HAMMOND — After weeks of struggling to move the ball on the ground, Southeastern Louisiana football coach Ron Roberts said he believes the running game is finally beginning to click.
SLU (3-4, 3-0 SLC) failed to record more than 60 yards rushing in any of the first four games, but has now posted 140-plus-yard performances in two of the past three contests, in large part because of the recent contributions of two freshmen.
Despite not recording a stat in the first three games, Xavier Roberson is now the Lions’ leading rusher and has hit the 75-yard-mark twice in three games. Fellow freshman Rasheed Harrell didn’t even play until Game 6, and ran for 47 yards on seven carries in last week’s win against Northwestern State.
“Every time those freshmen get on the field, they’re going to get better with every snap,” Roberts said. “Just getting better with where the reads are, making decisions, not making mistakes in the passing game, on routes, in protections, those type of things. They’re freshmen, they’re making mistakes. We know that. They’re both going to be great players.”
The Lions still rank last in the Southland Conference in rushing offense, averaging 70.3 yards per game and just 2.1 yards per carry. But in the past three weeks, SLU has tallied 360 yards on the ground, averaging 120 per game.
“I think we’re getting better,” said Roberts, who also used the team’s bye week this weekend to his advantage.
“I think some of our linemen are a little healthier, which is going to help. Hopefully we’re as strong and as healthy and as fast as we’ve been all year. We’ve just got to have a good week of practice.”
Safety Roberts suspended
Senior safety Kevin Roberts was suspended for one game by the conference for a hard hit to a defenseless player in SLU’s 27-22 win over Northwestern State on Oct. 13.
Ron Roberts wouldn’t comment on the incident itself, but did express his remorse that the four-year defensive back will miss his final homecoming game.
“It’s a tough time anytime you’re looking at a senior having to miss his homecoming game,” Ron Roberts said. “I hate that for the kid. He’s played well and done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
The first-year coach said the team will miss Roberts’ contributions in secondary, but said the Lions can pick up the slack.
“I thought Kevin, right now, was really coming into his own and playing about as good as we’ve had anybody play at the safety position throughout the season,” he said. “We’ll move some guys around and we’ll be fine. We’ve played enough guys back there that I don’t think it’s going to impact the game at all.”
The bye week couldn’t have come at a much better time for SLU. Not only did the Lions have a chance to heal, plan and practice, but they’re also had an extra week to gear up for the most crucial stretch of the season.
SLU faces the three teams trailing them in the Southland Conference in order the next three weeks — Central Arkansas, Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin.
The Lions hold the top spot in the conference with a 3-0 record, but Roberts’ real concern is how they will respond having not seen game action in two weeks.
“You never know really, until it happens, how the guys are going to respond to it, especially the first time with this group and us being together,” he said. “But I think right now, it’s a huge advantage to us.”