League-leading Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State collide in Lake Charles
Southeastern Louisiana hasn’t been accustomed to playing for the lead in the Southland Conference since joining the league in 2005, but coach Ron Roberts is hoping Saturday’s game at McNeese State begins to change that trend.
The No. 4/No.7-ranked Cowboys (7-1, 3-0) host the No. 25 Lions (6-2, 3-0) for sole possession of first place in the SLC standings at 7 p.m. at Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles.
“We’re not where we want to be yet,” Roberts said. “We’re on the road. Like I tell the team, ‘This ain’t it. We’re just getting started.’ We hope to play in a lot more of these type of games. We hope to be in this type of situation. Hopefully we’ll play a couple of more games this year that are going to have an impact — mean something. This is why you play the game.”
The Lions are on a five-game win streak, while the Cowboys have won three straight.
The game will feature two of the Southland’s top offenses led by two of the league’s leading quarterbacks.
McNeese leads the SLC in scoring offense (43.6 points per game) and is second in total offense (488.6 yards per game). Cowboys quarterback Cody Stroud is fourth in passing average per game (236.2 ypg) to go with 18 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
“Their offense is unbelieveable,” Roberts said. “They’ve just got so many weapons and strengths. (McNeese) coach (Matt Viator) has done a great job accumulating talent. They were supposed to have graduated a bunch of guys. I don’t know where they got this new crop from, but they’re pretty dadgum good.”
Included in the group is running back Marcus Wiltz, who is second in the SLC in rushing (111.8 ypg.) and has eight rushing touchdowns.
“They’re very physical up front, and they’ve got a great running back,” Roberts said. “It’s going to start with the running game. We’ve got to play more disciplined than we have up until now. We’ve got to put everything together. We’ve got to play disciplined football and fit the runs right and be in your spots. We’ve also got to make sure when it is passing situations, we’ve got to create pressure on (Stroud). We’ve got to, because if he sits back there all the time, he will pick you apart.”
The Lions, who are third in the league in scoring offense (38.2 ppg) and total offense (478.5 ypg), are paced by quarterback Bryan Bennett, who is third in the league in total offense (280.6 ypg.) and pass efficiency (155.7) to go with nine TDs rushing and nine passing.
Lion receivers Tony McCrea (56.2) and Jeff Smiley (54.2) are eighth and ninth in receiving yards per game. McCrea has one TD and Smiley four. Rasheed Harrell is 10th in rushing (44 ypg.) and has six TDs.
“They’re extremely talented in all three phases of the game, starting on offense,” Viator said. “Bennett is really good. Love their scheme, what they do. ... They play a lot of guys...play three or four running backs like we do. They play six or seven receivers like we do, two or three tight ends. I mean, they’re moving different guys in, and they get contributions in a lot of areas. The offensive line, I think, is really good as well.”
The Cowboys are sixth in the league in total defense (417 ypg) and have 12 interceptions for second in the league. Safety Terrence Cahee is 15th in the conference with 49 tackles.
“They get after you,” Roberts said. “I mean, they’re a lot more aggressive, I think, on playcalling than in the past — playing a little more man, a lot more blitzing, and that’s what they’re doing.
“They’re kind of stifling people at the point of attack.”
Meanwhile, the Lions are fifth in total defense (395.8 ypg.) and third in rushing defense (149.6 ypg). Drew Misita and Kevin Harmon are tied for 19th in the league with 43 tackles each.
“We’ve actually played against odd (front) teams, but they don’t have 240-250 pound linebackers like Southeastern does — extremely talented, play hard,” Viator said.
The Lion Athletics Association’s tailgate in conjunction with the SLU-McNeese State game has been moved.
The tailgate will begin at 11:30 a.m. in the left corner of Lot A after the original Lot E location was left waterlogged after Thursday’s heavy rain in the Lake Charles area. Southeastern fans will have parking available in Lot A only for $20.
Free drinks and #InvasionNation rally towels will be available at the tailgate. Food will be served beginning at 3:30 p.m. Saturday’s menu includes fried fish, shrimp and oysters, jambalaya, Mr. Gatti’s pizza, Don’s Seafood bread pudding and crab claws, as well as other assorted snacks. The LAA will also be selling T-shirts for $10 and polo shirts for $25.