The Bearkats travel three hours eastward on Saturday to suit up in a match that will set the tone for their Southland Conference run.
Following their 14-3 win against Lamar University to commence their league schedule, Sam Houston State will look to defend their SLC title by derailing a thirsty McNeese State squad.
“They have been the bell cow in the Southland Conference,” SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said. “Last year [McNeese] lost a couple of games in the last second and they really had both those games in hand, and it would have put them in the playoffs.”
The Cowboys escalated through SLC and FCS rankings with their week five landslide victory over Central Arkansas to situate them No. 10 in FCS and No. 1 in conference. MSU recorded a season-high 595 offensive yards against a UCA group that claimed a top stop in The Sports Network preseason polls.
MSU will look to abuse the Bearkats in the same fashion, however, SHSU is well aware of the target on their back.
“We’re going to get everybody’s A-game, and we need to come out ready,” Fritz said.
Despite the Cowboys’ 24-9-1 series advantage over SHSU, the Bearkats’ are have made a habit of establishing a home away from home.
Since the start of the 2011 SLC championship season the Bearkats have accumulated a 12-6 road record, with a near perfect road stretch in 2012. The only hiccups last season came from dropping games at Baylor, UCA and Texas A&M. SHSU has remained within the comforts of Bowers Stadium this season, but concerns of performance on the road remain unnecessary, Fritz said.
“Our guys travel really well,” he said. “Sometimes you get away and you get a little more focused the night before and the morning of.”
Last season Fritz and company kept the Cowboys’ offense off balance through the second and third quarters to run away with a 45-10 win. With a strong rushing performance from running back Timothy Flanders and Wildkat specialist Richard Sincere, Fritz will look to replicate the same ground success, despite Flanders’ recording only 83 yards against Lamar.
“We just didn’t break any long [runs],” Fritz said. “[Lamar] did a very good job tackling.”
Fritz said his concern is to limit MSU’s effectiveness on the ground, with Cowboy running back Marcus Wiltz averaging 112 rushing yards per game this season. The senior tailback leads the Cowboys in rushing, and is in the top echelon of SLC running backs, reeling in enough spotlight to be placed on the 2013 preseason All-SLC second team.
For SHSU to hinder Wiltz finding green space, maintaining consistent anchoring from linebackers Tanner Brock and Eric Fieilo will be needed.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and will broadcast on ESPN3.