HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts has admitted throughout the year his rushing attack has been the weakest part of his offense.
The Lions (2-3, 2-0 SLC) rank last in the Southland Conference in rushing yards (297), average yards per attempt (1.7) and average yards per game (59.4). Though the run game showed signs of improvement Saturday against Lamar — posting a season-high 165 yards with two touchdowns — it took a significant step back when leading rusher Michael Chaney went down with an injury.
Late in the fourth quarter, Chaney appeared to twist his knee and did not return to the game. Roberts said he would not know the specifics of Chaney’s injury until he undergoes a MRI on Wednesday.
Roberts did not appear optimistic Chaney will play this weekend against Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Alabama-Birmingham.
That will likely place the rushing burden on Blaine LeBlanc and freshman Xavier Roberson, who started the season as a defensive back but switched to running back before SLU’s game against McNeese State. Roberson had just three carries for 1 yard in his backfield debut, but emerged against Lamar with 75 yards on 15 attempts.
“Xavier’s going to be a good player,” Roberts said. “We’re trying to slide him in so he can be successful, and obviously with Michael down, a lot of the burden will fall on Blaine LeBlanc and Xavier Roberson.”
Roberts also said he will likely burn the redshirt on freshman Rasheed Harrell, who could also get in the mix during Chaney’s absence.
“We tried to do everything we could to redshirt him,” Roberts said of Harrell. “But as of right now, we probably won’t be able to. He’s excited to play. If he touches the football, he can make some plays happen.”
SLU fans may have noticed a familiar jersey number under center against Lamar.
Brian Young, the 2011 starting quarterback, saw action against the Cardinals that Roberts said fit the team’s game plan. Young completed his only pass attempt for 16 yards and added 18 yards rushing on five tries.
“We had some packages in there that were specifically in the game plan for him,” Roberts said. “We always have the ability to bring him in the flow of the game. He was a big spark for us offensively.”
Young started all 11 games last season, throwing for 2,855 yards with 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
For the second straight week, cornerback and return man Robert Alford earned player of the week honors.
Alford was named special teams player of the week by the SLC, Louisiana Sports Writers Association and College Football Performance Award. The cornerback returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter against Lamar.
Alford, who recorded his second interception of the season against the Cardinals, was named Southland defensive player of the week after the McNeese State game.
“His athletic ability is not a question,” Roberts said. “He’s gotten so much better in the mental part of his game, understanding what we’re doing, and understanding how to play his position.
“As long as he doesn’t start listening to the hype, as long as he doesn’t start patting himself on the back, he’s going to continue to have a great year.”
Before Alford returned a punt for a score, he had another called back for an illegal block, a disturbing trend for the Lions.
Only one Southland team has more penalties than SLU’s 47 — Northwestern State has 50 — and those flags have cost the Lions an average of 80.4 yards per game. Although Roberts acknowledged the penalties are a problem, he said there are two types of penalties — mental mistakes and the ones that stem from aggressive play.
“Sometimes mistakes happen,” Roberts said. “And sometimes they’re going to throw the flag when you play aggressive pass defense.”
Riding a strong wave of Southland momentum after consecutive wins to open the conference slate, Roberts said he doesn’t love the timing of the UAB game.
“I wouldn’t draw it up like that,” he said. “I would prefer not to go out of conference right now. We have our sights set on conference play. Right now, we’re just focusing ourselves on getting better this week.”
SLU opened Southland play with an upset victory against McNeese and handled Lamar last week to move to 2-0 in conference play. The Lions return to Southland action next week against Northwestern State.
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