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McNeese State head football coach Matt Viator. (Associated Press)

McNeese State head football coach Matt Viator. (Associated Press)

Cowboys look to put SLU loss behind them, focus on SFA

Last Modified: Monday, November 04, 2013 8:46 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

The good news, if one prefers to view events through such a lens, is that McNeese State has experience with this type of thing.

That would be the art of bouncing back from a particularly disastrous loss, which the Cowboys did with flair with a 59-28 dispatching of Central Arkansas one week after a 41-6 loss at Northern Iowa.

“It was about the same speech,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “You’ve got to put it behind you. With kids like ours that really want to win, you have to slow them down rather than speed them up. They’re chomping at the bit but you have to say ‘Hey, we’re not going to win this on Sunday. It’s a day-by-day process. Get back on routine and let’s try to build this thing up for Saturday.’”

It’ll be deja vu this week as No. 11 McNeese (7-2, 3-1 Southland) tries to shake off the after-effects of Saturday’s 41-7 thumping to Southeastern Louisiana with another road trip to face a high-powered offense in purple.

“I started in the dressing room Saturday night. I probably talked to every kid on their way out,” Viator said. “Shook their hand, ‘keep your chin up,’ so to speak.”

This time it will be Stephen F. Austin (3-6, 1-3), which is averaging almost 600 yards per game.

To keep pace with the Lumberjacks, it will be in McNeese’s best interests to get off to a strong start.

The inability to score on the opening possession despite averaging 39.6 points per game has remained the great mystery of this team. The Cowboys have only put points on the board on their opening drive once in the last six games.

“I really don’t have an answer for that,” Viator said. “To be honest, it is kind of frustrating. The same team that’s 450-600 yards for seven games has 7 points for two games.”

Against SLU, that was far from the only thing to go awry.

The offense never had much of a chance on any drive other than the one it scored on because of abysmal performance on first and second downs. The Cowboys faced situations of second-and-10 or longer six times, and third-and-9 or longer nine times. The telling thing about that stat is it means McNeese went backwards on three more manageable second downs.

“You’re not going to win like that,” VIator said. “I think the NFL average is 20 percent on third-and-10 or more. That’s a tough position to get in and a tough position to put your quarterback in. When you get to second and third-and-long they can start putting in dime packages, and that’s what they did.”

The Cowboys finished the game 3 of 14 on third-down conversions.

Saturday also marked the first time McNeese has lost the turnover battle since — you guessed it — the Northern Iowa loss. McNeese had three giveaways to one takeaway.

That figure will be most relevant this week.

SFA has a league-high 25 giveaways, but its defense has created a league-high 20 turnovers. Despite six turnovers, the Lumberjacks stayed close before falling 56-49 to Sam Houston State.

“When they’re clean, they’re very tough to beat,” Viator said. “How did they beat (No. 4) Montana State? They took care of the football and their penalties were down.”

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