Hickey Column: Cowboys won't catch another opponent off-guard

By By Alex Hickey / American Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Nobody could have seen this coming. Not this level of domination, anyway.

But the warning signs were there.

As you walk from the media parking lot to Raymond James Stadium, a sign warns tailgaters “Kegs and Large Vessels That Contain

Alcoholic Beverages Are Prohibited.”

Hmm. Maybe the Cowboys weren’t walking into the most hostile atmosphere here.

Then came the sounds of music from the loudest tailgate party of USF supporters.

“Think about it!” Steve Winwood crooned through the speakers, “There must be higher love.”

I love Winwood’s dulcet tones as much as the next

guy, but I didn’t get the feeling Cody Stroud would have to break out a

silent snap count if this is how fans were getting pumped up for

the season opener. Despite the fact this was an NFL stadium,

there was no reason to believe McNeese would be intimidated by the

surroundings.

That said, McNeese still appeared to be heading into this matchup with a deficit in talent and manpower. USF is a program

ranked as high as No. 2 in the country as recently as 2007, in a state that grows top college players on trees.

Not getting rattled doesn’t matter much if the

other guys are better, and when USF running back Marcus Shaw blew

through the

defense for an 80-yard touchdown on his team’s first offensive

play, it appeared the Bulls were well on their way to proving

that was the case.

As it turned out, Shaw’s scamper was a total aberration. In every aspect of the game, McNeese proved itself superior to the

team writing the $400,000 paycheck.

The Cowboys' 53-21 domination was so thorough that it’s hard to determine who had the best game. There were no weak links.

The defense regrouped to force three turnovers that led directly to touchdowns during a 40-0 run that may go down as some

of the finest football McNeese has ever played.

Cody Stroud looked as sharp as he ever has

following a first-quarter interception, getting huge chunks of yardage

on short

passes to Ernest Celestie and taking advantage of the mismatches

6-foot-5 tight end Nic Jacobs presents.

The Cowboys didn’t just have the best quarterback on the field — they had the two best quarterbacks.  

Backup Tyler Bolfing was scheduled to play a

series in the second quarter, but came in earlier than expected when

Stroud had

to leave because his helmet came off. Bolfing got things rolling

on a no-huddle, 91-yard drive that gave McNeese its first

lead. Not only did he complete all his passes, but he provided a

legitimate run threat on read-option plays that kept USF’s

defensive ends from getting too aggressive.

Oh, about those defensive ends. The Cowboys offensive line made the ultra-hyped Aaron Lynch, who goes by the Twitter handle

“LGhost_Killa19”, look like a ghost. Specifically, Casper.

Lynch and the rest of his compadres occasionally

pressured Stroud, but never sacked him. The Cowboys' line also opened sizeable holes

for

Marcus Wiltz, Kelvin Bennett and Dylan Long, each of whom had

significant gains. Long said he wasn’t even touched by a defender

on his 7-yard touchdown run until he was in the end zone.

“Everybody stepped up on the offensive line,” Long said. “Without them, I don’t get a single yard. I just dove in-between

those two people and walked right in there.”

With three new starters, including two who played on the defensive line last year, the Cowboy offensive line entered the game as

this team’s biggest question mark. They ended up providing the biggest exclamation point.

Because of it, you can be sure of one thing — the other 11 teams on the schedule can see the Cowboys coming.