Photo by Lance Winter
Bobcats looking for first win streak since 2019, host UIW
Texas State is making a habit out of getting turnovers.
Through two games, the Bobcats have recovered four fumbles, tying for the fourth-most in the country. Freshman safety Zion Childress, whose two forced fumbles are tied for second-most in the nation, said that’s not a coincidence.
“Every day in practice, we work punching at the football, just trying to get the football out to force turnovers,” Childress said. “I pride myself on forcing turnovers but it's more of a habit thing. You know, if you don't force turnovers in practice, you're not gonna force turnovers in the game. It's something you gotta work at, day-in and day-out. I feel like that every day we work at getting turnovers.”
Head coach Jake Spavital said the defense dedicates the first five minutes of every practice to hunting for turnovers — the offense likewise focuses on ball security. And during controlled settings, defenders are encouraged to take a swipe at the rock while ball-carriers are encouraged to keep rushing upfield after the whistle.
The turnovers have come in clutch. In the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Florida International, senior linebacker Markeveon Coleman popped the ball out at the goal line to keep the Panthers from getting their first score of the game. And later in overtime, freshman linebacker Issiah Nixon earned a strip-sack, leading to the maroon and gold’s first win of the year, 23-17, and first non-conference road victory since 2016.
“It was a great play call — one of my favorite play calls, actually. And everybody executed perfectly. (Outside linebackers coach Tevin) Mims gives us great tools to go out there and win, so I just found myself in a perfect position to make a play for us to win,” Nixon said. “You always gotta work the ball, no matter if we're 7-on-7, going against the scouts, going against our offense, we always have to work the ball every play. That's how you finish here. And it's been showing up in the games.”
The fumbles have helped Texas State only allow opponents to score 62.5% of the time in the red zone, a mark that’s tied for 23rd in the FBS. Teams have crossed the Bobcats’ 20-yard line eight times this year but were held to three touchdowns and two field goals.
The maroon and gold offense has scored on all seven of its own red zone trips, but Spavital said he’d like to see more consistency out of the group. The unit scored on its opening drive against FIU but didn’t reach the end zone again until the fourth quarter. Through two games, Texas State is averaging 6.3 less points and 84.2 less yards per game than it did in 2020.
“We've got a ways to go in terms of what our identity needs to be and what we want to be as an offense,” offensive coordinator Jacob Peeler said. “You know, Coach (Spavital) said it, consistency is key and there's a lot of things that go with that — you know, that's aiming points on blocks, that's depths of routes, that's running backs at the right angle, there's a lot of things that go into that. And with football, and you've heard this before, it's the ultimate team sport. You can have 10 guys do the right thing and one person not and it can completely wreck a play. And so that's the biggest thing for us.”
Texas State will have a golden opportunity to iron out a few of its wrinkles when it hosts Incarnate Word this week. The Cardinals defense ranked in the bottom three of the FCS last year allowing 533.0 yards per game last year.
UIW has shown improvement this season, holding Prairie View A&M to nine points last week. Peeler said he anticipates the Cardinals’ to come out in multiple defense fronts and focus on stopping the pass.
The visiting offense should also be a test for the Bobcat defense, putting at least 40 points on the board in both of its first two contests. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Ward was named the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year and Jerry Rice Award winner last season and has picked up where he left off, throwing for 280 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game this year.
Texas State (1-1) and UIW (1-1) will meet inside Bobcat Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m. A win for the maroon and gold would give them their first win streak since 2019 and match the number of victories they had in 2020.
“This is going to be a really great challenge for us,” Spavital said. “So, looking forward to be back in Bobcat Stadium, back in (Jim Wacker Field), you know, just being in front of our home crowd. And it'll be good to get out there and compete in front of our home crowd. And hopefully, we can have that same feeling that we had this past weekend.