Cowboys simply find ways to win
A lot of academic classes you take tend to divide the grading rubric into three sections: in-class assignments, out-of-class assignments and attendance.
Some professors might get more detailed than that, but this is pretty generic from what I remember.
Now imagine a student who does one of the three sections really well; there may be a pop quiz that the student doesn’t ace, but overall, it’s easy. Then there’s another section that is — while not as good as the first section — still pretty good.
That brings us to the final section. It’s not good. Early in the semester there were a few good moments. But lately it’s been consistently mediocre.
Would you imagine that this student is passing the class with flying colors and goes into their final with a chance to ace it? Sounds unlikely, right?
Well, meet the 2018 McNeese State football team. I have to admit, I don’t know how the Cowboys are doing it.
If you simply look at the numbers, this should not be a team that is 6-2, first place in the Southland Conference with a 5-1 record and in control of its own destiny to win the SLC.
The offense averages 298.8 yards per game, last in the SLC and ranked 106th in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Cowboys have only exceeded 300 yards twice, both in the first two games of the season.
McNeese beat Stephen F. Austin passing for 83 yards. It’s not like the Cowboys are a run-dominant team like Georgia Tech or Kennesaw State.
The offense generally has the same pattern in games: start out fast, stall out mid-game, and do enough to grind out a win. McNeese has scored on six of its eight opening possessions.
But while the offense has been underwhelming, the defense has been what everyone expected it would be. The DWA (Defense With Attitude) leads the SLC in total defense (342.8 yards per game) and is second in scoring defense (23.1 points per game). The run defense has been absolutely outstanding, ranking eighth in the FCS giving up 95.5 yards per game.
The pass defense has been a bit more inconsistent, springing big leaks against Incarnate Word and Central Arkansas. But their ability to get to the quarterback — they’re ranked eighth in the FCS in sacks per game with 3.13 — helps negate that somewhat.
So the offense has been below average and the defense has been above average. The third phase — special teams — is the closest to average, but it depends on where in the special teams you look.
Punter Alex Kjellsten has been phenomenal and it wouldn’t surprise me if he earns first-team all-SLC honors at the position; I don’t think making an all-American team is out of the question either. Kjellsten’s numbers have been incredible, and it’s not just the numbers. He constantly flips the field position and puts the defense in a good position.
The kickoff coverage, with Kjellsten as the kickoff specialist, leads the SLC as well.
But the other side of the special teams has been a bit frightful. Cyron Sutton has taken over as punt returner since Parker Orgeron was sidelined with a concussion.
To say it’s been hit or miss would be kind. Sutton had a huge 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against Abilene Christian. But against UIW, he muffed a punt. On the very next punt against UIW, he didn’t catch it, and the Cardinals downed the ball at the McNeese 2-yard-line.
Against UCA, Sutton tried to field a punt inside the 10 while surrounded by nothing but white and purple. He did not get it and UCA recovered. The defense bailed him out on the next play, but that should have never happened.
This team has a will about it that has allowed it to squeak out wins, no matter if the opponent is good or bad. So they’re consistent on that front. But head coach Lance Guidry told his team after Tuesday’s practice that the play has to elevate if the Cowboys are going to make noise in the playoffs. There are no bad teams once Nov. 24 hits.
McNeese can make a small statement if it can comfortably beat Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday. Guidry does not care how the Cowboys win, just that they win.
But the confidence boost sure would help for a consistently weird, winning team.
David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com
McNeese State Cowboys defensive back Keshon Bell (26) and McNeese State Cowboys defensive back Calum Foster (6) makes the stop on Central Arkansas Bears wide receiver Dwayne Smith (11) on a punt return during their Southland Conference game at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)