Five weeks into the season, the Bobcats have the best overall record, 3–1, in the Sun Belt Conference.
As the schedule turns to conference play starting with Louisiana-Lafayette this upcoming weekend, the Bobcats have their sights set on a Sun Belt Conference championship.
Louisiana-Monroe was the pre-season favorite to finish first in the Sun Belt Conference. However, things are starting to look grim for the Warhawks with the loss of senior quarterback Kolton Browning to a season-ending torn quad and an underperforming record five games into the season.
Browning was the 2012 Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year and was predicted to take home the award again in 2013. Needless to say, the loss of Browning will be critical when it comes to final standings at the end of the season.
Western Kentucky is still adjusting to new coach Bobby Petrino and his style of play. Arkansas State was picked to finish third in the conference by the coaches but has been outscored in its last three non-conference games, 110–35.
This leads us to what could be Texas State’s true test—an away game against Louisiana-Lafayette this Saturday.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, along with Louisiana-Monroe, were picked by the Sun Belt coaches to share the conference title. Louisiana-Lafayette is led by junior quarterback Terrance Broadway, who recently won the Manning Award “Star of the Week” and the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week after a 373-yard and five-touchdown performance against Akron. The Cajuns will be a tough test for the Bobcats. Louisiana-Lafayette is 11–1 at home the past three seasons, coming into the matchup against Texas State winning two in a row.
For the first time in years, the Bobcats are poised to make a statement with their football program. With an improvement in recruiting the past couple of seasons, the Bobcats might have all of the tools in the toolbox to take home a Sun Belt Conference championship this season.
The biggest tool the Bobcats have is their defense. Texas State’s defense, recently nicknamed “Doom Squad,” ranks third in the nation and leads the Sun Belt Conference in rushing defense. Last week, the defense held Wyoming to 64 yards rushing, taking away the run game that makes the Cowboys’ passing game efficient.
Defensive coordinator Craig Naivar likes his defense to play with their “hair on fire.” In recent games the defense has been reacting instead of thinking, which is a complete contrast with last year. The pass rush has been getting to the quarterback. The secondary has been flying everywhere on the field, breaking up passes and creating turnovers. The line-backing core is tackling everything in sight, and the defense is playing as a unit.
Another tool in the early season success of the Bobcats is the steady running game from sophomore running backs Chris Nutall and Robert Lowe.
Combined, the two running backs have nine touchdowns on the season and together average 129 yards a game. Nutall gains 7.4 yards a carry, placing him 19th in the FBS. The running game has been a constant for the Bobcat offense and fits the read-option scheme Coach Dennis Franchione wants to execute on a week-by-week basis.
The missing tool in Texas State’s toolbox made his collegiate debut Saturday against Wyoming—freshman quarterback Tyler Jones. Previously, the Bobcats had been running a two-quarterback offense with senior quarterback Tyler Arndt and freshman quarterback Jordan Moore. Arndt and Moore together had a lower efficiency than Jones in one game as a true freshman. Jones threw for 196 yards Saturday against the Cowboys, the most a quarterback has thrown against a team this season.
Franchione stated after the game against Wyoming that Jones will be the starting quarterback moving forward throughout the season. Jones brings excitement and energy to a team that had been lacking it. The freshman quarterback had a 38-yard run in his first drive of the game that immediately created a buzz around the stadium and on campus. Later in the game Jones showed us his throwing ability, completing a perfectly thrown touchdown pass near the end of the second quarter.
The last tool remaining is the fans. Attendance at both home games this year has exceeded 20,000 fans, and Saturday’s game ranked as having the second-highest attendance in school history. If the Bobcats’ success continues past this week with Lafayette and the attendance for the home games continues to rise, we could be building something that lasts for years to come.