HAMMOND — After taking some time to reflect on a 34-14 loss to Central Arkansas, the one lingering thought that remained in Southeastern Louisiana coach Ron Roberts’ head was the first thing out of his mouth Monday.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities,” Roberts said.
It was the first-year coach’s sentiments immediately after the defeat, and it’s the main point of emphasis for SLU (3-5, 3-1 Southland Conference) in this week’s practice leading into Saturday’s showdown at Sam Houston State (6-2, 4-1).
The Lions failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities in the Central Arkansas game, from missed tackles to failed blocks to dropped passes and interceptions. Roberts even said he counted multiple plays in which a proper block here or a completed pass there could have made the difference in the ballgame.
Luckily for SLU, the opportunities were there, and Roberts said he plans on fixing the issue the only way he knows how.
“You rep them enough and do it over and over again to where it becomes a habit and it becomes easy for them,” he said. “They’re not having to think about those things. They can just execute it.”
The Lions were within one possession entering the fourth quarter before they fell apart. Roberts hopes that with a little better preparation and execution, they can grab a win over Sam Houston — a win that would be Southeastern’s biggest of the season.
“We’re really in the infant stages of this program, but somewhere along the line, when is that breakout game going to occur? When we do those things,” Roberts said.
Running away with it
A bulk of SLU’s issues — not only Saturday, but all season long — stemmed from the running game, which has seen a large improvement in recent weeks.
The Lions ran for 101 yards Saturday. It was the third time in four games they’ve gained 100 or more yards. Still, Roberts said he thinks ground game could be better.
“There were so many mishaps in that game that you don’t see as a fan,” Roberts said. “Coach (Greg) Stevens calls a great game. It’s not that we get beat, we just don’t block a guy. We whiff or we’ll double this guy and not block that guy, and if we just get a hat on a hat, it’s gone for 50.”
SLU’s longest run of the season is 36 yards, which came this past weekend on a trick play to start the second half. Aside from a 34-yard carry against Northwestern State the week before, the Lions haven’t had a running play go for longer than 17 yards.
“Those are big plays,” Roberts said. “If we pop a 50 here and a 60 here, next thing you, know we’re rushing for 200 yards. We’re not doing that in the running game, and we’ve got to be able to take that next step and do those things and be consistent with it.”
SLU hasn’t hit the 200-yard mark yet this year, with the season-high being 165 yards against Lamar.
The Lions may have to wait another week to reach their goal though. Sam Houston ranks No. 1 in the conference in rush defense, giving up just 67 yards per game on the ground.
Confident in the QB
SLU senior quarterback Nathan Stanley threw two more interceptions Saturday — one inside the UCA red zone, and another that led to UCA points.
Stanley has thrown an interception in six of eight games this season. He has seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
Stanley ranks last in the conference in pass efficiency, but Roberts stood by his quarterback Monday, praising his play from the weekend.
“I thought he did a great job, I really do,” Roberts said. “Besides the one pick in the red zone, he made a lot of great decisions in that ball game and was very accurate with his throws. If we don’t have seven or eight drops ... the guy is finishing with a pretty salty day in college football.”
Stanley finished the game 20-for-35 with two touchdowns and the two picks in the loss.
SLU and Sam Houston have one loss in league play and must win Saturday to stay in contention for a share of the SLC championship.
The winner of Saturday’s game will picked for Southland TV’s wild card game Nov. 10, with a 3 p.m. kickoff.
If the Lions lose, they will play at 7 p.m. instead.