with an open competition for the starting job this time around, he’s taken full advantage of the opportunity.  Mayberry, who Coach Withers has called the team’s most explosive running back, seemed to separate himself from the pack early on in training camp and never let up. 

Meanwhile, Worrell has been one of the best stories of camp.  A walk-on transfer from Allan Hancock CC, Worrell caught the attention of the coaching staff with his energy and enthusiasm and has proven he’s got some talent to go along with that fire.  Worrell has gotten some time working with the first team offense and ripped off a long touchdown run during the Bobcats’ final scrimmage of camp on Wednesday.

As for Tutt, the true freshman will be a factor in Texas State’s backfield as well.  Tutt was one of the most highly touted players in Texas State’s signing class this past February and was an absolute monster at Keller High School.  He’s also had some impressive moments at training camp and could be an offensive fixture for years to come.

With him, Mayberry, Siudzinski and Worrell, the running back position, which was a question mark heading into camp, is now one of Texas State’s deepest on the roster. 

3)      Okay, but who’s blocking for them?

Also a good question.  Coach Withers has talked a lot about the team lacking enough “2s”, and I get the sense he’s referring to the offensive line more than any other position.  The Bobcats lost Adrian Bellard, Zach Crawford and Brandon Sarabia to graduation.  Several other offensive linemen left the program over the offseason.  The coaching staff has had to convert a couple of defensive linemen to the offensive line just to have bodies.  This is simply not a deep unit. 

However, one of Texas State’s best overall players is at the premium LT position: Ryan Melton.  Guard Felix Romero is back from injury (torn ACL in the conference opener last year) and has proven to be a special player when healthy.  Giuliano Cattaneo started eight games last season despite battling injuries of his own and will start at center.  At the other tackle and guard positions, it appears starting duties will be held by sophomore Tryston Mizerak and redshirt freshman Jacob Rowland respectively. 

Beyond those five players, the offensive line is a mixed bag.  Of all the positions Texas State can ill afford injury to this year, it’s this one.  Whatever lucky charm you have, keep it with you at all times.

4)      What will the defense look like in 2016?

The easy answer is: a lot different.  Putting aside personnel for a moment, simply seeing Texas State line up in the 3-4 will be a drastic change.  I’ve been covering Bobcat Football since 2003, and this will be the first time I’ve seen a Bobcat team run the 3-4 defense.  It’s not exactly a stat that can be tracked, but I’m curious if the program has ever run it. 

First-year defensive coordinator Randall McCray ran the 3-4 at Gardner-Webb. In three seasons, his teams had a penchant for stopping the run and getting off the field--two things Texas State’s defense struggled to do last year.  Gardner-Webb held opponents to under 100 yards rushing 13 times in McCray’s three seasons. This past year, the Bulldogs had the third best 3rd down defense in the FCS, yielding just a 25.9% success rate to their opponents.  Last year, the Bobcats surrendered 259 yards rushing per game (7th most in the FBS) and a 49.1% 3rd down success rate (5th highest in the FBS).  

McCray is here to help clean that up, and Bobcat fans should feel confident that he can.  When he first arrived at Gardner-Webb, the Bulldogs had the most improved defense in the country in 2013, going from the 101st ranked defense to 5th in his first season.

Fans wanting to see more turnovers forced by the defense should also feel good in knowing that in Coach Withers’ last eight seasons of coaching, his teams had a total of 122 interceptions. That comes out to 15 per season.  Texas State had just three picks all of last season, so imagine what 12 more of those could do for a defense. 

As for the players, the “moving parts” mentioned in the offense above applies here as well.  On the defensive line, Dallas McClarty will be the team’s starting nose tackle (one of the most important positions in a 3-4 defense), Jordan Mittie will line up at one of the two starting defensive end spots and you could see a mix of Dean Taylor and Ishmael Davis at the other end position. 

At OLB we saw some shuffling of the deck throughout camp.  Towards the end of camp, a lot of first team reps were going to Easy Anyama and Gavin Graham with Kumonde Hines, Teron Fitzgerald and Karee’ Berry in the mix for the back-up spots.  Frankie Griffin started camp as one of the starters but has been dealing with a concussion.  Coach Withers mentioned in his post-scrimmage media session just how impressed he’s been by Graham and Hines, both true freshmen.

On the topic of 1st year Bobcats, Gabe Loyd, a junior college transfer, has made an immediate impact on the team both on and off the field per Coach Withers.  He’s a lock to start at inside linebacker for Texas State and could wind up as being the Bobcats’ best player on the defensive side of the ball this season.  Opposite of him at the other ILB spot will likely be Bryan London, a redshirt freshman from Converse. 

In Texas State’s secondary, the 1st team cornerbacks appear to be Brandon McDowell and Clarence Guidry while the safety spots will feature Javante O’Roy and either Damani Alexcee or Stephan Johnson as starters.  The starting 11 on defense has a mixture of experience (McClarty, McDowell, Alexcee) and new blood (Loyd, Graham, London), so it’ll be interesting to see how it comes together.  The 2nd and 3rd string units have been harder to identify, so again, depth could be an issue. However, if the starters stay healthy, Texas State’s defense has a chance to be a difference maker this season.

                             
5)      Texas State’s Special Teams Unit Could Be A Big Strength In 2016

Field position is always pivotal, and while the offense and defense certainly play a role in that, special teams is just as important.  Texas State has weapons at its disposal on special teams to win those field position battles in punter/kickoff specialist Lumi Kaba and McDowell as a returner.  Coach Withers has noted that McDowell will not only return punts this season, but will also likely add kickoff return duties to his job description. 

Kaba finished 2nd in the Sun Belt last season, averaging 44.3 yards per punt. He had 20 punts of 50 yards or more while also pinning opponents inside their own 20-yard line 19 times.  Even in a tough defensive season like the one Texas State had last year, the numbers show just how crucial it is to make an opponent “work” for its points.  Bobcat opponents scored 35% of the time when their drives started from their own 20-yard line or further back, but that number skyrocketed to 50% when starting a drive with less real estate.  Kaba, named preseason 2nd team all-Sun Belt, has the leg to make teams work (and he can run too!).     

McDowell meanwhile has proven to be a great return man.  His ability to create field position for the offense will be just as crucial as Kaba’s ability to help the defense.  When the Bobcats started from their own 35-yard line or closer last year they scored 54% of the time.  If they started behind the 35-yard line, that figure plummeted to 25%.  McDowell and Kaba aren’t by any means the only ones responsible for field position but they play important roles.  Also of note regarding special teams is that Tyler Watts will also get opportunities to return kickoffs and redshirt freshman Marcus Ripley will be the Bobcats’ place kicker. 

While those are the five biggest things you should know this week, I’d like to bullet point a few other things before I wrap up the column:

-          Texas State could possibly make it through the season without wearing the same uniform combo twice.  Tweaks were made from last year’s uniform set (and I’m not sure all of the team’s unis were included in that vine) and as you can see, there’s a lot of different looks the Bobcats could sport this year.  Personally, I like the white helmet, maroon jersey, white pant look for home games and the white helmet, white jersey, maroon pant look for road games.

-          The team will also have two different sets of gloves to choose from this year.

-          The athletic year itself is already underway and off to a great start as Texas State Soccer is 2-0 after posting impressive wins over Lamar and Prairie View A&M.  Both wins were by 2-nil scores featuring four different goal scorers and an advantage in shots of 53-8.  BTW, the last time Texas State started 2-0, the Bobcats won a conference title.

-          The Texas State Volleyball season starts this Friday at the North Texas Tournament in Denton and the Bobcats will face Ohio State in the opener.  The home opener is this coming Tuesday against Baylor.  No one ever accused Coach Chisum of putting together soft schedules and this year is no different.

-          The first Coach Withers Radio Show is this coming Wednesday at 7:30 at Chimy’s in downtown San Marcos.  Once again, the radio show along with game broadcasts can be heard on our flagship station AM 1300 The Zone (Austin) or on affiliate stations 930 AM (San Antonio) and 89.9 KTSW (San Marcos, game broadcasts only, not the coaches show).  To listen online click here

That’s all I’ve got for this week, next week’s it’s on to Ohio!  Eat ‘Em Up!



- Brant Freeman

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The Drive is more than new buildings and championships. It's an increased sense of pride. The essence of Texas State makes this school one of the best universities in the country. Get Loud, Be Proud! It's A Great Day to be a Bobcat!

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