Plenty of questions to answer as Southeastern Louisiana opens its season

HAMMOND — Excuse Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts if he isn’t feeling sentimental.

His Lions are coming off a 5-6 season, including a 5-2 mark in Southland Conference play. But as far as he’s concerned, that’s ancient history as Southeastern hosts Southeast Missouri at 7 p.m. Thursday at Strawberry Stadium.

“It’s a brand new year,” he said. “(Last year) has got to be put to rest — it’s done and it’s over with. What we’ve got to work on now is we’ve got to find out what type of attitude, character — what is 2013 going to be about? How are we going to put our stamp on things, and what are we going to be remembered for?”

The Lions begin that process by hosting the Redhawks, who were 3-8 last season and will give Ohio University transfer Kyle Snyder his first collegiate start at quarterback. He was the team’s projected starter last season but tore the ACL in his right knee in fall camp.

That opened the door for Scott Lathrop and Blake Jackson, who both saw time under center last season. Lathrop finished as the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year after passing for 1,025 yards and seven TDs and rushing for 824 yards and seven more scores.

Roberts expects to see a healthy dose of the run from the Redhawks, who return six starters on offense, including fullback Ron Coleman and receivers Spencer Davis and D.J. Foster.

“Their game plan across the board really is to run the football and control the clock,” Roberts said. “They want to get you in a 17-14 ballgame.”

Southeast Missouri will square off against a SLU defense that features linebackers Kaleb Muse of Ponchatoula, who was the team’s leading tackler last season with 80; Drew Misita of Oak Forest; and Cqulin Hubert.

“They’re a very good defense,” Southeast Missouri coach Tony Samuel said. “They fly around. They give you a lot of different multiple looks. They’re very capable of blitzing from either side of the ball. It just seems like they’ve got a fair amount of depth, so it will be a good challenge for us.”

The game will mark the debut of Oregon transfer Bryan Bennett as the Lions’ starting quarterback. He’ll be joined by running backs Rasheed Harrell, Kody Sutton (a Wyoming transfer) and Xavier Roberson, along with receivers Tony McCrea and Chris Malott.

“We know he’s a great one, and actually he’s got very good help in the backfield and at the receiver,” Samuel said of Bennett. “(Roberson) is extremely quick, and they use quite a few receivers from last year as well, so they’ve got a good team going down there.”

The Redhawks return just three starters on defense — linebacker Daniel Siehndel and cornerbacks Reggie Jennings and Tim Hamm-Bey —but Samuel isn’t complaining.

“I feel like we’ve got some pretty good experience even though you might see a fair amount of sophomores and juniors up there,” he said. “I feel like we may be a little more athletic, and that should help us out. I think we’ve become a faster defense, and we’ll see how that all works out. I know we’re going to be dealing with a fair amount of multiple looks and shifts and those sort of things that people try and run at young defenses, and we just have to be prepared for it.”

Roberts said the Redhawks are fundamentally sound on defense.

“Defensively, they’re going to try to play bend don’t break, sit back and try not to give up the big play,” he said. “We’ve just got to go out and execute and do our thing.”

And in the process, Roberts wouldn’t mind setting a positive tone to start the season.

“The biggest thing for us coming out obviously in game one is making sure we set a ceiling on how well we can play,” he said. “How good are we? You know, that’s the question. I don’t know. We’ve got to get them on the field, and we’ve got to show it under the lights and be able to produce against somebody else to see, but we feel going into the season that we’re better across the board than we were at this time last year, so obviously that’s encouraging.

“But obviously our aspirations are a lot higher than finishing 5-2 and 5-6 overall.”