Baylor kicks off their season with a home game against the Texas State Bobcats. You may remember last year’s 42-7 shellacking in Week 3 and be thinking this is a typical season opener against a weak opponent to build the team’s confidence and get the backups some playing time. If so, you’d be wrong. With a new coach, new scheme, and new roster, Baylor is in for a fight.
Texas State on offense
The Texas State Bobcats will challenge the Baylor defense with a up-tempo spread offense brought by the newly hired head coach G. J. Kinne. For context, Kinne played quarterback under Gus Malzahn at Tulsa and spent one year at Hawaii as their offensive coordinator (2020), one year at UCF as their co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2021), and one year at Incarnate Word as their head coach (2022).
Kinne’s stint at UIW was a resounding success. The Cardinals went 12-2, losing in the FCS Semifinals to North Dakota State, and led both FBS and FCS with 51.5 points per game and 581 yards per game. They did so with a balanced passing and rushing attack, averaging 366 yards per game through the air (499 attempts) and 215 yards per game on the ground (536 attempts).
It’s yet to be seen if Kinne can bring the same success to Texas State. Last season the Bobcats were 110th in FBS with only 21.1 points per game. However, they’ve brought in 53 new scholarship players, the second-most in the country, including two transfers currently competing for the starting quarterback spot — #7 T.J. Finley from Auburn/LSU and #4 Malik Hornsby from Arkansas.
Finley and Hornsby bring very different things to the offense. Finley is a 6’7, 255lb pocket passer with 320 career passing attempts and only 34 rushes (22 coming in 2020 while he was at LSU). He has 11 career touchdowns to 10 interceptions, 2,204 yards, and a 57% completion percentage. Hornsby is a 6’2, 190lb dual-threat quarterback with only 38 career passing attempts for 291 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. On the ground, he’s rushed 37 times for 7.2 yards per carry, 1 TD, and 5 fumbles.
Assisting either Finley or Hornsby in the passing game are seven wide receivers currently listed as starters or co-starters. Notable among them are #3 Beau Corrales, a 6’4 redshirt senior from UNC and SMU with 1,247 career receiving yards and 12 TDs, #5 Sean Shaw Jr., a 6’6 redshirt senior from Iowa State with 680 career receiving yards and 9 TDs, #9 Joey Hobert, 5’11 junior from Utah Tech with 1,258 receiving yards and 16 TDs in 2022, and the team’s leading receiver from last season with 587 yards and 9 TDs, 5’10 #1 Ashtyn Hawkins.
Texas State’s offensive line is completely revamped from last season — not a single starter remains on the two-deep — but that doesn’t mean it’s all new faces for coach Kinne. Five linemen on the roster transferred from UIW, and four of them are currently listed as starters or co-starters. Given UIW’s offensive success, you know they’re all talented and playing with confidence, especially #76 Nash Jones and #74 Caleb Johnson who allowed a combined two sacks on ~530 passing plays last season. It doesn’t hurt all four starters from UIW are 320lbs or larger and 6’4 or taller.
Running behind the mass of humanity that is Texas State’s offensive line are two long-time Bobcats, #11 Calvin Hill and #28 Jahmyl Jeter. Hill started the 2022 season as Texas State’s primary running back, but he suffered a season-ending injury in October. For his career, the 5’8, 200lb back has 323 rushing attempts for 1,615 yards and 10 touchdowns, 56 receptions for 366 yards, and a very sub-par pass-blocking grade on PFF. Jeter is a bit bigger at 6’0, 235lbs and has 12 touchdowns on half as many rushing attempts and yards. Jeter has also been used only sparingly in the passing game, registering 27 career receptions for 98 yards.
Texas State on defense
Following Kinne from UIW is Texas State’s new defensive coordinator, Jonathan Patke. Under Kinne and Patke, UIW led all of FCS in tackles for loss and was top-ten in sacks. This is a disruptive defense that likes to bring pressure for a lot of different places.
The pressure starts upfront with senior edge rusher #8 Jordan Revels. Revels has been with the team since his freshman year and has 28 starts for the Bobcats. Last season, he recorded 70 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. On the other side of the line is senior #9 Sam Latham. Latham is another transfer from UIW and an imposing figure at 6’7, 275lbs. As a starter in every game last season, Latham registered 42 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks.
There are four players competing for the two interior line spots. #99 Myron Warren transferred from Texas two years ago and played only one game last year due to injury. #95 Terry Webb transferred from Kilgore College where he had 34 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks in two seasons. #91 Tavian Coleman transferred from Utah State where he had 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Last but not least, #97 Dominique Ratcliff is competing for a starting spot after filling a reserve role for Texas State all of last season.
At the center of the defense, #3 Dan Foster Jr. and #19 CJ Williams are battling for the starting middle linebacker position. Neither has much experience — Foster transferred from Marshall after mostly playing special teams, and all of Williams’ snaps at linebacker for Texas State occurred in one game.
There’s more continuity from last year at the outsider linebacker position. #0 Brian Holloway started five games in 2022, played in 11, and posted 49 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Per PFF, Holloway is an above average run defender and pass rusher, but he struggles a little bit in coverage. Last season he allowed 12 receptions on 15 targets for 133 yards. Along with Holloway is #33 Ben Bell who played in 12 games last year, had 25 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. PFF considers Bell a better pass rusher and coverage guy but a worse run defender.
In the backfield, Texas State lost their two best cornerbacks, one to graduation and the other to Florida Atlantic. In their place are a pair of 5’11 part-time starters from last year, #7 Chris Mills and #4 Alonzo Edwards Jr. PFF grades them both as above average in coverage; they allowed a 57% and 58% reception rate and 9.7 and 12.1 yards per reception, respectively. Neither had an interception. Joining Mills and Edwards are #1 Joshua Eaton, a 6’1 transfer from Oklahoma who played mostly special teams over three years, and #2 Kaleb Ford-Dement, a 5’11 transfer from Washington State who missed all of last season due to injury but had a really impressive 2019 season for Old Dominion.
Finally, we get to the safety position! Returning starter #12 Tory Spears looks to build on a promising 2022 season where he was third on the team in tackles and had a 94 yard interception return for a touchdown. Spears doesn’t have much experience rushing the QB, though that could change with Patke’s new scheme. He’s also struggled at times making tackles; last season Spears had four games with a 20% missed tackle rate or higher.
Named co-starters for the other safety position are #23 Shawn Holton and #20 Kaleb Culp. Both transferred from UIW and have at least 30 games of experience on the defensive side. Holton is slightly older and more productive in coverage with 4 career interceptions, 13 pass breakups, and 134 tackles over 41 games. Culp has two fewer years of experience but 195 career tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. If Patke wants to blitz his safeties, look for it to come when Culp is in the game.
This is not the same Texas State team that Baylor beat 42-7 last season. The Bears need to be prepared for a no-huddle, spread offense with a lot of downfield shots against their inexperienced corners in man coverage, especially when Finley is on the field. Their massive offensive line might pose some matchup problems, especially for Cooper Lanz as he fills in at nose tackle. And when Hornsby is in the game, Matt Jones and/or Mike Smith Jr can’t be as aggressive shooting their gaps, otherwise they’ll get burned by the Arkansas transfer’s speed.
I’m not as concerned when Baylor has the ball. I think our line can hold up well against their pass rush, especially on the left side, and none of their linebackers have shown enough in the past to make me think they can shut down the run game. Corner is another weak position for the Bobcats, so I expect Ketron Jackson Jr. and Monaray Baldwin to have big games. Drake Dabney should also be matchup problem against their LBs.
Both FEI and SP+ project a dominant win for Baylor, somewhere around the 37-8 range. I think both models are overly penalizing the roster turnover at Texas State, and I’d be surprised if we held them to only one touchdown. I also think they’re underestimating how many possessions each team will have — while Baylor wants to hold onto the ball for 8 minutes, Texas State will up the tempo as much as possible. I’m predicting a 42-21 win for Baylor.
Statistics courtesy of Texas State Athletics, ESPN, and Pro Football Focus.