“Every time you win, the next game becomes a lot more important.” ron roberts, SLU coach
HAMMOND — The last time Southeastern Louisiana traveled to Beaumont, Texas, to face Lamar, SLU coach Ron Roberts was still nine days away from being born.
A lot has changed since that meeting on Sept. 30, 1967 — a 34-21 triumph for the Cardinals. The now 44-year-old Roberts looks to build off his first career win at SLU, and the Lions (1-3, 1-0 Southland Conference) are riding high after an upset victory of McNeese State last week.
Riding positive momentum for the first time this season. Roberts understands the gravity of today’s contest at 3 p.m. in Provost Umphrey Stadium.
“Every time you win, the next game becomes a lot more important,” Roberts said. “This is a huge game for us.”
The game marks the Southland Conference opener for Lamar (2-2). The Cardinals have yet to surrender a point at home this season, shutting out Prairie View and NAIA opponent Langston.
Lamar suffered lopsided defeats on the road to FBS teams UL-Lafayette and Hawaii.
“We’re up and down,” Lamar coach Ray Woodard said. “We do some things well in spurts. We’re looking for a little more consistency. We’ve played these four games to get ready for conference play, so we’re going to find out Saturday.”
The two teams have near identical offensive production. SLU has averaged 270.3 yards this season; Lamar averages 270. Though the Lions’ success has primarily come through the air, the Cardinals rely on a more balanced attack that focuses heavily on screen passes.
Lamar quarterback Ryan Mossakowski has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for an average of 156.8 yards per game this season.
“They got some good athletes out there,” Roberts said. “(The passing game) is an extension of the running game, in that they get their athletes the ball in space.”
SLU cornerback Robert Alford said facing an offense like Lamar’s puts added pressure on the secondary to force the screen plays inside and allow the defensive linemen and linebackers to make plays.
“We have a good game plan for the screen play,” Alford said. “We don’t have to worry about it too much. We just have to trust in the coaches, and do what we’re taught.”
Roberts said Lamar runs an aggressive 3-4 defense with significant pressure coming from the defensive ends and linebackers. Defensive end Jesse Dickson leads the Cardinals with three sacks.
“They have some good speed, and they do a good job of getting in your face,” Roberts said. “They look very good up front. …We’re going to have to do an efficient job of blocking, hitting their guys in the mouth and keeping them off the quarterback.”
The SLU offense should benefit from facings its own defense in practice, which also employs a 3-4 scheme.
“Lamar’s a very athletic team when it comes to linebackers,” running back Michael Chaney said. “We get to see a 3-4 every day. We’ve been picking up those ends in blitzes all practice. We’re going to be prepared.”
The SLU wide receivers could also be challenged by a Lamar secondary that likes to press receivers at the line of scrimmage. Running mostly man coverage, SLU quarterback Nathan Stanley may have to throw in tight windows, but said he has confidence in his receivers to make catches with defenders on their backs.
“I like our receivers versus man (coverage),” Stanley said. “One-on-one, I like the chances of our guys getting open.”
A win today would make SLU an early leader in the Southland, something the Lions aren’t used to. SLU hasn’t started a season 2-0 in conference play since 2005, and Roberts has confidence this team can end that streak.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Roberts said. “Our players will tell you that. We have so much room for improvement, but the attitude’s there, the tenacity’s there.”