Game preview: Bobcats face familiar foe in last non-conference game

Assistant Sports Editor

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Similar to the game against Prairie View A&M, there is a sense of familiarity with Houston, due to the large majority of Texas State’s players being from that area.

These are players some Bobcats played either with or against in high school. Being focused for this game should not be an issue for Texas State. If Texas State shows up to the Cougars’ backyard like they did in 2012, the Bobcats will be ready to play.

“They’ll speak to it better than I, but I remember in pregame warm-up that night asking a couple of our coaches, ‘Wow. We are kind of weird here, what’s going on?’” said Coach Dennis Franchione. “What it was is they were really ready to play. They had their pencil sharp and they were spot-on.”

Family and friends will be in attendance for a lot of these Houston-bred Bobcats, including Demun Mercer, sophomore wide receiver. Mercer hopes to perform well in front of his home crowd.

“I’m back home,” Mercer said. “I’m in the backyard. We have to be on the same page from the game plan to focus. I know we will have a lot of fans and friends hitting us up, but we have to stay focused and dedicated.”

Mercer, Jafus Gaines, senior wide receiver, and Tim Gay, senior linebacker, went to Chavez High School and played football together with and against a number of players on the Houston Cougars roster.

Mercer said that even though they are familiar with these players, he and his teammates have to stay focused and keep working hard, because he knows the Cougars are working just as much as the Bobcats.

Familiarity extends beyond the players, too.

Houston Associate Head Coach Craig Naivar worked for Texas State under Franchione as a defensive coordinator from 2011-2013.

“Oh, I think both of us knows how the other thinks,” Franchione said. “We both have to make some adjustments to make sure we don’t think like we always think. Craig has spent several days defending us before, although we have changed a lot since he was here. We’ve changed a lot of our vocabulary.”

The vocabulary may have changed since Naivar left, but the concepts remain the same. Texas State still runs an up-tempo, spread offense Naivar is accustomed to seeing.

The coaching factor will probably have a higher impact on the outcome of the game due to this familiarity between personnel. 

Both teams carry a high-powered, balanced offense dependent on the quarterback.

Houston averages 295.5 passing yards per game to Texas State’s 270.3, and the Cougars rush for 246 yards per game while the Bobcats run for 243.

Both teams average 43 points per game, but where they differ is the defensive side.

Texas State’s defense has been exposed in different ways this season.

First, it was the athleticism of Florida State. Then Prairie View A&M exposed the Bobcats in the air, throwing for 323 yards. Southern Mississippi excelled through the air and on the ground, throwing for 333 yards and running for another 280.

On the flip side, the Cougars’ defense has held strong.

The Cougars are holding their opponents to 49.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the NCAA.

This is a crucial point of emphasis, because the run game is Texas State’s biggest strength as a team.

Tyler Jones, junior quarterback, leads the team with 247 rushing yards, followed by Rob Lowe, senior running back, with 207. Chris Nutall, senior running back, has 122 rushing yards to finish the three-headed rushing attack.

Cougars are a 16.5 points favorite at home.

However, don’t let the point spread fool you. The last time these two schools crossed paths, the point spread was almost double this year’s, and the outcome was far from expected.

“That was a special night,” Franchione said. “Our first game in FBS level football and I think we were something like a 36.5-point underdog, maybe the largest point spread in college football history to win. That was a very memorable evening.”

Fast-forward to three years later, and the Cougars and Bobcats meet again. The Bobcats are on the brink of going 1-3 entering a front-end heavy conference schedule.

“If we got through it 2-2, it would be better with a road win out of it,” Franchione said. “But no matter what, next Sunday the non-conference schedule is over, and you start conference play. Right now, we just need to focus about being 1-0 this week and then get to open week and evaluate what we can fix. Then we’ll get ready for the long haul of conference play.”

Follow Paul Livengood on Twitter @IamLivengood.