The Texas State Bobcats might be just 1-3 overall, but Jake Spavital's squad enters its matchup with the Sun Belt rival Troy Trojans as one of the most improved college football teams in the country. Texas State's three losses have all been decided by a single possession, the most recent of which was a 24-21 heartbreaker on the road against Boston College. The Bobcats also made an emphatic statement the previous week with a 38-17 win over ULM to open conference play.
Troy (1-1) was impressive in its season opener against Middle Tennessee, winning 47-14 on the road. However, the Trojans were dominated 48-7 by BYU the following week. With previously scheduled games against ULM and South Alabama postponed, Troy has yet to kick off the Sun Belt portion of its schedule. The stark contrast in on-field performance, as well as the interruptions caused by the coronavirus, have made it difficult to tell if, or how much, the Trojans have improved in Chip Lindsey's second season as head coach. Texas State should provide a good measuring stick.
Texas State at Troy
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 10, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Troy -7.5
When Texas State Has the Ball
The Bobcats have taken a major step forward offensively this season despite an ever-changing situation at quarterback. Texas State averaged 18.4 points per game, 4.97 yards per play, and 317.8 total yards per contest in 2019 — all of which finished at the bottom of the Sun Belt leaderboard. But with Brady McBride and Tyler Vitt swapping starts behind center this season, those numbers are on the rise. Texas State has averaged 32.8 points per game, 5.81 yards per snap, and 410.8 yards per contest in 2020.
McBride opened the season as the starter and has completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 456 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions in two games. Vitt, who started twice while McBride was unavailable, has completed 65.6 percent of his pass attempts for 602 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. Vitt has averaged an impressive 9.9 yards per attempt, which would rank seventh in the country if he had played enough to qualify for the official FBS leaderboard, while McBride has averaged 6.7. Vitt, while not as exciting a runner as McBride, has been more productive on the ground with 86 yards and a touchdown, while McBride has -11 rushing yards without a score. Both quarterbacks are expected to be available for the first time this season, and both may play.
Both signal-callers will have weapons to work with. Brock Sturges and Calvin Hill have shared carries at running back, having combined for 456 yards and five touchdowns, and Oklahoma State transfer Jahmyl Jeter (who gained 36 yards on four carries in his action against BC) is expected to see a heavier workload moving forward. Receiver Jeremiah Haydel led the Bobcats with 17 receptions — including a few highlight-reel grabs — and 237 yards. Haydel's three touchdowns are second to big-play teammate Marcell Barbee's four. Barbee has averaged 17.33 yards on only nine receptions. Jah'Marae Sheread (12 receptions, 143 yards, 1 touchdown), Trevis Graham Jr. (11 receptions, 120 yards), and Chandler Speights (7 receptions, 120 yards, 1 touchdown) help round out a deep group.
When Troy Has the Ball
It's probably been difficult for the Trojans to get into a rhythm offensively because of scheduling issues, and running into the BYU buzzsaw, but numbers are moving in the wrong direction early. Troy averaged 33.8 points and 456.3 total yards per game (at 6.13 yards per play) last season, all of which ranked in the top half of the Sun Belt. But the Trojans have managed 27.0 points and 335.8 total yards per contest and a conference worst 4.61 yards per play through two games this year.
Sophomore Gunnar Watson won a three-way quarterback battle this fall and has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in two starts. Khalil McClain leads the Trojans with 84 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. All-Sun Belt receiver Kaylon Geiger shares the team lead with eight receptions but has averaged just 4.88 yards per catch, and red zone favorite Reggie Todd has also struggled to get going, having caught just three passes for 23 yards. Still, Watson has arguably the deepest group of receivers to work within the conference.
And Troy also has options in the running game. B.J. Smith returned to his spot as the feature running back after suffering a season-ending injury last year. Smith's 11 carries and 97 rushing yards lead the team, and he has scored once. Last year's leading rusher, DK Billingsley, hasn't had much work yet, having gained 32 yards on eight carries, though he has scored once as well. Texas A&M transfer Charles Strong (11 carries, 54 yards, 1 touchdown) and true freshman Kimani Vidal (13 carries, 52 yards, 1 touchdown) are also in the mix.
Both offenses are well-stocked with playmakers, and both defenses have struggled at times to stop opponents this season — though Texas State has an edge having allowed 5.83 yards per play compared to Troy's 6.28. Still, the Trojans have a more talented unit — especially at the top end. Linebacker Carlton Martial is an All-American candidate, and defensive lineman Will Choloh is an All-Conference performer. Cornerback Terence Dunlap, who missed 2019 with an injury, has already picked off two passes.
Though Texas State has promise on defense, it is a unit in transition. The Bobcats returned just four starters from 2019, two of which (defensive lineman Caeveon Patton and cornerback Khambrail Winters) have yet to play this season because of injuries. The Bobcats brought in a handful of transfers to help fill gaps, and corner Jarron Morris, who has two interceptions including a 100-yard touchdown return, is playing at a high level. Nevertheless, Troy's experience should give the Trojans an edge.
Prediction: Troy 34, Texas State 24
(Carlton Martial photo courtesy of Troy Athletics)