End zone is Cowboy’s end game

by DAVID BERRY
dberry@americanpress.com

McNeese State Cowboys wide receiver Kylon Highshaw (3) hauls in the deep reception during their Southland Conference game at Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles, La., Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Rick Hickman/Lake Charles American Press)

Rick Hickman

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Starting fast has not been a problem for the McNeese State offense.

The Cowboys have scored on the opening possession in five of their six games, four of those were touchdowns.

The issue has been keeping that level of production through the entire game.

Head coach Lance Guidry, who also serves as defensive coordinator, has no problem heaping pressure on his defense to continue its play. But during the Cowboys’ bye week, Guidry told his offensive staff that the production on that side of the ball needs to improve. The defense will be there.

“We need to score points,” Guidry said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday. “I told the offensive coaches we can’t just rely on the defense in the second half (of games) just to stop people and not put any more points on the board. As long as it’s one more point than the other team’s offense, we’re good. But they don’t need to depend on the defense;

they need to try and score on their side of the ball and make big plays. They have the guys that can make big plays.”

If ever there was a week for the offense to make a big showing, it would be against a porous Incarnate Word defense. The Cardinals have held one opponent under 27 points. They also rank 116th in the Football Championship Subdivision in total defense (519.5 yards per game) and tied for 100th in scoring defense (37 ppg).

The numbers are a bit deflated because of UIW’s two games against Football Bowl Subdivision competition, when they gave up a combined 120 points to New Mexico and North Texas. But over the last three games, all against Southland Conference opposition, the Cardinals have allowed 95 points.

Senior wide receiver Kylon Highshaw, who is second on the Cowboys (5-1, 4-0 SLC) in receptions (14) and yards (175), sees things in the UIW defense that can be exploited.

“They have trouble with passing off a lot of routes,” Highshaw said of the Cardinals’ coverage issues. “So we will try to attack that so we can expose their defense more.”

The UIW pass defense and pass defense efficiency rank No. 10 in the SLC, allowing 328.3 yards per game through the air and a 148 efficiency rating. The pass defense numbers are second-worst in the entire FCS with only fellow SLC member Lamar worse.

But the Cardinals (3-2, 3-1) are not just generous through the air as they have allowed 191 rushing yards per game. That ranks ninth in the SLC and 83rd in the FCS.

Junior offensive lineman Grant Burguillos sees what UIW does up front on the defensive line a strength of theirs that can also be turned into a weakness.

“They move a lot up front, whether it be twisting or stemming the different fronts,” Burguillos said after Tuesday’s practice. “So we’ve just got to be prepared. If we catch (UIW) at the right time, their twists can be a disadvantage. I think we can take advantage of that and go a little tempo and catch them off guard.”

Guidry also made mention of hoping to go to a more up-tempo this week. While McNeese’s defense has been stellar for most of the season — ranking fourth in the nation against the run (83 ypg), first in the SLC in scoring defense (19.8 ppg) and total defense (325 ypg) — the team could find itself in a high-scoring situation like the Houston Baptist game, a 51-34 Cowboys win. If that happens, the offense needs to be able to rise to the occasion, he said.

The offense ranks second to last in the SLC in total offense (312.3 ypg), scoring offense (22 ppg), passing offense (196.5) and eighth in rushing (115.8 ypg),

Burguillos knows that, as an offensive lineman, how the offense moves starts and ends with the five up front.

“We always know that if we don’t have a good day, then the whole offense is probably going to have a bad day,” he said. “We take it on ourselves that the offense starts with us.”

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