The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2019 schedule. Next up is Texas State.
LARAMIE — It’s been a rough go of it at the Football Bowl Subdivision for Texas State.
Since first competing at college football’s highest level in 2012, the Bobcats have won just 32.1 percent of their games with one winning season during that span. It’s been even worse for Texas State as a member of the Sun Belt Conference recently as the Bobcats have failed to win more than three games in any of the last four seasons.
They’re hoping a change at the top can invigorate a dormant program.
Texas State parted ways with Everett Withers after he went 7-28 the last three seasons and hired Jake Spavital to replace him. Spavital, who’s best known for tutoring former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel during his time as Texas A&M’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, also had stints as the offensive coordinator at California and, most recently, West Virginia.
The Bobcats will play their first home game under Spavital when Wyoming visits San Marcos, Texas, for a Sept. 7 matchup at Bobcat Stadium.
Spavital will use his background to try to breathe life into an offense that didn’t rank better than 95th nationally in any major category last season. Texas State finished last in the Sun Belt in yards (330.3 yards per game) and points (19.8) — an average that ranked 121st nationally. The Bobcats didn’t do themselves any favors with a minus-0.42 turnover margin that ranked 103rd.
The good news for Texas State is it has a lot of experience returning on that side of the ball for an offense that seemingly can only go up. Quarterback Tyler Vitt played in nine games as a true freshman last season and threw for 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns, but the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder also struggled with decision-making with 10 interceptions.
There’s competition to be the Bobcats’ starter. Rising sophomore Jaylen Gipson got snaps in five games while Texas State added a pair of junior college transfers to the equation in Gresch Jensen, who threw for 2,330 yards and 16 scores in leading Fullerton College to an unbeaten season last year, and Chase Hildreth (Independence Community College.)
Texas State also has four of its top six receivers back from last season, including Jeremiah Haydel, who finished second on the team in yards (326) and receiving touchdowns (4). Running back Anthony Taylor is returning after leading the Bobcats with four rushing touchdowns last season. And the Bobcats have plenty of options up front after more than 10 offensive linemen got a start last season.
Yet it’s Texas State’s defense that has the edge in experience as one of the most seasoned units in the country. The group was respectable last season, finishing 39th nationally in passing yards allowed and 53rd in total defense, and will now be led by Spavital’s brother, Zac, who served as Texas Tech’s co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach a season ago.
Texas State returns its top 10 tacklers from last season, led by a trio of senior linebackers. Leading tackler Nikolas Daniels and Bryan London II each posted more than 100 tackles for the Bobcats while Frankie Griffin had 71 stops on the outside. Defensive end Ishmael Davis is also back after leading the team with 3.5 sacks, though getting to the quarterback was largely an issue for a defense that had just 18 sacks.
Texas State could also use improvement in the kicking game after struggling to flip field position with a net punting average of 33.5 yards a season ago. Clayton Stewart is back for his sophomore season after averaging 37.9 yards per punt last season.
But if the Bobcats can’t find a way to score more points this fall, not much is going to change for them in the win-loss columns.