Rutgers football opens the 2018 season this Saturday at home against the Texas State Bobcats. After back to back 2-10 campaigns, third year head coach Everett Withers looks to get the program moving in the right direction this season. Like Rutgers, Texas State is a very young team, which makes for an interesting matchup in the first game of the year for both squads.
In order to find out more about the Bobcats, I was fortunate to speak with Vidal Espinoza, the Texas State writer for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, which covers group of five conferences, including the Sun Belt Conference. You can read his season preview here. Espinoza answered questions about Withers tenure so far, what to expect from new starting QB Willie Jones III, as well as personnel on both sides of the football. Let’s kick things off here.
AB: As year three of the Everett Withers era begins, is this program headed in the right direction? What are fair expectations for this team this season?
VE: Everett Withers was basically forced to do a tear-down at Texas State when he was hired and after two great recruiting classes the Bobcats are poised to do big things. Withers has Texas State poised to make a run at a Bowl but it may take another year. The talent is there it’s just the roster is just so damn young still. I will say though they will win more than two games this year.
AB: Willie Jones is the starting quarterback against Rutgers, what are the strengths and weaknesses of his game?
VE: Jones III will be the starter going in. Coach Withers has praised WJIII as having a command over the offense in spring and fall camp and last year Jones had some playing time logged.
AB: Jones is a dual threat and can take off on a dime and he has a very strong arm. His accuracy has improved between spring and fall and he looks more comfortable in the pocket then he did last year.
VE: He was a little erratic at times in 2017 as a freshman but that was due to him being thrown in as a baptism-by-fire type of situation during garbage time or when the regular starter was ineffective. I wish he had a little more weight on him but he’s only a sophomore and Texas State does boast a great workout facility and plenty of buffet-style dining halls.
AB: Who are some top returning players on offense and who are potential players that could step up this season?
VE: Offensive lineman Aaron Brewer is the key to an O line that desperately needs to improve upon last year. There is talent in the trenches but they’ll have to find some rhythm together to make the offense effective.
Running back Anthony Taylor has talent and the ability to find lanes. He was part of a three back tandem but due to injuries on the roster he’ll be give a bulk of the load this year. The ground game needs to acquire the ability to eat up yards and clock and this will rely on whether Taylor can break more runs like he did in 2017.
AB: Texas State showed some improved defensively last season. With a strong linebacking core and an ability to limit the run game last season, can they take another step forward this year?
VE: This all depends on the secondary’s ability to make some progress. Last year Texas State did not record an interception and allowed 300+ yards passing a game.
Safety A.J. Krawczyk is the most talented of the secondary guys and he’ll have talented corner turned safety JaShon Waddy joining him. Texas State made some adjustments this off season to the secondary to hopefully limit these woes. But again they need to get those turnovers in order to have any success.
AB: How strong is the kicking game and will special teams play overall be a strength this season?
VE: Senior James Sherman has a big leg but last year he was used only in the first five games of the season. This season he will be the main guy with a batch of freshman at kicker and punter behind him.
AB: Are there any other players of note on Texas State that Rutgers fans should be aware of for this game?
VE: I think the whole group of wide receivers should be something Rutgers fans should look out for. Tyler Watts and Mason Hays, when given the chance, can be game breakers in the clutch. Hutch White is a WR3 option who in my opinion is a valuable wild card who can run the gadget plays, the jet sweeps and any other trick plays.
AB: What is your prediction for the game?
VE: Hopefully the Bobcats can put together a complete game and be competitive. I’d like to see Willie Jones III come into his own, the offensive line to be competitive and the defense make some turnovers. Give me the 35-31 Bobcat upset win.
Thanks to Vidal for giving such good insight on Texas State football. You can follow him on twitter here and make sure to visit Underdog Dynasty for all of his coverage on this week’s opponent. For my answers to Vidal’s questions about Rutgers, click here.