Lions face tough test against Roberts’ alma mater, UT-Martin
HAMMOND — Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts is working on laying the foundation for the Lions program, and to get there, he’s taking his team into some familiar territory.
SLU faces Roberts’ alma mater, Tennessee-Martin, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Hardy M. Graham Stadium in Martin, Tenn.
“I think we have another game here coming up; it’s an opportunity for us to get on the field against a quality football team; and we’re going to have an opportunity to get better, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Roberts said. “We’re not very good. We’ve got to get better, but there’s a certain foundation that we’ve got to get laid so that we can still continue for the next nine ballgames to get better every week.”
In order to do that this week, the Lions will face a UT-Martin team that opened the season with a 20-17 win over Memphis, followed by a 35-7 loss to Northern Illinois. The Lions (0-2) are coming off a 31-14 loss to South Dakota State in which the Jackrabbits put up 439 yards of offense, including 305 yards rushing.
So what’s the problem for Roberts?
“I think UT-Martin’s better than South Dakota State,” he said. “I think they’re a lot better team than South Dakota State.”
The Lions offense, led by quarterback Nathan Stanley (43-76-1, 355 yards, 2 TDs), running back Michael Chaney (21-45, 0 TDs) and receiver Stanley Moore (8-63, 0 TDs), is averaging 201 yards per game (23.5 yards rushing, 177.5 yards passing), and will suare off with a Skyhawks defense which has given up 395.5 yards per game.
The unit is led by nose tackle Montori Hughes, a Tennessee transfer, and defensive end DJ Roberts (14 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery).
“They’re not bringing a lot of pressure because those big boys they’ve got up front are wreaking havoc,” Roberts said. “The last two weeks, their defensive line, basically, they whipped Memphis up front and they whipped Northern Illinois up front. That is their strong point. Their defensive line...they’re better than Missouri.”
SLU’s defense, led by linebackers Kaleb Muse (17 tackles) and Devan Walker (13 tackles), is giving up an average of 445.5 yards per game (283 rushing, 162.5 passing). They’ll face a UT-Martin offense averaging 247 passing yards per game, paced by receiver Quentin Sims, a Georgia Tech transfer who has 18 receptions for 222 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Derek Carr (38-73-3, 475 yards, 2 TDs).
Roberts said the Skyhawks passing game is set up by its run game, led by Jason McNair (24-110) and DJ McNeil (23-103, 1 TD).
“They’re running the football effectively so they can throw it when they want,” Roberts said.
“And then when they throw it, they’re throwing it to a kid (Sims) that’s probably more athletic than most people you’re going to see on Saturdays at this level.
“He is the real deal,” Roberts said of Sims. “He’s the truth. He’s an NFL guy.”
But even with some offensive weapons in tow, UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson said he’s looking for improvement.
“We’re still trying to find ourselves offensively. I mean, we really are,” Simpson said. “You look at two games, and heck, we haven’t scored in the red zone. We’re struggling. We only scored 20 points against Memphis, only seven points (against Northern Illinois), so it’s more about us trying to get well right now than it is about who we’re playing.”
In what has been a common them for the Lions this season, Roberts is also looking for his team to curb its mistakes.
“For us, it’s how well we’re going to eliminate mistakes,” Roberts said. “It (doesn’t) matter what you draw up. If we don’t run it right, it (doesn’t) matter.
“We’ve got to make people beat us, not beat ourselves.”