Keff Ciardello covers Texas State as the beat writer for the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas. We caught up with him to talk about the Bobcats ahead of Saturday’s game.
Davis Potter: Wyoming obviously turned a lot of heads nationally with its upset of Missouri. Has there been more talk about the Cowboys among Texas State’s coaches and players than the usual opponent?
Keff Ciardello: Oh yeah. Absolutely. When you’ve got a team coming to town, people tend to talk about it. There’s definitely been talk about Wyoming and taking on Missouri like that. A lot of people are scared of the run game that Wyoming has and how turnover-friendly that defense can be for the Cowboys. A lot of talk about the Cowboys for sure. Should be some good hype in San Marcos on Saturday.
DP: Wyoming QB Sean Chambers had yet another 100-yard rushing game in the season opener. How might Texas State’s defense go about trying to contain him?
KC: They are well aware of the run game. (Texas State coach Jake) Spavital brought it up (Tuesday). He said they like to run, and they’re a physical team. He even called Wyoming the definition of efficiency. They want to be an efficient team running that ball. I would expect the Bobcats to be prepared for that run game. Now whether they can stop it, I’m not sure about that. But they have a pretty strong front seven. That’s probably the strongest point of this team is the linemen and the linebackers. And a little bit of the (defensive backs), too. So they’ll be prepared, but it will be a daunting task to stop it nonetheless.
DP: Texas State has its top 10 tacklers back from last season, but what is it specifically that makes the Bobcats’ front seven such a strength?
KC: Bryan London II and Nikolas Daniels, the two middle linebackers, are like the heart of that defense. But their d-line, they’ve got one guy with a lot of experience in Ishmael Davis, the defensive end. He’s a sixth-year senior. He had an injury and a redshirt, so he’s been here a while. He had two QB hits last week against (Texas) A&M and put Kellen Mond on his back a couple of times. They’ve got a young guy, Caeveon Patton, who’s a nose tackle. They’ve got another young guy, Nico Ezidore, on the line. Their d-line, they’re not the biggest, but they’re aggressive and they get in that backfield pretty easily. And not to mention at outside linebacker, there’s a guy named Frankie Griffin Jr., and he’s a sack waiting to happen. He’s their real pass-rush guy. Because London and Daniels, they don’t ever blitz. In fact, London has something like 350 (career) tackles but no sacks. That’s how little he blitzes. But they tend to send guys on the outside a lot. They’re kind of funky with it, too. They’ll do a 3-3-5. They maneuver a lot. Sometimes they’ll have an extra linebacker. Sometimes they’ll have an extra DB. They say they’re multiple — and a lot of coaches say that a lot going into the season — but you can tell they really meant it. They tend to change their personnel a lot on defense.
DP: What’s Texas State’ biggest weakness?
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KC: I’m going to have to say quarterback. That’s the biggest position on the field. Four picks last week. It’s been a quote-on-quote competition all fall camp on who’s going to play, but really neither one has mustered a lot of confidence out of anybody. Obviously the level of competition against A&M is really high, and it’s hard to judge those guys based on that game. But the quarterback position is a deficiency. It’s an obvious problem for this team. There wasn’t a ton of pressure (against A&M). The Bobcats don’t have a ton of depth on the o-line, but their starting unit is pretty good. Three of those four, (Spavital) said, were just bad decision-making on those interceptions. With Tyler Vitt, he’s a sophomore. He was here last year and started a little bit. He tends to get tunnel vision where he focuses on one receiver and just telegraphs it to the DB. Gresch Jensen is new. He was at Fullerton (College) last year and Montana the year before. Actually, coach (Bob) Stitt, the offensive coordinator here now, was his head coach at Montana, so they got him to transfer in.
DP: Spavital still hasn’t named a starter for Saturday’s game, but which quarterback do you expect to start? And do you expect both of them to play again?
KC: I expect Jensen to start, but I do also expect both of them to play. Jensen was a little better even though (Spavital), when we asked him which one was better, he said both were the same. I think Jensen was a little bit better in some deals. And at practice, he was getting a lot of good reps. So I could see Jensen getting it.
DP: Is there a big difference in their skill sets?
KC: The main thing is Gresch is more a game-manager type of quarterback. He’s got more experience. This is his third college, and he’s got a lot of games under his belt. He tends to make the smarter decisions. He doesn’t have the strongest arm of the bunch. He’s got a decent enough arm but not as strong as Vitt. Vitt, you can tell has a lot of baseball background. He can put a lot of zip on the ball. It’s just his decision-making. He tries to fit in those tight windows, those high-risk, high-reward type of throws. And he’ll tend to focus on one receiver. I guess you could say age is the biggest difference in that because Vitt is a young sophomore while Gresch is kind of an old junior based on experience. But not too much of a difference honestly.
DP: For a program that’s struggled to win at the FBS level, what’s the general vibe around the program and among the fan base with Spavital in charge?
KC: The atmosphere with fans and the people in San Marcos, it’s a lot of more confident than it has been in years past with this team. The last era, that staff, they rubbed people the wrong way, especially locally. They came in here and people didn’t like the cut of their jib if you will, and they just really didn’t respond well to those coaches. Not to mention they also lost. They’ve been down in the dumps for four years. Ten wins in four years. But they’re surprisingly upbeat when thinking about Spavital. He’s a big name for Texas State. In San Marcos, he’s a big name. They’re paying him good money. And he’s doing all the politicking right. He’s going around to local events and finding the Greek life and getting them involved with everything. He’s really doing the shaking-hands-and-kissing-babies part really well. We’ll see if it turns into wins on the field. But for now, they’re pretty excited.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.