College Football: Finding playmakers in the secondary and on special teams

ISHMAEL JOHNSON
Sports Editor

There aren’t a lot of names changing in the secondary or on special teams, but expectations certainly are.

Brandon McDowell, Dila Rosemond, Stephan Johnson, Javante O’Roy, Clarence Guidry III and Damani Alexcee all played at least five games last season so in games reps won’t be the concern. Secondary is easily one of the Bobcats’ more experienced unit, but it was also one of the more targeted units last season.

There's only one stat that encapsulates Texas State's secondary: Only three interceptions on the season, the first not coming until Nov. 14 against Georgia State.

It’s worth asking, what good are returning players if those players couldn’t produce in the first place, but in response to that, Texas State’s secondary didn’t exactly have much help.

With little to no pass rush from the front seven, the Bobcats’ defensive backs were left to fend for themselves far too often as opposing quarterbacks sat back and waited for coverage cracks to emerge before busting open big play after big play. Texas State allowed a conference-high nine yards per pass and allowed 263.8 total passing yards per game. To top it off, opposing quarterbacks produced their best passing efficiencies against Texas State’s defense (165.3). What that says is there’s literally nowhere for the secondary to go but up from last season.

“Takeaways are going to play a big role in what we do this season as a defense,” O’Roy said during Sun Belt Media Day in New Orleans. “Unfortunately we didn’t get too many of them last season and that’s something we’re working on this season.”

Randall McCray’s 3-4 defense didn’t change much for the secondary which could be a positive thing. Continuity in assignment could prove valuable to a unit that already knows how to play together.

“It hasn’t been too hard on the secondary,” O’Roy said. “We do run a few new things that we didn’t have in place last season. We definitely run more stuff, but switching to the 3-4 definitely affects the defensive line and linebackers more. We do get some good athletes on the field, especially at our outside linebackers, we have some good ones coming in.”

McDowell will likely slide over into the number one corner slot after playing opposite of David Mims II in 2015 and be paired with either Dila Rosemond or Clarence Guidry III. Alexcee and O’Roy will likely be the starting safety combo.

From what he showed on special teams last season, there is no question about McDowell’s athleticism and big-play ability. Can the junior transition that over to the defensive side this season?

Speaking of special teams, McDowell should be able to generate some game-breaking plays at punt returner and sophomore Tyler Watts was taking a lot of reps as the team’s kick returner now that Brandon Smith is gone.

For all of Texas State’s woes during its 3-9 campaign, one player shown through as a bright spot and that’s kicker and punter Lumi Kaba.

Against Florida State in his Football Bowl Subdivision debut, the Tyler native booted seven punts and had an average of 46.6 yards and placed two inside the 20-yard line. 

The Preseason All-Conference Second Team selection gave Texas State’s punt coverage team a centerpiece as he finished 19th in punting average (44.3 yards per punt), helped the Bobcats finish 14th in net punting yards (40.38 net yards) and landed 16 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Even on kickoffs, Kaba didn’t let many returners have a chance. He booted 69.35 percent of his kickoffs touchbacks — ninth in the nation.

Field goals were the Achilles heel to an otherwise successful junior season for Kaba. He finished 108th in the nation after he connected on 55.6 percent of his attempts (10 of 18). If Kaba could improve or perhaps James Sherman takes over the field goal kicking, Texas State could easily have the best special teams unit in the Sun Belt.

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