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McNeese State head football coach Matt Viator talks with quarterback Cody Stroud during a game last season. (American Press)

McNeese State head football coach Matt Viator talks with quarterback Cody Stroud during a game last season. (American Press)

McNeese's Stroud continues to grow as a quarterback

Last Modified: Wednesday, October 03, 2012 10:01 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

Cody Stroud still isn’t the quarterback he wants to be. But he’s getting a lot closer.

The junior’s progression from last season has been a big factor in McNeese State’s 4-1 start to the season, and it will take his continued growth for the Cowboys to build on that success in the season’s second half.

“I think Cody continues to mature in what we’re trying to do,” said Cowboys head coach Matt Viator.

Stroud’s 2011 season was not one to write home about. He ranked eighth in the Southland in passing efficiency at 120.1. He was seventh in passing touchdowns with nine, and coupled it with 10 interceptions. And there was no bigger problem than sacks, where the Cowboys ranked seventh in the league with 37 allowed.

As 2012 approaches its midway point, McNeese appears to have a different guy behind center without even making a change.

Stroud is second in the league in passing efficiency, with his 145.8 rating trailing leader Wynrick Smothers of Central Arkansas. He is one touchdown away from matching last season’s total. He’s thrown two interceptions — one on a tip, the other on a one-handed grab by an all-conference cornerback.

And those sacks? The Cowboys rank second in the league behind Sam Houston State with six allowed in five games.

“They’ve done a great job (blocking),” Stroud said. “I don’t even think I was touched the last game. If that happens the next five games where we only have three or four sacks, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Though he’s no Robert Griffin III on the ground, he’s helped avoid a few sacks by knowing when the pocket has broken down and taking off for positive yardage.

“When they’re in two-man coverage, it leaves the middle of the field wide open,” Stroud said. “When you can get 5 or 10 yards, it helps the down and distance out.”

To the surprise of everyone, he leads the team with four rushing touchdowns.

“The thing he’s done better this year is extended some plays some more,” Viator said. “Is he going to extend a ton of plays? No, but he’s scrambled for six or seven first downs. And he’s our leader in touchdowns. If I’d have told you that at the beginning of the season, no one would have believed that.”

Stroud’s improvement as a passer is a result of better diagnosing what the defense is showing, Viator said. Four players have led McNeese in single-game receptions with Ernest Celestie being the lone repeat primary target.

With Northwestern State more focused on Celestie last week, Diontae Spencer became Stroud’s main man with four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.

“I feel comfortable with all of them,” Stroud said of his receiving options. “We’ve got five or six guys who can have a breakout game any game.”

Though Stroud has taken steps forward, he knows there is more room to grow if he is to become a quarterback feared by opponents.

“It’s just continuing to get better,” Stroud said. “My completion percentage isn’t where I want it to be. Sixty percent ain’t where I want it to be. I want it to be in the 70s.”

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