HAMMOND — If anything positive could be taken out of Southeastern Louisiana’s 52-3 loss to UAB last week, it’s that it exposed plenty of mistakes.
SLU coach Ron Roberts was able to take a laundry list of improvements into his week of preparation for Northwestern State (3-3, 1-1), whom the Lions play 3 p.m. Saturday at Strawberry Stadium. SLU (2-4, 2-0) will look to defend its standing as the only undefeated team left in the Southland Conference.
And even though it counted as a loss, that UAB game might serve the Lions well against the Demons.
“Every game’s a learning process,” quarterback Nathan Stanley said. “Obviously against UAB, we didn’t play very good. So we’ll go back to work and correct the things that we made mistakes on.”
Northwestern State comes into Hammond after earning its first Southland victory last week against Lamar, which SLU beat 31-21 on Sept. 29. The Demons racked up 206 yards rushing against the Cardinals, its second highest total of the season.
After relying on a committee of running backs most of the season, Robert Walker emerged from the group, totaling 103 yards rushing with a touchdown.
“Maybe that night he got a hot hand, and they just tried to give him the ball,” Roberts said. “He’s a good back, but the other ones are too.”
SLU will also have to account for Northwestern State’s most dangerous weapon — Phillip Harvey. The jack-of-all trades leads the SLC in all-purpose yards, averaging 170.2 a game, almost 40 more than the next player.
“We’re trying to get the ball in Philip’s hands as many ways as we can,” Demons coach Bradley Dale Peveto said. “I’ve seen him develop and work himself into a very good football player. … We’re trying to use our imagination and do things to get him the football.”
Earlier in the week, Roberts made a point of describing the strength of the Demons’ defensive front. Middle linebacker Derek Rose leads the team with 55 tackles, and defensive tackle Lesley Deamer has 3.5 tackles for loss.
“They’re a strong group,” right tackle Paul Roppolo said. “Watching them on film, they’re good at stopping the run. They can get after a running back. We’re just going to execute our plays up front. You can’t take them lightly. They’re a group that will make us pay for our mistakes.”
In the passing defense, Northwestern leads the Southland in efficiency, allowing 191.2 passing yards per game and nabbing six interceptions. Roberts said the Demons typically come out in man coverage, something he doesn’t expect to challenge his offense.
“Luckily on our part, Nathan is a very accurate thrower,” Roberts said. “Man coverage does not present a problem for him, because he’s got such a strong arm, and he’s so accurate with his throws.”
Even this early in the season, Roberts called Saturday’s contest a must-win to maintain pace in the conference. With that same logic, Roberts called Northwestern State dangerous because he expects the Demons will try to work their way back to the front of the Southland.
“I know Northwestern is very well-coached,” Roberts said. “I know they’re hungry, and I know they want to stay in this race. We’ve got a dog backed in a corner. That can be dangerous. It’s important to start out fast.”
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