By Joe Garcia
James Sherman’s 39-yard field goal was the lone score for Texas State (1-1) in last week’s 42-3 loss to now-No. 17 Arkansas. The sophomore kicker helped the Bobcats avoid a shutout against a strong Southeastern Conference foe.
Did the loss sting? Sure, losing is never fun. But head coach Everett Withers said his team was not down after the loss against a topflight competitor.
Withers said he thought the game against a ranked team on the road like Arkansas was good for his group.
“It kind of gives you a (benchmark) when you are playing an elite opponent to see where you are and how your kids react to playing on the road and playing that type of opponent,” Withers said. “There were some good things that we got out of the game. We didn’t do things right all the time, but I thought we played tremendously hard on defense and tried to attack Arkansas.
“Offensively we didn’t do as well. I didn’t think we took the challenge offensively. We’ve got three seniors up front that should be better and doing things better.”
The Bobcats now turn their attention to red-hot, No. 6 Houston (3-0), facing their second ranked opponent in as many weeks. Saturday marks the home opener for Texas State and the first time it will host a nationally-ranked FBS team.
“We get to play at home for the first time which is nice,” Withers said. “We have a chance to have an unbelievable crowd, hopefully, here. I’m looking forward to it – to play a top 10 team. I’m excited for our kids to play here.”
This is the seventh time the Bobcats and Cougars have met on the gridiron, with Texas State leading the series 4-2. In their first-ever FBS game in 2012, State stunned Houston on its home turf with a 30-13 win. Last year, however, the Cougars were victorious in a 59-14 blowout. That was Houston head coach Tom Herman’s first year on the job.
There’s a wealth of familiarity between these two programs, whose head coaches have branched from the same tree.
Herman and Withers are close friends, having coached together on the staff at the University of Texas (Herman was a graduate assistant) under Mack Brown, and at Ohio State under Urban Myer. Saturday will also be a homecoming of sorts for Herman, who was also the offensive coordinator at Texas State from 2005 to 2006.
In addition, the Cougars’ offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was a player for the Longhorns when Withers was a coach in Austin. The first-year Texas State coach communicates with Herman often, but don’t expect any text exchanges right now.
“We don’t talk this week – we talk other weeks,” Withers said.
Dealing with Distractions
Withers expressed an affinity for playing on the road versus at home due to the abundance of distractions that occur. He smiled, indicating to take what he says with a grain of salt, coming from a head coach’s perspective.
“No disrespect to playing in front of home, alumni, family and friends,” he said. “Because now I don’t have to worry about Grandma Mimi’s tickets. I don’t have to worry about where so and so is going to park. We had a big staff meeting this morning because we have a young team. What are they going to be worried about, how many tickets did my dad get…My thoughts are let’s go to work and let’s lock in to preparing for a top-10 team.”
It’s been well established this is a young group with which Withers and his staff are working. A top priority for the coaches is to build depth on the roster and get the fledgling Bobcats experience heading into Sun Belt Conference play.
There may be no better way to accomplish this than playing at home against one of the best teams in the country. It’s a sojourn all youthful teams must make – a rite of passage the Texas State football program must endure in order to propel it to the next level.
“I think there’s a lot of value to playing top, quality opponents,” Withers said. “Trying to learn more about your team when you play teams that are elite, I really believe that is a positive for our program. We’re still on that journey; we’re still on that path. I’ve challenged my coaches and I’ve challenged myself to play our young guys, to get them on the field. I asked the question in our staff meeting ‘who are we saving them for?’.”
Withers said he wants the inexperienced players to make mistakes now so they can capture it on tape and get mistakes corrected in time for the Sun Belt opener October 8 versus Georgia State, where they will play in the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons – the Georgia Dome.
“(I want to) let them learn how to play in environments that are nice, big stadiums and that type stuff so when you get to conference play it’s not the first time they’ve been out there, he said. “(Playing them against Houston) is a necessary challenge for us to get better down the road. I’m of the (school of thought) of trying to get better for the long term. Hopefully our offensive line understands that they’re playing some of the most elite guys in the country. If they can have some success, they can build on that as they move into week five, week six, week seven of the season.”
After the final seconds tick off the clock Saturday night, there’s one success criteria for Withers’ team: develop and progress.
“I just want our team to get better,” Withers said. “I want to find a way to get one percent better.”