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McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State quarterback Cody Stroud. (American Press Archives)

Lions have habit of causing trouble for Cowboys

Last Modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 6:08 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

On paper, it has all the makings of a tremendous mismatch. However, Southeastern Louisiana has history of making things interesting when it meets McNeese State.

Two of the past three meetings between the Cowboys and Lions have gone down to the wire, with McNeese winning 36-35 in 2009 and 13-10 in 2010.

“The past 3-4 years, they’ve probably been one of the closer games consistently,” said quarterback Cody Stroud. “We’ve definitely got to be prepared this week. It’s going to be a good test for us.”

McNeese (3-0) and SLU (0-3) hook up in tonight’s Southland Conference opener for both teams at Strawberry Stadium in Hammond.

“It’s always a tough place to play for us,” said McNeese coach Matt Viator. “They have really good team speed. They always seem to be able to match us.”

Despite coming close in recent tries, SLU hasn’t actually beaten McNeese since 2005. First-year coach Ron Roberts knows bringing that streak to an end will be a tall order for his winless squad, which has dropped games to Missouri (62-10), South Dakota State (31-14) and Tennessee-Martin (23-6).

“They’re a great football team. Great program. Great tradition,” Roberts said of McNeese. “I don’t see a lot of weaknesses. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. They make a lot of big plays.”

Put simply, McNeese’s strengths are SLU’s weaknesses.

The Cowboys are seventh in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing offense with an average of 293.7 yards per game and sixth in rushing defense allowing an average of 71 yards per game.

The Lions are near the other end of the totem pole in both categories.

SLU is 120th in the nation in rushing offense with a paltry 28.3 yards per game. They are 104th in rushing defense with 244.7 yards allowed per game.

Quarterback Nathan Stanley is third in the conference with 225 passing yards per game, but he hasn’t had much time to perfect his craft. The Lions are allowing 3.3 sacks per game, which is sixth in the conference.

“We’ve got to be able to run the ball better. We’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback,” Roberts said. “(UT-Martin) was the first time in three games our kids really believed they can win. We’re doing a lot of things that kill ourselves.”

Defensively, SLU offers McNeese a different look than most with a morphing 3-3-5 alignment. The Cowboy offensive line feels ready.

“Weber was a powerful team. McMurry threw everything at us, it was more of a mental week. Middle Tennessee was faster,” said offensive lineman Jonathan Landry. “We’ve kind of seen every aspect of defense, so going into conference we should be prepared.”

If the Cowboys win their seventh straight against the Lions — and seventh straight overall game dating to last season — depth will play a role.

McNeese is without star free safety Malcolm Bronson for the rest of the season, and linebacker Joe Narcisse and tight end Josh Jordan are among the others nursing injuries that could hold them out this week.

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