Two-year trend rears its ugly head once again for McNeese football

Published 4:43 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

For the true optimist, the first half of Saturday night’s game at Cowboy Stadium was a glimpse into what could be.

For the pessimist, the second half was just more of the same.

McNeese State’s cup is either half-empty or half-full depending on what side of the fence you ride on.

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While the Pokes are still 0-7 the young group played its best half of the season against Incarnate Word, leading the fifth-ranked team in the nation 24-7 at the break.

That’s when a two-year trend reared its ugly head once again. The Pokes were completely outclassed in the second half and lost 35-24, showing signs of their youth and lack of depth along the way.

“Second half they won the line of scrimmage,” said McNeese head coach Gary Goff. “We have to finish the game. It is a hurdle we have to get over.

“We have to get out of watching the scoreboard. We have got to keep attacking. We can’t sulk when things go bad and think ‘Here we go again’. Some of that is human nature.”

The Cowboys have not responded well when things begin to snowball. Saturday night they lost a 17-point lead and it was the second time a three-score advantage had been blown.

McNeese had a 21-point advantage in Week 4 against Eastern Illinois, losing 31-28 to the Panthers. Twice this season the Pokes have been shut out in the second half of games.

The loss to UIW was especially tough after playing so well early.

“So disheartening, but you have to put that behind you,” said Goff. “We have to find something to build off.”

This season McNeese has been outscored in all seven of their second halves. Opponents have outscored the Pokes 140-34, turning winnable games into mostly double-digit defeats.

It is a trend that also took place in Goff’s first season on the McNeese sidelines. Last year McNeese was outscored 184-104 in second halves as they finished 4-7.

The total two-year total deficit is 323-138 over the final 30 minutes of games.

“Playing consistently for four quarters is the key and we have not done that,” said Goff. “We are not very consistent.

“We told them that (at halftime) and not to look at the scoreboard Saturday. It has to be a 0-0 mindset.”

After the electrifying first half, McNeese was held to just 80 yards of total offense over the last two quarters. And the defense allowed 311 yards to a backup quarterback and a pair of reserve running backs.

“We want to take the positives from Saturday night and those,” said Goff.

Two of the positives were the play of a pair of walk-ons.

Quarterback Ryan Roberts and running back Joshon Barbie each came off the bench to have big nights. Roberts got his first start since the end of last season and went 17-of-30 for 200 yards and a pair of touchdown throws to Jon McCall.

Barbie ran for 117 yards on 21 carries. He entered the game with just two carries for 14 yards and a TD while playing in just one game before last Saturday.

“I’m very proud of the way those two guys played,” said Goff. “They took advantage of their opportunities.”

Both will get more time now with four games left in the season.

Roberts, who led McNeese to three wins last season, will be the Cowboy starter this week when they host Northwestern State for Homecoming.

“Ryan did a great job and he has earned it,” Goff said when asked about Roberts’ start.

Barbie will get a chance to earn more playing time after starting the season fifth on the depth chart. Goff said he expects D’Angelo Durham will return to the lineup after missing the last two games with an injured shoulder.

In other injury news, senior defensive back Jaylen Jackson will miss the rest of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Jackson started three games for the Pokes this season, collecting 11 tackles before his injury.