Going inside Saturday’s game plan
Welcome to football season, folks.
After a smattering of games last Saturday, football season starts in full force tonight with games appearing on all major cable sports networks, including a bout between Texas A&M and the Southland Conference’s Northwestern State going at it on the SEC Network.
On Saturday, it will be McNeese State’s turn as it ships off for Greeley, Colorado, for its game against Northern Colorado.
The Bears are coming off a 3-7 season, but that didn’t keep McNeese head coach Lance Guidry from talking them up. He mentioned a few matchups that should be exciting to watch, and today that’s what we’re going to take a look at.
Two dominant QBs: McNeese senior James Tabary looks to have a record-breaking season as he enters his third year behind center for the Cowboys, while UNC senior Jacob Knipp hopes to cap his career on a high note despite spending it on the injured list far more than he would have liked to.
After a stellar freshman season in which he threw for nearly 2,000 yards in seven games, Knipp missed all but one half in 2016 after suffering an early shoulder injury. He then played in the first four games of 2017, and seemed to be on his way to another great year — racking up 1,352 yards and nine touchdowns — before reinjuring his shoulder, taking him out for the rest of the season.
Now he opens up the year against one of the SLC’s most experienced quarterbacks in Tabary, who has thrown for a combined 5,547 yards and 44 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Cowboys.
Expect these two to fight to control the tempo of the game, and whoever is more successful will give their team a major advantage.
Battle for a push: The Cowboys’ defensive front will go up against a big challenge, and that’s meant to be literal.
The expected starting five for the Bears’ offensive line weigh a combined 1,500 pounds, and the unit has plenty of combined experience to boot.
The McNeese front is trying to repeat its success from last season when it allowed a nation’s best 54.5 rushing yards per game.
The Cowboys return an experienced front six that includes defensive ends Chris Livings and Cody Rosco senior linebackers Christian Jacobs and BJ Blunt. Aside from a large offensive line, this group will also try to limit the production of what the Bears call their “Three-Headed Monster” in the backfield.
This trio includes one of the most successful running backs in the program’s history in Trae Riek, who broke the school’s Division I record for yards per carry in his first two seasons with the team, averaging 5.4 yards per carry as a freshman and 5.8 yards per carry as a sophomore.
Lawayne Ross vs. anybody: McNeese’s second-year tight end made a name for himself last season as one of Tabary’s most reliable options while regularly making significant gains after catching the football.
His first year at the position went so well, he earned second-team preseason All-American honors, and he’s expected to make an even bigger impact this season.
Not only will he provide Tabary with a reliable option, his teammates on the other side of the ball have lamented all camp having to get past him when he blocks.
Ross abused members of opposing secondaries last season, using his size (6-0, 264) and quickness to tally 42 catches for 570 yards, and with his newly honed blocking skills, he becomes even more versatile at the position.
Averaging 3.8 receptions per game last season, he’s yet to face a defense that has known how to handle him, and UNC should provide a nice benchmark to see if we can experience similar success this season or if defenses have been able to figure him out.
Tyler Nunez covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at email@example.com
McNeese State Cowboys tight end Lawayne Ross (40) pushes his way past the reach of Incarnate Word Cardinals linebacker Mar’kel Cooks (34) during the 1st half of Southland Conference game at McNeese State University, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.