Who is G.J. Kinne?

Texas State Athletic Director Dan Coryell made the same bold decision that Western Kentucky did three years ago in lifting the Incarnate Word offense and placing it in San Marcos. Head Coach G.J. Kinne, Offensive Coordinator Mack Leftwich, and Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Patke head to the Bobcats along with five other position coaches.

G.J. Kinne has a fascinating history going back over a decade to the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. Paired with head coach Todd Graham and Gus Malzahn, Kinne was a stud for Tulsa at quarterback and has worked his way up the coaching ranks since. At Tulsa, he accumulated over 9,400 all-purpose yards and 81 touchdowns.

Following his career at Tulsa, Kinne bounced around the NFL with stints in New York (Jets and Giants), Philadelphia, and time in both the United Football League and the CFL. Never quite catching on, he then pursued coaching in 2017 joining Chad Morris at SMU and followed Morris the following year to Arkansas where he served as an offensive analyst. He also spent a year under Doug Pederson in Philadelphia where he was named an offensive assistant coach focusing on special projects.

Since returning to the FBS in 2020, Kinne had stops with Todd Graham at Hawaii, with Gus Malzahn at UCF, and then to Incarnate Word to replace Eric Morris, now the North Texas coach. Now, entering the FBS ranks for the first time as a head coach, he looks to put his stamp on the Bobcats offense. With nine transfers from Incarnate Word, we will be able to see just how well this model performs.

Scheme

The G.J. Kinne scheme is a spread offense with Gus Malzahn RPO influences. His scheme is far closer to a balanced offense in terms of playcalling than one with heavy air-raid concepts in the vein of Mike Leach. Conceptually, the tempo is a foundational component but where differs from the coach he replaced at Incarnate Ward, Eric Morris, is Kinne’s willingness to leverage quarterback runs and power rushing to the offense, something Morris was unwilling or unable to deploy. Kinne wants to run the ball where appropriate. 

Kinne brings his offensive coordinator along as well, Mack Leftwich. Intimately familiar with the scheme, Leftwich is the perfect coordinator to help run this system. He also has experience with Kinne dating back more than a decade. Leftwich’s father, Spencer, was the offensive line coach for the Tulsa offense when Kinne was under center. At the time, Kinne was on his way to Conference-USA Player of the Year and younger Leftwich was a sophomore in high school. These two have been tied together much further than a single year at Incarnate Word. What makes Leftwich interesting is that he’s been more associated with air raid concepts than Kinne has, as he’s been with Eric Morris at Incarnate Word and was a near-hire at Washington State.

Last year at Incarnate Word the offense was even more productive than the previous under Cameron Ward and Eric Morris. In 2022, the offense led the country in points per game (51.2) and second in yards per game (581.2). Both would have led the FBS last season but, of course, this won’t be replicated. 

One thing that can be replicated is the tempo that Kinne wants to play with. His 2.81 plays per minute would have ranked 9th nationally last season and expect that to continue as it’s the key staple of his scheme. And although we can’t determine neutral game scripts with current available FBS data, Incarnate Word did average over 35 pass attempts per game, and dual-threat quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. had a massive season. He had 71 total touchdowns and set an FCS record with 60 passing touchdowns. Along the way, he accumulated nearly 5,500 yards of total offense and won the Walter Payton Award for top FCS player.

Quarterback

To start – I am making the assumption that Malik Hornsby is the starting quarterback day one. There’s been heavy speculation that TJ Finley was made promises but given what we have seen from him at LSU and Auburn, I am comfortable making that educated guess on Hornsby.

The biggest question will be how the Texas State offenses use Malik Hornsby. The uber-athletic Arkansas transfer was one of the first players Kinne targeted in the portal and had a much-hyped career with the Razorbacks.

As a recruit, Hornsby was a top-100 player in the country and a top-five dual-threat quarterback in his class. The biggest knock on him was his size as he was listed as a lanky 6’2” 180lbs and has only 5lbs since. However, since entering the Arkansas program, he’s been stuck behind KJ Jefferson. He has the potential to be one of the most athletic quarterbacks under center in 2023. With a confirmed 10.88 100M time from high school, ran multiple track events, and was heavily recruited by multiple blue bloods including offers from Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State among others.

However, he’s been limited in on-field action since entering school and we’re still trying to determine what his true ceiling is. In his three years at Arkansas, he attempted 39 passes, ran the ball 57 times, and has two starts under his belt. His first start against Mississippi State in 2022 was incredibly efficient, going 8/17 for 234 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs in the passing game but went 8-117 on the ground. The matchup ended up being a blowout and Hornsby saw most of his production when down two scores but it was still encouraging. In his other start, against LSU, he was pulled for journeyman Cade Fortin at halftime. So far it’s been a mixed bag with concerns about accuracy and mechanics but the physical tools both on the ground and arm strength are clear.

Under G.J. Kinne, Hornsby has a chance to show off what made him such a high-profile recruit. Kinne’s success with mobile quarterback Lindsey Scott Jr. is a blueprint that he can apply to Hornsby. Scott boasted an impressive stat line behind his 132 rushing attempts and when in competitive game scripts down the stretch he ran for 63-370-4 in the three FCS playoff games. 

Quarterback Malik Hornsby is primed for QB1 opportunities with G.J. Kinne and the Bobcats. Photo Courtesy of Texas State Athletics.

Per Circa, Texas State has a 3.5-win total. The game scripts that the 12-2 Incarnate Word team lacked in 2022 will be there for Texas State in 2023 – and Lindsey still posted 71 touchdowns. Hornsby will be forced to utilize his legs and despite the concerns around accuracy, Kinne and Leftwich can scheme up open receivers. The scheme, one that relies on traditional spread formations, takes inspiration from leveraging spacing to force the defense into mismatches. Hornsby doesn’t have familiarity with the Kinne system but he was taking first-team reps all spring and has ample time to get comfortable. As long as Hornsby can hit open receivers, there’s a lot to like about his 2023 profile. 

Also, just so I don’t get in trouble (or maybe do) – Auburn transfer TJ Finley is a borderline FBS quarterback at best and I was surprised he didn’t go FCS. He is not beating Hornsby out for the job unless something goes incredibly wrong or Kinne made a promise to start him, which would be additionally concerning. Based on his past performance, he’s closer to QB3 than he is to QB2 on this roster with CJ Rodgers still on the team. However, one concern that sticks in the back of my mind is the rumor that Texas State was pursuing Casey Thompson before he committed to FAU per Keff Ciardello. I think this staff likes Hornsby but doesn’t love him. They also made overtures to Thomas Castellanos before his commitment to Boston a college. If Finley does start the season, Hornsby is toast.

Running Back

At Incarnate Word last year Kinne had massive running back production led by Marcus Cooper’s 1400-yard season. Averaging 102 yards per game on only 15 carries, efficiency was the key to production. At Texas State, Kinne has a deep running back room led by Lincoln Pare and Calvin Hill. Pare, who is the only back in college fantasy leagues being drafted, was heavily involved last year and is the first man up for the Bobcats in 2023.

As much as I’d like to find the next Marcus Cooper, the room is too deep and a rotation is too likely. Reports from spring indicated that both Jamyl Jeter and Donerio Davenport excelled, with Davenport having the second touchdown of the spring game. Davenport was a junior college transfer coming off a season where he posted 1,203 yards and 18 touchdowns at Kilgore College. I’m not sure what his role will be but I do think his Offensive Player of the Year season in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference means something. He was also a highly successful running back in the 6A football division in Texas. I do think there’s a world where Davenport is viewed as a potential redshirt candidate and is the future of the position. 

This offense also has Josh Berry and Damarius Good, two backs who were poised to take on bigger roles if not for injury in 2022 and can be solid options. Berry might operate as the RB3 given the role he played throughout spring. This room is legitimately so deep that RB7 Ismail Mahdi might even get work in games, and keeping the backs fresh is a priority. This room is one of the deepest in the conference and I’m cautiously optimistic that this group can do some damage depending on how the offensive line shakes out.

One thing to note about this room is that five of the seven running backs on the depth chart are currently below 205 lbs and half are under 190lbs. Jeter is the only one above that weight and could be in line for goal-line work. At 220lbs, he’s also likely the only back that can handle true bell cow opportunity. I like Donerio Davenport and he seems to be another goal-line option if spring is any indication. 

Ultimately, I don’t think you can make a determination on the running back room with a high level of confidence outside of saying both Pare and Hill will be leading this group. However, it’s deep and talented meaning we might not see a single running back with over 150 carries.

Offensive Line

I think there’s reason to be concerned about this unit based on what we saw in the spring game. Nine sacks allowed, four by a single defensive lineman and pressure on more plays than Leftwich and Kinne will feel comfortable with. The biggest concern is that the defense was intentionally simple in the spring game and still caused substantial offensive disruption. None of the starting linemen from last year’s team return and the group returns only 10 snaps from 2022, 0.24% of 2022 production.

FCS All-American Nash Jones transfers in from Incarnate Word and was highlighted by Hero Sports as a major contributor.

I do think the transfers that Kinne brought with him from Incarnate Word give some comfort level despite the rocky spring. Nash Jones and Caleb Johnson are both FCS All-Americans and performed well last year . Nash can play both tackle spots if needed but started at LT for the Cardinals. Johnson should start on the opposite side of the line but can play multiple positions and provides flexibility as he started at both guards and tackle. Even though they were FCS tackles last year, they can hold their own in the Sun Belt. My expectation is that Dorion Strawn can also be a contributor, likely at guard, for the offense and will be a good addition to this unit. JuCo transfer Alex Harley will also be firmly in the rotation and likely competes for a starting spot on the right side. Kinne also reached into the Big 12 pool to pull in three additional offensive linemen led by one-time five star recruit Brey Walker from Oklahoma and Chayse Todd from Houston.

One position that isn’t settled is center and what we saw was additionally concerning. A number of snaps were high or off-target on the first team, an issue that cannot permeate into the season. Incarnate Word transfer Emeka Obigbo was the primary option here in spring and while he has limited snaps at the position, they may have summer and fall to work on nailing the exchange. They did bring in Danny Valenzuela from Arizona State post spring and he’s the only lineman with center experience. Expect him to start but it is the biggest issue currently facing this unit.

**Defensive lineman Ben Bell deserves a shoutout just because he was incredibly dominant in the spring game and clouded offensive line performance. A player to watch.

Wide Receiver

This position starts with Ashytn Hawkins. One of the most dynamic receivers in the conference, Hawkins should easily pace this room in receiving and be the clear leader of this offense. Hawkins is an elite slot option with a 2.38 yards per route run and an 18% target share which equated to 8 targets per game for the Bobcats, all numbers that tell how important he is to this unit. He’s also involved in the return game and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. As the entire offense takes a step forward, he might be the biggest beneficiary. In dynasty, Hawkins is only a second-year receiver with likely two more years in the system.

Wide Receiver Ashtyn Hawkins will be the most prolific player on this offense after a dynamic 2022. Photo Courtesy of Texas State Athletics.

Wide receiver Kole Wilson, a transfer from Incarnate Word, was another spring game stud. Despite being 7th in receiving yards last season, Wilson has been one of the most impressive options since transferring up to Texas State, evidenced by receiving the first target on the first-team offense in the spring game. Wilson is an interesting option as he wasn’t incredibly involved at the FCS level, however, he does have speed and ascended the depth chart.

Outside of Wilson, they also bring in Joey Hobert from Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State). He was a one-time Washington State recruit who posted a 90-1,258-16 line last year and provides depth to this receiver group. Career journeyman Beau Corrales also joins the Bobcats with what should be zero expectations at this point. As long as we’re listing transfer receivers, Sean Shaw Jr. from Iowa State should be involved as well. Of the FBS transfers, Shaw has the best chance to start at the X position given his 6’6” build. An option to watch in the vertical passing game.

This offense also returns a handful of last year’s options with Charles Brown being the second-leading returner in receiving yards. Brown is primarily an outside option so it shouldn’t be discounted that he starts in 3WR sets. Julian Ortega-Jones is the other key returning option and he could be someone who, depending on the set, sees more snaps than anticipated. Both Oretga-Jones and Hawkins are slated to be the top options in spread formations, both see the field and are targeted at a higher rate than any other returning receiver on the team. Expect Ortega-Jones in the flanker (Z) spot.

From a fantasy perspective, the only player I would remotely consider is Ashtyn Hawkins. Hawkins stayed with Texas State despite having the talent to transfer to a Power 5 program and is in for another monster season in 2023. The primary option for Kinne’s Incarnate Word offense posted a massive 70-1,244-18 season and while that doesn’t quite seem in the range of possibility, it is possible that Hawkins takes a disproportionately large role for this offense.

Verdict

There are a lot of differences between the Texas State situation and Western Kentucky. The Bobcats do bring in an absurd amount of transfers and remake the entire coaching stuff but don’t have the same core options that the Hilltoppers had at the time. The quarterback is a transfer, the leading receiver is a holdover from the previous staff, and the running backs are guys who succeeded under the previous regime. That shouldn’t cloud the job that G.J. Kinne and his staff have done this offseason either. They have been integral in adding some serious talent via the portal, even if some are from FCS.

I like this team a lot. This staff is going to do a good job this year and I feel confident in betting their win total (o3.5 at Caesars), but the Western Kentucky model is the mixture of so many perfect circumstances, making it essentially impossible to replicate. Let’s treat this as the G.J. Kinne model.

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