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Nicholls State quarterback Tuskani Figaro. (Associated Press)

Nicholls State quarterback Tuskani Figaro. (Associated Press)

Nicholls State no longer pushover in Southland Conference

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 10:11 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Nicholls State’s days of winning the Southland Conference superlative for “Team Most Likely To Be Shoved Into a Locker” are over.

The Colonels made the first indication they were finished being pushed around in the nonconference schedule, ending a two-year string of winless futility against Division I opponents in a big way by knocking off Football Bowl Subdivision Western Michigan in Week 2.

Nicholls (4-3, 1-1 Southland) also said good-bye to a two-year losing streak in conference games by topping Northwestern State to open its Southland schedule.

In his fourth year since taking over the program and turning an option offense into a pro-style attack, Colonels head coach Charlie Stubbs appears to have some pieces in place.

“As a whole team, we’re making significant progress,” Stubbs said. “We’re pretty balanced with over 200 yards rushing and passing. We’ve faced adversity in the form of injuries. We’ve played four quarterbacks. We lost (top running back) Marcus Washington for the year, and little Dalton Hilliard stepped up and rushed for 100 yards last week.

“In the past, when we suffered injuries we didn’t have capable replacements. Now we’re not dropping off that far.”

The most capable replacement has been quarterback Tuskani Figaro, who has the legs of an option quarterback while still running Stubbs’ offensive scheme.

Figaro is the conference’s third-leading rusher behind running backs Marcus Wiltz of McNeese State and Sam Houston State’s Timothy Flanders with an average of 110.2 yards per game. That ability opens up the passing game for Figaro, who is fourth in the league in passing efficiency.

Just remember, he’s supposed to be the guy on the bench.

Kalen Henderson, who led the Colonels over Western Michigan before leaving late in the game with an injury, returned for some snaps for the first time in last week’s 55-41 loss at Stephen F. Austin.

Stubbs said both will see playing time this week.

“Figaro has done a great job of running the offense, and they’ve incorporated some runs in,” said McNeese head coach Matt Viator. “Henderson is a Tulsa transfer out of East St. John and also a very good player. They’re kind of similar in what they do in that they’re both athletic quarterbacks that move around.”

On defense, Nicholls’ success is contingent on confusing opponents. The Colonels mix thee- and four-man fronts with regularity and shift players around the back end to keep the opposing quarterback guessing.

“They’re the most multiple team you’ll play — ever,” Viator said.

It hasn’t always worked. Nicholls is last in the conference against the run, allowing an average of 298 yards per game.

Of course, playing Oregon to start the season has the probability to throw one’s stats out of wack. But the Colonels are still giving up 262 rushing yards a game to teams that are not the Ducks.

“It all starts with stopping the run,” Stubbs said. “We haven’t been able to do that consistently.”

Now that they’ve proven to be competitive, “consistency” is the Colonels’ new buzzword.

“If we can get consistent, we can be very good,” Stubbs said.

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