Starting with a win

Positive beginning to new era; tough task ahead

McNeese head coach Sterlin Gilbert speaks with players during a win over Southern earlier this year.

Rick Hickman

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A big opening-week win over an in-state opponent was just what Sterlin Gilbert wanted to start his college football head coaching career.

But the 34-28 win over Southern also came at a bit of a price for the Cowboys as Gilbert confirmed that senior cornerback Colby Burton would miss the rest of the season with a lower leg injury during his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon.

Gilbert did not comment on Burton’s particular injury, but the preseason first-team all-Southland Conference selection was seen in a walking boot and on crutches by the games conclusion. Burton will redshirt this season as he rehabs the injury and plans on coming back for his fifth season in 2020.

“Anytime you lose a guy for a season, it affects you,” Gilbert said of Burton’s injury. “When you lose Colby like that, you not only lose him as a player, but you lose him as a person. His leadership, he carries a lot of intangibles about him. Obviously his experience and who he is as a player. Fortunate that he’s going to be able to recover from this and come back for a fifth season.

The plan is to replace Burton with sophomore Colby Richardson. The New Orleans-native made four starts during the 2018 season. In the win over Southern on Saturday night, Richardson had his ups and downs. In the first half, he struggled in coverage, allowing two long touchdown passes. But he rebounded in the second half, forcing and recovering a fumble on the same play. The Cowboys went on to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

After reviewing the game film, Gilbert said that the team still has a long way to go in order to improve. A statistic that must get better by shrinking is the penalties; the Cowboys currently have the most penalty yards (177) in the Football Championship Subdivision among all of the teams that have already played at least one game. McNeese also committed 16 penalties, only behind Prairie View A&M (18) and Morehead State (19) in that category.

Gilbert said that the penalties resulted from various factors, from lack of discipline to playing all the way to and through the whistle. There was also some bad fortune as well as questionable calls, but Gilbert chose not to comment on that.

“We were able to go back and look at tape and view the things that we thought were questionable or objective,” Gilbert said of the penalties. “Now that we’ve looked tape we realize what we believe was correct and what was incorrect.”

When asked about what he was most pleased about with Saturday’s win, Gilbert mentioned the team’s effort from the start of the game to the end. He also liked how McNeese was able to wear Southern’s defense down and how his team didn’t show many issues with cramping or conditioning, despite the hot temperatures during the game.

Now, with Southern in the past, the focus shifts to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who went on the road and defeated Oregon State 52-36 in their season-opener last Friday.

OSU head coach Mike Gundy was asked about McNeese and, while he did give an answer about the blue and gold Cowboys, his main focus going into Saturday’s game seemed to be more about what his team will do.

“They’re based on defense up to this point,” Gundy said during his press conference on Monday. “They want to get lined up, play hard and run to the ball is what it looks like. They are trying to be balanced on offense. We will get a game plan in for them in all three phases of the game. We need to get better at what we do. That will make me feel a lot better if we can continue to improve in the basic fundamentals and the discipline of us being a smart football team, that would do a lot for me this Saturday.”

McNeese will continue with its preparations for Oklahoma State when they get back to practice on Tuesday afternoon.

McNeese at Oklahoma St. 6 p.m. Saturday

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