Hickey Column: Cowboys struggling with slow starts

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

We all have some nasty habits that jump up and bite us.

For me, it’s procrastination. Just ask any of my editors.

I’ve managed to do OK in life despite

this habit, though from time to time I wonder whether it has prevented

me from actually

accomplishing anything of significance. And then I realize I was

supposed to be doing something else. Like writing a column.

The McNeese offense appears to be dealing with a similar issue.

Even in games where they score more than 50 points, the Cowboys have been slow out of the gates this season. McNeese has only

scored on its opening possession once in the last six games.

For the season, McNeese is only outscoring its opponents 65-64 in the first quarter.

When the opponent is Nicholls, this isn’t such a problem. McNeese has outscored opponents by a cumulative 120 points in quarters

2-4.

But when it is a playoff-caliber opponent like Southeastern Louisiana, that nasty habit is liable to bite

“It’s been like that all year. I’ve

spoke to the team about it. We know it’s happening,” said quarterback

Cody Stroud. “I

don’t know what it is. We’ve done it pretty much every game. We

know we have to improve it if we want to make it far in the

playoffs.

“We know we’re putting our defense in

bad situations too early in the game. We had a few games where we got

away with it.

Sam Houston, the defense played great early in the game. But

tonight we didn’t get away with it. It’s going to hurt us severely

later on if we don’t fix it quickly.”

Saturday’s 41-7 loss to SLU was a carbon-copy of the 41-6 loss at Northern Iowa in many ways.

Both games got off to disastrous starts. At UNI, the Cowboys fumbled away the opening kickoff. Against SLU, it was the second

play from scrimmage. The defense did its job both times, holding the opponent to field goal attempts despite being backed

up the first time it took the field.

Yet for whatever reason, the offense never really recovered from its initial freak-out moment despite the defense’s best efforts to

keep its finger in the dam.

Part of the answer may be that the Cowboy offense is more like Sam Houston State’s than it would appear at first glance.

Though the Cowboys are more balanced

than the Bearkats, this season’s results have demonstrated that both are

extremely uncomfortable

when falling behind by a couple scores and becoming

one-dimensional. The success of McNeese’s passing game is contingent on

other teams respecting the run. When the run is gone, so are the

Cowboys.

Granted, most teams don’t have the

defense necessary to make that happen. UNI and SLU both have that

because of their overwhelming

physicality — and I don’t mean in the trenches.

Yes, the Panthers and Lions are certainly physical up front. But so were Weber State and West Alabama, and McNeese didn’t

have much trouble hanging 40 on either of those teams.

The difference between UNI, SLU, and everyone else McNeese has played is their physicality on the outside. Both teams had

strong cornerbacks with the ability to jam McNeese’s receivers at the line and disrupt their timing.

It is in games like these that the

Cowboys have to get Nic Jacobs more involved in the middle of the field.

Yes, you need

extra help in protection against blitzing teams. But if no one

else can get open, all you’re really protecting is more incompletions.

The Cowboys are still on pace to make the playoffs and host a home game. With some help in the last three weeks, they may

even stumble back into a Top-8 seed.

No matter where they end up, the road will end if the offense can’t figure out how to start strong or move the ball against

physical secondaries.

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Alex Hickey covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at ahickey@americanpress.com