When Sam Houston State filed into the locker room following their 49-34 victory over No. 8 Eastern Washington, they made a statement to reestablish their prominence in the FCS.
Now approaching conference play, the Bearkats are preparing to make another statement: Become the three-time consecutive Southland Conference champions.
With the veteran roster Lamar University (3-2) driving into Huntsville Saturday, consistency remains key for quarterback Brian Bell and his squad following a week five bye-week.
“This one counts,” Bell said. “We don’t get a playoff bid for going 5-0 in the preseason and 0-5 in conference. This one really counts.”
Approaching week six against the Cardinals, head coach Willie Fritz said the bye-week has allowed his team to efficiently recover from an early season break.
“We’re in a really good shape,” he said. “I think it was better for us mentally.”
Cardinal offensive coordinator Larry Kueck will look to unlock his crop of four-year seniors headed by junior quarterback Caleb Berry against SHSU’s secondary, following a 399-yard passing effort against Grambling State in week five. LU’s air attack has potential potency against SHSU’s young secondary, however Fritz argues his defense has commanded opponents with a heavy hand.
“We’re close defensively to be a dominant type defense,” he said. “We just had a couple of busts [against EWU] where we didn’t make them earn it.”
Tackling issues and botched coverage in zone alignments have surrendered 1,264 opponent passing yards against EWU, while secondary issues dissolved against the Eagles. Fritz said he has seen incremental improvements on the defensive factor but reiterated there’s always room for improvement.
Projected as SHSU’s Achilles’s Heel through preseason, the Bearkat offensive line has stepped up as the strongest aspect of the offensive playbook.
Headed by Donald Jackson III and Matt Boyles, the offensive line maintained security for Bell, and bulldozed alleys for running back Timothy Flanders in an offense that has averaged 485-yards-per-game.
Bell said the victory over EWU reminded the FCS and the SLC that the Bearkats are still relevant.
“I really thought it was a great statement game,” he said. “I feel like getting the win proved to everybody that we’re here to play and we’re here to compete. It let us prove ourselves.”
Bell added that since the return of LU football in 2010, the Cardinals have grown substantially as a program.
“This year is definitely the best they’ve been the past four years,” he said.
Saturday’s game caps off the Bearkats’ four week home stint before traveling to Lake Charles, La. to suit up against McNeese State in week seven. Currently the Bearkats hold an 18-game home winning streak as the 18th longest in FCS history.
Kickoff will be underway 2 p.m. at Bowers Stadium.