After another inexplicable, soul-sapping loss at Louisiana on Saturday, I wanted to give myself a little bit of time to reflect on Dennis Franchione's tenure at Texas State. Fans are quickly becoming fed up, message board meltdowns are becoming commonplace, and I'm starting to get tweets like these on a regular basis.
SOOOOO MANY RETWEETS!!! https://t.co/JZWT362NjY— John Beck (@J_Beck13) October 11, 2015
I've always been skeptical of the party line that frustratingly slow, incremental progress is the byproduct of building an FBS-worthy program at Texas State, but I've also wanted to give the leadership a chance to produce the results that would prove this stance.
They aren't there. We're five years in to Dennis Franchione's tenure, and Texas State has taken a step back. Setback seasons do happen sometimes, and I was going to wait until the end of the season to evaluate him. Yet there are more worrying cracks in the foundation of this program than merely a 1-4 start to 2015, and even hardcore fans like the ones who went to Lafayette are openly questioning the program's leadership.
I will do my best to evaluate Franchione's tenure based on football-related metrics rather than my beer-fueled emotions after Saturday's loss, so I put together a list of questions that helped me figure out my confidence in Franchione's leadership.
Do I trust Texas State to eventually develop a consistent intermediate and long range passing attack?
Texas State still doesn't have a consistent big play, go-to aerial threat five years in, and Tyler Jones doesn't have any touch on his deep passes. His intermediate routes are often thrown too hard, which hasn't done any favors for an already shaky receiver corps. And when an opposing d-line gets even a little bit of pressure on him, Jones still turns into the opposite of Franchione's "Cool Hand Luke" characterization and misses even the short routes.
Shaun Rutherford also had accuracy issues, so this passing attack of solely easy-to-defend quick screens and short routes over the middle isn't new.
Given that Texas State is only converting 35% of their third downs this season (98th in the country), this is a problem. Dennis Franchione still doesn't have a way to beat defenses on third and long or keep them from cheating up to the line on third and short.
Connor White may represent the last hope to develop a downfield passing game, but given this staff's inability to move Jones beyond his bad habits, I don't necessarily trust them with White either.
Do I trust Texas State to eventually fix their bad habits on defense?
Only a little bit.
Interim defensive coordinator Brad Franchione had a good game plan for the first half against ULL, and the improvement was palpable. The front seven worked in tandem to produce some solid gang tackles, and they stopped the Ragin' Cajuns twice on fourth and short. But the same bad habits of ankle tackling, bad angles, and not wrapping up showed up in the second half.
It's not that I necessarily blame the defense for the second half in Lafayette. Texas State's offense couldn't generate drives longer than 90 seconds, and that's going to gas a good defense, so the Bobcats' already shaky unit didn't stand much of a chance. But they're still giving up over 500 yards a game and have regressed mightily. That's not acceptable.
Do I trust Texas State to clean up the mental errors that have caused unnecessary turnovers and penalties?
After a brief one game hiatus in significant penalty yardage at FSU, Texas State is back to averaging 60 penalty yards a game (80th in the country). They come at the worst moments too, just as Texas State is picking up steam on offense, and then the hangover in momentum often carries over into the following drives.
Or in the case of the most recent game against the weakest Louisiana team since 2008, the entire third quarter. One unnecessary unsportsmanlike penalty by senior lineman Adrian Bellard that occurred immediately after Chris Nutall broke his ankle opened the floodgates. It was an indictment of both Bellard and this team's lack of resilience.
Although turnover numbers haven't been particularly egregious, the few that have happened have absolutely destroyed any offensive momentum that Texas State has built. Houston was a prime example of this, and the backwards lateral that ULL should've had called for a touchdown initially eventually ended up being 7 points for the Cajuns anyway.
Then there was the kickoff for a touchdown after Brandon Smith had just taken a kickoff to the house the play before. Not to take anything away from ULL's effort, but you can't classify that as anything but a lack of focus on Texas State's end. Also, the blocked extra point. And the unsportsmanlike penalty immediately following it. The list goes on.
Do I trust Dennis Franchione and his staff to provide the leadership necessary to inspire this team and help them play with high intensity for 60 minutes?
A thousand times no.
Texas State has been outscored 73-17 in the third quarter this season through five games. Last year, they were outscored 81-76 in the 3rd quarter, and those were Franchione's best numbers for that statistic. In 2013, it was 74-51; in 2012, 93-54; in 2011, 93-53.
The official party line was a lack of FBS-worthy depth to keep up in the second half of games. Well, it's five years in and these are all Franchione's recruits. The team often comes out jogging sluggishly after halftime, and, if you'll excuse the hot take, one can't help but speculate that it translates to their play on the field. This is a full-blown trend of incompetence and there are no signs it will improve anytime soon.
Then there's the issue with Franchione not coaching to win for 60 minutes at Lafayette. Sure, Franchione's teams have turtled up early plenty of times in the past, but there were at least some semi-valid excuses for the blowout losses in wanting to avoid injuries.
But take a look at the second to last offensive drive for Texas State at ULL, when the Bobcats were down three possessions.
Twelve plays and 4 minutes wasted for a drive that produced an astounding seven rushes with Texas State's starting RB, with six carries inexplicably coming in succession.
This wasn't Florida State or Houston. This was a Sun Belt conference game. As in, the only type of game that's supposed to matter if you believe all the spin and the coachspeak used to rationalize Texas State's poor out of conference performance. Getting 21 points in under 10 minutes is unlikely, but far from impossible. Just ask Pitt. Or Texas State themselves, who blew a 24 point lead in 9 minutes a few years ago. So why did Franchione coach as if he didn't have faith in his team to do so?
Above all, wasn't this season about playing to win and showing the Sun Belt that Texas State deserved respect? Wasn't this year about the will to "Make Every Game Count" and "Leave No Doubt" and make a bowl game? Isn't this season all about showing off Franchione's recruits, who he's consistently touted as "Our Kind of Guys," over Brad Wright's recruits despite the latter type of player having been responsible for plenty of big plays of their own?
Finally, and most importantly...
Do I have hope that this coaching staff will help this team consistently improve and get Texas State to a bowl game?
No, I don't.
This staff hasn't shown that they will clean up the mistakes that have plagued this program since Franchione came back in 2011. Injuries have hurt this season, but they shouldn't be considered a valid excuse for the overall lack of performance; this was supposed to be the deepest team in Texas State history. The Bobcats have also suffered numerous crucial injuries in previous years, so although the sheer numbers of injuries may be higher, it's not as if dealing with roster attrition is an entirely new challenge.
Also, consider the teams that Texas State has beaten during his tenure. I stole this concept shamelessly from Pete Volk's indictment of former Maryland coach Randy Edsall because I was curious to see how Franchione's record would stack up in comparison.
|Team||Team's Season Record|
|2011 Tarleton State**||6-5|
|2011 Nicholls State||1-10|
|2011 McNeese State||6-5|
|2011 Prairie View A&M||5-6|
|2012 New Mexico State||1-11|
|2013 Southern Miss||1-11|
|2013 Prairie View A&M*||6-6|
|2013 Georgia State||0-12|
|2013 South Alabama||6-6|
|2014 Arkansas-Pine Bluff*||4-7|
|2014 New Mexico State||2-10|
|2014 Arkansas State||7-5|
|2014 Georgia State||1-11|
|2015 Prairie View A&M*||3-2|
|Total winning percentage||.298|
|FBS opponent winning percentage||.214|
One asterisk denotes teams that were FCS when Texas State was FBS. Two asterisks denote Division 2 teams.
I no longer have any confidence in Texas State's ability to score a real signature upset over an excellent FBS team, or even a good Sun Belt team. At best, all I can hope for is wins over programs ranked 110th or worse in FBS advanced stats, or to pick off a 7-5 'Belt team that lost most of its defensive starters to injury. That is a soul-crushing statement to type.
Dennis Franchione might've been the right hire in 2010 given the alternatives. I'm thankful for the way that he has built up this program from an also-ran in FCS to a program with the infrastructure to potentially compete in the FBS with the right coach. Yet this year is a clear regression and it's far from clear that any improvement is on the horizon.
Coach Fran's earned the right to go out "on his own terms" in retirement rather than be fired. But regardless of how things end up being done in the Casey Building, it's time for a change.
And if athletic director Larry Teis isn't willing to make changes that will put Texas State in position to compete for Sun Belt Conference titles and postseason contention, then he should be the next one gone. The stakes are too high for the Bobcats to expect anything less.