The Southeastern Louisiana University football team is coming off an open date, but the time since the Lions’ 34-31 win over Samford on Sept. 21 has been anything but uneventful.
The Lions (2-2) head into Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against Incarnate Word (3-2) at Strawberry Stadium with quarterback Bryan Bennett’s playing status up in the air and a new addition on the defensive line in Marquel Combs.
Bennett left early in the Samford game with a leg injury, finishing 3-for-6 for 26 yards passing, and rushing three times for 8 yards.
“He could have played versus Samford,” coach Ron Roberts said of Bennett during his weekly media luncheon Tuesday on the Southeastern campus. “He practiced Sunday night. He’s not 100 percent. He could play today if he needed to play. Whether we’ll play him Saturday, you know, I’m not going to put him out there gimped up with a chance to hurt himself before we move on to conference play. I’m not going to do that to him.
“We’ve got a couple of days here to check him and see how he’s doing. I want to make sure he’s healthy and ready to go.”
But it’s a different story for Combs, whose transfer from Kansas was announced by Southeastern on Monday. Combs (6-foot-3, 295 pounds) was rated the No. 3 junior-college defensive lineman in the country by ESPN out of Los Angeles Pierce College but did not play for the Jayhawks.
“He’s going to play Saturday,” Roberts said of Combs. “It’s probably going to be a limited role. Again, we’ve got a couple of days here at practice to see how much he can pick up and know what to do, and we’ll try to put him in situations where we don’t put him in a bad spot where he’ll blow an assignment, make a mistake, cost us or anything like that.”
Roberts said the open date came at a good time for the Lions, who used the time off to correct some mental mistakes on defense.
“We’ve gotten better every week, but probably not at the rate we want them to. So it was really about making sure we slowed some things down, went back to square one with some of guys and got a lot of the guys that — most of them are backups — are guys (who) got the majority of all the reps and most of the focus,” Roberts said.
“There’s a lot of communication and trying to clean things up and make sure we answer any questions. And let’s make sure there’s no hesitation, everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. And let’s make sure that we’re comfortable with everything we’re doing.
“I really want to see us step up as a defense,” Roberts said. “I think we have all the makings to be a great defense. ... We’re not right now. I think we could be, and when that’s going to click, I don’t know. But hopefully it’s going to click soon, because we start conference play here in two weeks.”
Offensively, Roberts said the Lions focused on getting better in the red zone during the time off. Southeastern is 17-for-20 in red zone scores, 12 of which have been touchdowns.
“To me, a lot of it goes back to maybe our explosive plays,” Roberts said. “We haven’t had a lot of them. We’ve run the ball well. We’ve run for a lot of yards, (but) we haven’t had any explosive plays in the running game.
“We’re getting to the second level. Either we’re not getting them blocked in the second level to spring them, or we’re not making guys miss, which is uncharacteristic of the guys we’ve got.”
Early scheduling jump
Incarnate Word joined the Southland Conference in July but is competing as a Football Championship Subdivision independent in football as it transitions from Division II.
Although the Cardinals won’t compete against a full Southland schedule until next season, they’ve gotten an early jump in scheduling.
In addition to Southeastern, Central Arkansas scored a 58-7 win over Incarnate Word, and Sam Houston State picked up a 52-21 victory.
Incarnate Word also has future SLC football members Abilene Christian and Houston Baptist on its schedule this season.
“We had an open date, so we were looking for somebody,” Roberts said. “They had one, so we tried to match up (and said), ‘Hey, we’re going to be conference foes anyway here, so let’s try to get them on the schedule.’
“They wanted the same thing. They wanted to play some Southland Conference teams and get prepared, and so I think it’s worked out mutually for both parties.”