Texas State junior receiver Marcell Barbee (18) jumps over SMU defenders in an attempt to catch the football in the endzone, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020, at Bobcat Stadium.

Texas State’s consistent first-half rushing attack, multiple defensive stops and early catch-of-the-year candidate were ultimately not enough to overcome the Southern Methodist University Mustangs Sept. 5 at Bobcat Stadium.

Despite a 31-24 loss to SMU, the team showed up to play on national television—its first game ever on the main ESPN channel—with a revamped offense, leaving the Texas State community and college football analysts surprised.

Behind 416 yards of offense, including 189 yards of rushing, which more than double the 2019 season average of 76.7 yards per game, the offense came out different from the one that struggled through the 2019 season. The defense, forcing multiple turnovers, kept the team in the game.

“I do think [our team] played all the way till the last seconds of the game,” Head Coach Jake Spavital said. “As a coach, that is what you want them to do. The first game [had] a lot of unknowns, brand new team, and you got to figure out how they operate and how they work. For the most part, I thought we did a lot of good things, but there’s a lot of things, once you watch this tape, that we missed out there [the players] are going to want to have back.”

In a series with a 35-yard run on third and 20 by sophomore running back Brock Sturges and sophomore quarterback Brady McBride hitting both junior wide receiver Chandler Speights and senior wide receiver Jeremiah Haydel for big gains, the Bobcats failed to capitalize on a scoring opportunity, ending with a missed field goal by freshman kicker Alan Orona.

SMU’s offense struggled to find a rhythm during the first three drives. Three punts in, the Mustangs got on the board after freshman running back Ulysses Bentley IV scored on an outside zone run to put SMU up 7-0.

The Bobcats responded with what was a 12-play, 75-yard drive that chewed up nearly five minutes of the game clock. McBride completed two passes for 35 yards, both resulting in first downs that ultimately put the ‘Cats in a goal-to-go situation. Sturges came through for Texas State again, with a four-yard touchdown.

Following another Mustang touchdown by Bentley, the catch of the game, featured on SportsCenter’s top ten plays, happened when Haydel grabbed a pass from McBride with one hand to tie the game at 14-14 shortly before halftime.

In the second half, the Bobcats’ lack of depth, due to injuries, a game ejection and players inactive due to COVID-19 contact tracing off the field, started to catch up to the team.

“Honestly we got into an issue with depth,” Spavital said. “It wore us down in the second half—you know, you had Jake Lynch who started at fullback and ended up going in and playing defensive line. You had Jaquel Pierce go down, Jordan Revels go down, we end up getting thin; [Brayden] Stringer goes out with a targeting [call], and we are moving people left and right. You talk about all the adversity we went through, I was proud of how they handled it. They didn’t complain, there were no negative vibes on the sidelines, there was just the next man up, and we moved guys around and still competed till the final whistle.”

After trading touchdowns, the Mustangs hit paydirt when senior quarterback Shane Buechele threw a dart beating Texas State’s single-high safety, for a 51-yard touchdown to senior wideout Reggie Roberson Jr.

With the Bobcat offense struggling to sustain drives in the second half, the team’s defense fought tooth and nail to keep the game in reach during the fourth quarter, with two turnovers and a fourth-down stop.

“That’s a really good offense,” Spavital said. “I thought our defense held in there, I told them before the game [SMU] was going to hit big plays so get used to it….I thought [we] did a great job with the turnovers, the turnover on downs, you just like to see us play a little bit better offensively to capitalize on those momentum swings.”

The Bobcats kicked a field goal with 45 seconds left in the game. After an unsuccessful onside kick, SMU kneeled the ball to secure its first win of the season.

The dual between Buechele and McBride was the matchup to watch going into the game. Buechele threw for 367 yards, one touchdown and two picks, while McBride threw for 227 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Texas State returns to play Sept. 12 at home against rival UTSA in the Battle of I-35. The Bobcats will look for their first win in the series, with the Roadrunners leading 3-0.

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