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Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders. (American Press Archives)

Sam Houston State running back Timothy Flanders. (American Press Archives)

McNeese hosts Sam Houston State in key conference match

Last Modified: Friday, October 18, 2013 7:29 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

For McNeese State, redemption could be spelled S-A-M.

After two straight years of domination by the Bearkats, the No. 9 Cowboys (5-1, 1-0 Southland) will look to turn the tables when second-ranked Sam Houston State (5-1, 1-0) visits Cowboy Stadium tonight.

“I certainly see it as a great opportunity for us to come out and compete, and embrace a great challenge playing a great team,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator.

It is McNeese’s second game against a top-five opponent in the last three. The last one was a 41-6 loss on Sept. 28 at Northern Iowa that left plenty skeptical about whether the Cowboys live up to their own top-10 billing.

They are eager to show that performance was a fluke.

“What we displayed at Northern Iowa wasn’t really what we can do,” said receiver Diontae Spencer. “We bounced back with 59 points. … We want the doubters. If you doubt us, we’ll show you wrong.”

In addition to being homecoming, it is the first trip to Cowboy Stadium by a top-five team since No. 1 Georgia Southern visited in 2003.

Bearkats head coach Willie Fritz expects the crowd to reflect that significance.

“It’s gonna be a super atmosphere,” Fritz said. “We’re going to have to play very well to get out of there.”

On paper, the stage is set for fireworks aplenty.

Sam Houston ranks second in the nation in scoring with an average of 45.3 points per game, while McNeese is third with 43.8 points per game.

But it also creates the possibility that a low-scoring fight could ensue if either team is able to make it a game of keep-away to avoid putting the other offense on the field.

“You just don’t ever know,” Viator said. “Both defenses are certainly capable. I think in our case, we’ve played against some good offensive teams, and so has Sam. They’ve played Texas A&M and Eastern Washington. So sometimes numbers are skewed a little bit depending on who you play. But both defenses have players who have been there.”

Certainly a door was unlocked by Lamar last week when it became the first team, aside from North Dakota State, to hold the Bearkats under 20 points in Fritz’s four-year tenure in a 14-3 loss.

“Their D-linemen played fantastic,” McNeese defensive end Chris Loveless said of Lamar. “We need to play sound defense on the D-line and be there for help. We need to make sure that we spill plays when we need to, and the main thing is we need to tackle like they did. If we can tackle like they did, we’re going to walk out with a win because our offense is going to put up the points.”

For both teams, the third quarter could prove to be the decisive frame. Last year the Bearkats held on to the ball for nearly 14 minutes in the third as they pulled away from a 21-10 halftime lead.

McNeese wants to avoid giving an offense averaging more than 300 rushing yards a game the chance to salt away the clock. The Bearkats may be thinking the same thing about McNeese.

“Possession time is important,” Viator said. “But it’s more important what you’re doing with it when you have it. They’re built for if they’ve got a lead in the third quarter, it’s hard to get it back. And I think we are too. They can run it in different ways. Other than Northern Iowa, we’ve been able to do that too.”

Posted By: Michael On: 10/19/2013

Title: Start Your Engines

A prior article graded out McNeese as A- in EVERY category except linebackers and secondary. I've seen articles about 'this is the game' to see how McNeese stands up to the elite programs. Excuse me... didn't they face such a program a couple of weeks ago up north?
I've watched with some interest things that weren't covered.. Do WR's block downfield? Watch tonite. Sometimes it's the little things that good coaching does that pays off.
Is the secondary worthy of a 'passing grade'? Watch. Unless there's been some coaching up they've been very undisciplined at times and UNI viewed the tapes correctly and exploited it.
I hope the coaching improves and I see the offense with their shirts tucked in tonight. I've seen too many 'shirt tail' tackles and it surprises me that coaching allows it to continue. It's going to be the first thing I look for tonight. It's the little things that payoff for coaching a team to greatness.
Giving coaching a flier because of injuries works to a point. Every team has injuries, it is not unique. Clock management over the last few years has been below average (almost get flashes of LSU vs Ole Miss or Tenn) but I've not seen enough game time to make up my mind about it this year.

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