Southeastern Louisiana’s football team jumps from one sound test to another Saturday.
The Lions, coming off a 38-17 loss to TCU, get to test themselves against South Dakota State, ranked No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in Brookings, S.D.
“We’ve got a huge challenge ahead of us this week again,” Southeastern coach Ron Roberts said. “Obviously I think this one has a little more importance to us because of the ramifications on a national level (and) what it will do for us if we can go in there to No. 6 and take care of business.”
South Dakota State (2-0) is coming off a 35-28 win over North Dakota in which running back Zach Zenner, a Payton Award candidate, rushed for 295 yards and four touchdowns.
“We’re hoping he’s tired,” Roberts joked about Zenner. “We’re hoping they tired him out.”
But Roberts knows Zenner won’t be that tired, and he’s also hoping the Lions defense, led by linebackers Drew Misita (11 tackles) John Graves and Kaleb Muse (10 tackles each), can be more disciplined after the Jackrabbits rolled up 305 yards rushing in a 31-14 win over the Lions last season at Strawberry Stadium.
“They’re very good at what they do, and that’s coming off the football. ... They’re going to run the ball,” Roberts said.
“They’re going to go two yards, three yards, and then when you’re out of a gap, they’re going to go 31,” Roberts said.
But South Dakota State isn’t just a run-based team as quarterback Austin Sumner has passed for 483 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Roberts is impressed with the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Sumner.
“There’s not a lot of weak points in their game,” Roberts said. “(Sumner) could line up and throw it 45 times and they could be very successful when he does. He throws a great ball. He’s big, strong in (the) pocket. He moves well enough to where he can avoid the rush. He’s tough to bring down. He’s got good touch. He’s very accurate throwing the football. And their (offensive) line does a great job protecting him.”
Meanwhile, Southeastern’s offense, led by quarterback Bryan Bennett (238 yards rushing and 4 TDs, 301 yards passing and another TD) will square off against a South Dakota State defense giving up an average of 365 yards per game. The Jackrabbits have five interceptions.
Roberts singled out defensive end Doug Peete (six tackles, one interception) and defensive tackle Chase Douglas (four tackles, 2.5 sacks) as the unit’s top players.
“They’re pretty explosive, really good players,” Roberts said. “They’re going to play zone coverage and sit back and not make a lot of mistakes. They’re going to do pressure with their front ... and just let those guys tee off on you and get after you. They’ve done a great job of breaking on the ball and making plays.”
And Roberts said a key for the Lions will be getting the ground game going, especially after the Jackrabbits held Southeastern to minus-11 yards rushing in last season’s game.
“It’s going to be a good test for our offensive line to come on out there and play physical football because it’s not going to be much different than the front they just saw (from TCU),” Roberts said.
Roberts is counting on his running backs to get involved.
“When you go Xavier (Roberson), Rasheed (Harrell) and Kody Sutton, I mean they’re all three pretty special guys, and we’ve got to get the ball in their hands this week. We’ve got to get them in space with a chance to make some people miss and turn some big plays and explosive plays for us.”
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said he isn’t expecting to see the same type of Southeastern team from last season.
“In my coaching career, they are a team that’s made unbelievable strides in one year,” Siegelmeier said. “Coach Roberts has done a phenomenal job down there with both athletes and discipline, and they’re a really good football team. Very athletic obviously. (The) offense is beyond diverse, unimaginable, to be honest with you. The defense, they line up and play good defense, very skilled in special teams. I’m glad they’re coming here and we’re not going there.”
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