Trying to get it together

Bearkat (1-5) football will take back to the road this weekend as they travel to Lake Charles, LA to take on the McNeese State Cowboys (5-1). The Cowboys have been on the road the last two games and this weekend they will be celebrating their homecoming, a game of which they have not lost in the past 15 years.

Since 1988 the conference rivals have met every year. The Bearkats have only been able to beat McNeese twice since then. Last year the Cowboys played spoiler for the Bearkat homecoming, defeating them 47-10.

“They are a very fine football team,” said head coach Ron Randleman. “We play them at their place and they have not been home in a while. They will be very good. They have got some outstanding players.”

So far this season, the Cowboys only loss has been to Division I-A Kansas State. Against almost every other opponent they have been able to put up big points and give little back on defense. They are truly a seasoned team with a roster that consists of more than 15 seniors and a handful of stars.

Randleman said that the Cowboys have a good offense but that their “strength has continued to be their defense.” Seniors Ryan Garrison and Roderick Royals have been the foundation of the McNeese defense, combining for seven sacks and 73 tackles. Randleman also said that the Cowboys were not afraid to play a little dirty.

“They play so physical,” said Randleman. “They are going to pound a quarterback, and they don’t mind if it’s a little late. They blitz about 25 percent of the time.”

Offensively, McNeese is surely a force to be recked with. Senior tailback Vick King is the top Southland Conference rusher this season and junior quarterback Scott Pendarvis is one of the top passers. Also added to the formula is the physical 6 foot 248 pound senior fullback Luke Lawton and the Southland Conference’s leader in all purpose yards senior wide receiver/kick and punt returner B.J. Sams.

The Cowboys have also been mighty stingy about giving up the ball this season. McNeese has only turned the ball over eight times this this and boast a +8 takeaway/giveaway ratio. The Bearkats have struggled in that category, turning the ball over 21 times with a -7 ratio.

“We are going to have to really play hard and hold onto the ball,” said Randleman. “We turned the ball over three times (more than Stephen F. Austin) last week. It’s hard to win if you turn the ball over more times than your opponent.”

Last week the Bearkats suffered a heart-wrenching loss to SFA but the game plan worked throughout most of the game. Offensively, Randleman looked to his running game to play big, which ultimately was setting up the pass. Sophomore running back Jason Godfrey played his best game as a collegiate athlete, gaining 125 yards on 23 carries.

“We are improving,” said Randleman. “It is going to be hard to get the running game going against McNeese. They are big and physical, we are thin and young.”

The Cowboys have many offensive threats, which will force the Bearkat defense to step up or get stepped over. The defense has proved efficient so far this season but Randleman said that it was tough to win ball games when the offense turns the ball over and the defense is on the field most of the game.

Against SFA last week, the Bearkats significantly won the battle of the clock but in the last three minutes of the game the offense had two opportunities to hold but were forced to punt both times. The first punt was blocked in their own red zone and set up a game tying 11-yard touchdown run.

“Our defense has played pretty good,” said Randleman. “But we have given up some big plays and McNeese likes to make the big plays.”

This Bearkats will also have the elements to deal with against the conference opponent. Cowboy Stadium is known for getting rowdy and the Bearkats will also have to adjust to a surface unlike the familiar artificial turf of Bowers Stadium.

“You play on grass against 18 thousand people, it’s going to be a difficult challenge,” said Randleman. “We are going to come out, play hard and give it all we’ve got.”

The Bearkats are in desperate need of a win after losing five of six. McNeese has been nearly a sure thing on homecoming games over the past 15 years. The Cowboys are going to be looking to continue their success against a young, struggling Kats team that will surely have their thoughts set on an upset. The game is Saturday in Lake Charles, LA at Cowboy Stadium, 7 p.m.

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