The Southland Conference will get to test its “Southland Strong” motto this week as league teams face six Football Bowl Sudivision teams.
And Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts wouldn’t mind seeing the Lions join the likes of fellow Southland Conference school McNeese State among the ranks of Football Championship Subdivision schools to knock off Football Bowl Subdivision schools this season as the Lions head into Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at No. 24 TCU.
McNeese scored a 53-21 romp over South Florida, while Eastern Washington picked up a 49-46 win over Oregon State in a pair of FCS upsets last week.
“That’s awesome,” Roberts said. “I’m excited for the Southland Conference. You look at (McNeese State) and the success they’ve had against the FBS the last two years. I think that’s tremendous. Obviously there are some huge challenges coming up this week for our conference.”
The Lions’ challenge comes from a TCU team coming off a 37-27 loss to LSU in the Cowboys Classic in which the Horned Frogs put up 259 yards of total offense behind quarterbacks Casey Pachall (9-16-1, 75 yards) and Trevone Boykin (6-12-0, 70 yards).
“Those two quarterbacks are great quarterbacks,” Roberts said. “One of them’s probably got a little more experience throwing the football. The other one’s a tremendous athlete, but he throws the ball exceptionally well as well, and both of them between the two of them have double-digit starts in the Big 12.”
Southeastern will counter with a defense led by linebacker Drew Misita (seven tackles) and defensive back James Scales III (six tackles). SLU gave up 294 total yards in a 45-7 win over Southeast Missouri last week, but Roberts said a key for the Lions will be slowing down TCU’s running game.
“The bottom line is going to come back to how well do we stop the run?,” Roberts said. “If we stop the run and we can get them in second-and-long a third-and-long so we can do some things schematically to take advantage of protections or get after the quarterback and keep them off balance, then we’re going to be in a lot better situation.”
“They’ve got great players,” Roberts said. “You know, that’s the big test for us I think for us is going to be their athletes in space (and) how well we can tackle them — not only on defense but on special teams.”
TCU’s defense gave up 448 yards to LSU, but Roberts said that doesn’t mean the Horned Frogs don’t have quality players. Safeties Chris Hackett and Elisha Olabode led the Horned Frogs with 10 tackles each, while Kevin White had four pass breakups against LSU.
“They’ve got a rich tradition of playing great defense, and we know that going in,” Roberts said. “The big test for me, I think for our players is this — you know, they’re going to make their plays. They’re going to do some things that athletically we can’t stop or whatever. The question is, how do we respond the next play? Are we going to hang our hat or or we just going to come at them full speed?
“We’ve got to take care of our business, because if you don’t, they’ll have the athletic ability to exploit it.”
SLU’s offense, led by quarterback Bryan Bennett, rolled up 494 yards of total offense last week going with a fast-paced approach.
But Roberts said the Lions will have to be more patient Saturday.
“I think it’s going to be a test for our patience,” he said. “We’re going to have to grind it out — I mean not just on the run. I mean, we’re going to have to fight and kick and scratch, get a first down. It’s how well we can play, not over a series of 15, but a series of hopefully 70, 80 snaps where we can get in there and grind it out and be productive and protect the football.”
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