Lunch with Coach Fran: Defensive issues plaguing the team

Sports Editor
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Tyler Jones, junior quarterback, did all he could to earn a pivotal non-conference victory against Southern Mississippi at home.

In the end, not even 470 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns was enough to compensate for something that could potentially doom Texas State if it isn’t sorted out sooner rather than later.

That something would be the defense. Comparatively, Texas State allowed 56 points, 613 total yards and a backup running back to rush for a career-high 230 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

The tired sports cliché says defense wins championships. A bad defense, however, is perhaps more damaging than a bad offense.

“We have to keep searching for some things that we can do better on defense,” said Coach Dennis Franchione. “We have to play better and tackle better and defend our gaps better and get off blocks better. There’s not much on defense that we don’t have to do better.”

Frankly, it doesn’t matter how good Jones is or how proficient the running game is or how many quality receivers are on the roster if the defense can’t stop the opposition from scoring points.

“The sad thing for us Saturday night is we scored 50 points, we didn’t turn the ball over a single time and came up on the short end,” Franchione said. “The offense blames themselves for the loss, not the defense. The offense isn’t saying the defense lost the game. The offense is saying we have to score 57 if they score 56 and that’s the way it should be.”

That’s the thing, though. The offense shouldn’t need to score 57 points to win a football game. Putting that burden on the offense and Jones in particular doesn’t lend itself to success down the road.

Even with a higher margin for error, Texas State’s defense failed to make enough stops to support the offense, which scored on eight of its 14 possessions.

Here’s the bottom line: Texas State’s defense doesn’t have to be perfect or even above average for the team to be successful. It only needs to be competent enough to give the offense enough leeway to make some mistakes and still have a chance to remain in the football game.

So far, that hasn’t been the case.

Texas State is 122nd in total defense, 122nd in passing defense, tied for 102nd in rushing defense and 122nd in scoring defense in the nation after three games.

Only five teams in the country are worse than the Bobcats in four of the major defensive categories.

Adjusted for strength of schedule—which is necessary because of the season opener against Florida State—Texas State is ranked 126th in ESPN’s defensive efficiency, which lowers the value of “garbage time” in the equation.

Idaho and Wyoming make up the short list that is rated lower than Texas State in defensive efficiency. That’s it.

Through three games last year, the defense had allowed 77 points and 1,169 yards. This year, the numbers have jumped to 139 points and 1,651 yards.

“They aren’t skirting responsibility on this,” Franchione said. “They are saying we are gonna get it turned around. That’s half the battle right there.”

The losses of David Mayo, Craig Mager and Michael Odiari were major talking points before the season and for good reason—all were key cogs in the defensive machine.

Internal improvement and a better understanding of the defense were expected in the second year of defensive coordinator John Thompson’s system. By all accounts, those two factors were going to make up for losing three important pieces on that side of the ball.

Instead, the defense is allowing an FCS caliber school to score 24 points and total 323 passing yards. Missed tackles have been a recurring theme, especially in the first quarter against Southern Mississippi.

Franchione said the team didn’t defend its gaps well and struggled to separate from offensive line, hence the Golden Eagles ripping off three touchdowns of over 50 yards last week.

The problems extend to the secondary, a unit including the Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year. Opponents are averaging 9.1 yards per passing attempt, eliminating the game against Florida State.

The numbers boil down to the simple truth that opposing receivers are separating from the secondary consistently. In the last two games, Texas State allowed 10 receptions of over 20 yards. There has been little resistance and the interceptions aren’t there either. The team has yet to record an interception, putting the Bobcats in exclusive company with 15 other teams in Division I.

To address these defensive problems, Franchione and his staff are going back to the drawing board this week.

“When you’re struggling on one side, the other side has to hold their own,” Franchione said.

If the answers don’t appear soon, the Bobcats offense will be stretched to its limits just to remain competitive this season. 

Follow Quixem Ramirez on Twitter @quixem.