Change is coming.
For the first time in a long time, Texas State athletics is turning a new leaf. But it doesn’t have to do with head coach Jake Spavital. New athletic director Don Coryell officially took control of the department back in September and the University announced Kelly R. Damphousse as the future president back in March. It’s the first time in 20 years that Texas State has a new athletic director and university president.
Immediately, Coryell’s impact was felt by fans and supporters. Following Texas State’s 45-0 loss to Louisiana, Coryell issues a statement echoing his disappointment, an unusual tactic for an administrator much less from a Texas State AD.
“…I will do everything in my power to position our coaches, staff and student-athletes for success,” the statement read. “To that end, we are making further investments in our football program, including enhancing our operations and recruiting budgets, and working toward implementing full cost of attendance for our student-athletes as allowed by NCAA rules.”
Some may have read that as an ominous foreshadowing of Spavital’s tenure, but it was the opposite. This is still Spavital’s program and Coryell is backing him.
The Bobcats finished last season at 4-8, well short of their goal, but still the team’s best record since 2014. It wasn’t the leap the team anticipated taking, especially considering the influx of talent brought in, but it was still a step forward.
“There's been a lot of obstacles I guess you could say that we've gone through over the past two years,” Spavital said. “COVID, eligibility freezes, and the transfer portal, and I think that we've done a really good job at addressing today's time in a pretty quick manner.”
You’ll find plenty to be optimistic about perusing through the results - like the team playing eventual Big 12 champion Baylor as well as anyone did all season. But the lows felt very low – that loss to Louisiana as well as a loss at home to FCS program Incarnate Word.
Texas State feels like it’s on the cusp of a turning point, and that could be good or bad. Spavital’s heading into the second-to-last year of his contract and a roster that’s firmly his own now. The 37-year-old head coach hasn’t shied away from the fact that his tenure hasn’t produced the results people expected. Last year, inconsistent quarterback play, a passive defense and injuries set the program back from where it was thought to have been.
To the outside, one could assume that Texas State’s transfer-heavy roster construction was initiated to catapult the team toward bowl eligibility. That was only part of it. Obviously, the immediate benefit of adding 23 transfers in the 2021 class was the acquisition of ready-made talent, but there’s also the lack of attrition.
In the modern era of college football, and especially in the COVID-19 era where so many have opportunities for a free transfer, it’s easy for Group of Five programs to lose players in droves. Aside from former quarterback Brady McBride and running back Brock Sturges, both who had fallen out of the starting lineup by mid-season, Spavital’s team hasn’t lost much. He’s brought in a veteran quarterback in Layne Hatcher and maintained tons of offensive skill talent to where the few losses they have seen, aren’t detrimental.
Defensively, he’s only lost players to graduation and nearly every player that will appear on the two-deep has received ample playing time over the last two seasons. And he admitted they could add 16 to 20 more players by the time fall camp rolls around.
“We're not going to take a guy just to take a guy,” Spavital said. “They've got to either make an immediate impact on your team or they've got to have years where they can develop underneath and make sure that you balance out your classes correctly.
“I think there's so much more on the horizon that we’ve got to just make sure that our staff and everybody's on the same page and making sure that we're doing things the right way.”
Continuity has been the driving force so far. Former offensive coordinator Jacob Peeler took a position at Missouri, and rather than hire someone to take up the mantle, Spavital left the spot vacant. He’s the play-caller and primary offensive game-planner anyway. After offensive line coach Pat Turner was let go, tight ends coach Brian Hamilton was moved over to keep a familiar voice in the locker room.
“I can't be speaking English and you guys be hearing Japanese,” inside linebackers coach Brian Gamble said. “We got to get on the same page; you got to understand what the terms that I'm saying are and that way we'll be able to communicate faster, learn faster, and all of that.”
It may sound hyperbolic and cliché to say that 2022 is a pivotal season for Texas State, but it doesn’t mean it’s less true. There arguably isn’t a program in the state right now with as clear-cut of a target – a bowl game. The experience is there, and the stability is there to make it happen.
“The approach has been the same; work hard and just do your best and don’t sweat the rest,” senior linebacker London Harris said. “Just work hard for what you want, and I want this team to be the best, the best in the Sun Belt. I want to go to a bowl game.”
Everything clicks — the running game hums, the QB situation resolves itself and the defense finds its groove as the Bobcats go bowling.
The defense can't find any continuity and the passing game sputters as the Bobcats falter to 3-9 — setting off an uncertain future.
Game of the Year
Texas State vs. Louisiana — November 26
Last year, Texas State got blanked by the eventual Sun Belt Champions, 45-0. This time, at home and against a retooling Louisiana in the last game of the season, the Bobcats must prove that was an aberration.
But unfortunately for Texas State, it’s missing its most important piece. Or is it? Heading into 2021, quarterback was supposed to be a done and dusted position. Brady McBride was the first quarterback to start consecutive season openers since Tyler Jones in 2015 and 2016. But by the end of October, costly turnovers had head coach Jake Spavital turn to steady-handed Tyler Vitt. Now, both McBride and Vitt are gone but in steps former Arkansas State quarterback Layne Hatcher, who was the most significant off-season addition to the roster. A proven in-conference starter for a division rival, Hatcher threw for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns each of his three seasons in Jonesboro and still has two years of eligibility. If spring camp was any indication, the job’s his with Ty Evans and Dillon Markiewicz having never thrown an in-game pass at the Division I level yet.
Hatcher, like McBride, who is now at Appalachian State, comes in looking to rekindle his early-career form in a new environment after a few seasons of inconsistency.
“Layne has been in this system, relatively, for a long time so it’s nothing new to him,” Spavital said. “Layne came in and the communication, operation of this is what he’s been doing his whole life.
“(Wide receiver) Demarcus (Gregory) and Layne have been up here late at night throwing and watching tape. You got to start kicking them out of the facility. They want to be good, and they bring it every day.”
Luckily for Texas State, the Bobcats bring back almost 90 percent of their offense from last year (7th best in the nation). That includes playmaking running backs Calvin Hill and Jahmyl Jeter, who combined for over 1,000 yards on over four yards per carry and proved to be vital as the Bobcats shifted to a more balanced attack toward the end of the season as the passing game faltered. Speaking of the passing game, multi-year starters Marcell Barbee and Javen Banks return after combining for over 1,000 receiving yards last season. The WR unit added transfers Gregory (USF) and Ashtyn Hawkins (Cisco College) who are both expected to have plug-and-play roles with a unit that desperately needed depth. Along the offensive line, which has seen steady improvement under Spavital compared to the years prior to his arrival, star left tackle Dalton Cooper and Kyle Hergel both started all 12 games while returners such as Silas Robinson, Trenton Scott, Kylar Cooks and Russell Baker all saw significant action. This is Texas State’s most experienced offensive line in years.
Expect this unit to take a step forward from the one that barely notched 4.8 yards per play in 2021 (112th in the nation). How much of a leap forward can we expect? Who knows, but we’re about to see how valuable the quarterback position truly is with the rest of the unit back and only one major hole needing to be fixed.
Offensive MVP: RB Calvin Hill
Sure, Layne Hatcher was the best off-season acquisition, but Hill’s 5.6 yards per carry carried the offense along with Jahmyl Jeter last year when quarterback was a question mark. The Baytown native will be a ready rock again this fall.
Offensive Name to Know: Demarcus Gregory
A former USF and Ole Miss receiver who arrived in San Marcos this winter. Gregory may work his way into a rotation that could always use more depth.
Out go two veteran arms but in steps proven starter Layne Hatcher to man the position along with two promising backups in Ty Evans and Syracuse transfer Dillon Markiewicz.
Calvin Hill and Jahmyl Jeter combined for over 1,000 yards last year and both quickly established themselves as the preferred backfield combo. Josh Berry adds some instant depth coming from Blinn College as well.
Dalton Cooper is a star at left tackle and Kyle Hergel provides good stability on the interior, but other than that, it’s anyone’s say. Does Trenton Scott work his way into the starting rotation? Does Silas Robinson step in at center and does someone like Nic Fulwider come into play?
The wideout production fell off last year, but some of that could be chalked up to inconsistent QB play. Marcell Barbee is still one of the best WRs in the conference and guys like Javen Banks and Ashtyn Hawkins provide solid depth along with Jackson Lanam and Micah Hilts at tight end.
Texas State couldn’t get off the field last year.
One of the biggest flaws for the Bobcats under Jake Spavital’s tenure has been the inability to consistently generate pressure. In 2021, that came back to bite in a big way. Texas State finished 105th in sacks per game (1.5) and 106th in sack percentage (4.72 percent).
Although it was up from a dismal 2.82 percent in 2020, it’s still not good enough. That lack of pass rush meant that opposing teams typically feasted on passing downs. Defensive Coordinator Zac Spavital’s unit allowed 24.7 first downs per game, which was 122nd out of 130 teams and 6.9 third down conversions per game, fifth to last in the nation.
It's been an area of concern for a few years now and Spavital’s still making adjustments to fix it. One of the biggest ones? Transitioning senior Jordan Revels, the team’s second-leading returning sack leader, to an edge rusher. Revels along with sophomore linebacker Issiah Nixon combined for seven sacks.
“(Revels is) just one of those kids that can do a lot of things,” defensive line coach Jacori Greer said. “When you have a kid like that, it gives you the opportunity to play different and multiple fronts and packages.”
In place of Revels along the front will be the likes of senior Nico Ezidore and JUCO transfer Samuel Obiang. Look for redshirted players like Jordan Mitchell and Davon Sears to make an impact up front as well.
Another transition has been London Harris to inside linebacker alongside veteran Sione Tupou, who’s the team’s leading returning tackler (75 in 2021). Tupou used his fifth year of eligibility to return this fall.
“(Tupou) just kind of took that leadership role over,” Jake Spavital said. “He played at Allen High School; he's just been around winning programs. He knows what it looks like and, it's a very difficult game, especially in that position, because you're like in a confrontation, a combative fight every single snap, you know, and it's a lot of wear and tear on the bodies.”
One of the areas that Texas State will benefit most from experience is the secondary. Second-year players like Zion Childress received ample playing time alongside the likes of Tory Spears, Jarron Morris and Kordell Rodgers.
“Individually they all have the right approach and the right mindset,” Zac Spavital said.
Defensive MVP: ILB Sione Tupou
Texas State received huge news when the Allen product decided to return for his fifth collegiate season. Tupou is the Bobcats’ most experience linebacker and leading returning taller with 75 in 2021.
Defensive Name to Know: Chris Mills
Mills played almost every game last year after coming in from Missouri but only registered 12 tackles. He could work his way more into playing time this fall.
A solidly experienced unit that’s missing a bit of impact-playmaking. Nico Ezidore is the lead man here providing a rounded unit alongside both Samuel Obiang and Gjemar Daniels.
Texas State received a big boost with Sione Tupou coming back on the inside, but they’re having to move some guys around to fill out the rotation. London Harris slots inside and Jordan Revels is moved to the outside pass rushing position in hopes of generating much-needed pressure.
Similarly to the defensive line, there are guys who’ve played a lot of snaps here but the Bobcats are looking for someone to take a leap. The likely candidate is Zion Childress, who has started since he was a true freshman.
Special Teams: A
Both Seth Keller and Seamus O’Kelly are all-conference caliber legs with Keller hitting on over 80 percent of his field goals last year and O’Kelly pinning 17 inside the 20. But the return game could use some dynamism.
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