Last Modified: Friday, September 13, 2013 6:54 PM
Don’t be fooled by the Division II classification.
McNeese State is treating tonight’s game against West Alabama as if it is the toughest of the young season. Or at least the Cowboys are certainly talking that way.
“They are extremely talented,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “What jumps out at you is they can really run. They are fast.”
It’s been easy sledding for the Cowboys (2-0), who are averaging 55.5 points per game in blowout wins over Football Bowl Subdivision South Florida and Football Championship Subdivision Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Despite playing a level lower, West Alabama (1-0) might have a better shot at making a game of it than the previous two opponents. Last year the Tigers reached the second round of the Division II playoffs before losing to eventual champion Valdosta State — a team they beat in the regular season.
“Last week Pine Bluff was a bigger, physical team. This team can run, which scares us, because that’s what we can do,” Viator said. “They’ll certainly be able to run with us. They have speed when those backs get out on the perimeter.”
Having seen the other end of the equation with their season-opening win at USF, McNeese knows “lower-level” does not guarantee a pushover.
“We’re not worried about what division they are. There’s talent all over the country,” said defensive tackle Kevin Dorn. “And they have a reputation of winning. It’s going to be a good game.”
Offensively, UWA is similar to Cowboys nemesis Sam Houston State. The Tigers have even invented a position, the “super back,” that is employed in a similar manner to Sam Houston’s Richard Sincere.
Markeyus Johnson and Reggie Hall are both slot receivers, but also shift into the backfield or cut across to take handoffs from the quarterback on the read-option. Johnson had four carries for 54 yards and Hall had five for 40 yards in last week’s season-opening win over Clark Atlanta.
Coach Will Hall said his team wants to maintain a run-pass balance.
“Three years ago we threw for 300 yards a game,” Hall said. “The last two years, we’ve led conference in rushing. We’re trying to be more balanced.”
When they have the ball, the Cowboys will be on the lookout for Tigers strong safety Demetruce McNeal. The senior was a two-year starter at Auburn before he was kicked off the team because of a marijuana-possession arrest and ended up at UWA.
“I remember him playing at Auburn,” said McNeese quarterback Cody Stroud. “He’s a good player. He’s rangy and can run. I’m going to have to be aware of him, but nothing that I haven’t seen before.”
While McNeese is respectful of West Alabama’s ability, the primary goal this week is the same as any other nonconference game — continue to show enough improvement to eventually become a Southland title contender.
“We have a lot of guys who know what it takes to do things different than we did last year,” Stroud said. “That’s what I think is the main reason we have a chance to not do the same thing as last year.”