LAKE CHARLES –
A win over a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponent on the road. Consistent play from both sides of the ball. Significant production from several freshmen and backups. High energy. Never quit attitude.
That and a lot more added up to McNeese head coach Matt Viator
giving his team a grade of an A-minus after he viewed film of Thursday night’s 27-21 win over Middle Tennessee State.
“I really like the way we competed,” said Viator. “I thought our kids played extremely hard and competed really well.”
McNeese fell behind early 6-0 but rolled off 24 unanswered points in large part to a running game that racked up 298 yards rushing. MTSU mounted a fourth quarter rally to cut the gap to 27-21 but the Cowboys were able to run off nearly the final five minutes of the game then held off some trickery to seal the win.
“As a staff, one thing we really liked after we watched the film this morning (Friday), we were extremely physical,” said Viator. “We played really hard and were really physical. And that’s encouraging.”
That physical play was obvious by the way the offensive line manhandled the Blue Raiders defensive front; the breaking of tackles by running backs Marcus Wiltz
, Champlain Babin
and Javaris Murray
; the constant quarterback pressure applied by McNeese’s defensive front four; and the multiple hard hits managed by the backfield, particularly Malcolm Bronson
and Ford Smesny
“We were pretty balanced with our offense in the first half,” said Viator. “We mixed it up pretty good with throwing it and running the ball. In the second half, once we got the lead, I was excited that we could just line up and run it. But that’s not something I expected was to be able to go on the road and run for 300 yards.”
Wiltz finished the night with 105 yards rushing and 114 all-purpose yards. Murray added 50 yards rushing and 110 all-purpose. In addition to those two, Darius Carey
recorded 97 all-purpose yards and Babin 96.
But that was just a piece of the puzzle that enabled the Cowboys to pull off the upset.
Three Cowboys playing in their first career game all came up with big plays that helped lead the Pokes to the win.
True freshman punter Jean Breaux
was under fire most of his five punts by a fierce MTSU rush but still managed to average 38.2 yards per punt while having two downed inside the 5-yard line. His last was halted at the 2-yard line with six seconds remaining in the game.
Another true freshman, linebacker Bo Brown
, provided a big play on special teams when he recovered a muffed punt return at the MTSU 49-yard line late in the third quarter. Five plays later the quarterback Cody Stroud
plunged in from 1-yard out to lift the Cowboys to a 24-6 lead.
Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Tyler Bolfing
probably had the most memorable night of the three.
Trialing 6-0 and Stroud out of the game after being poked in the eye at the end of a quarterback sneak to gain a first down at the 1-yard line, Bolfing ran a second down, play action bootleg pass and found tight end Josh Jordan
wide open in the endzone to give McNeese a 7-6 lead.
It was Bolfing’s first pass, completion and touchdown rolled all into one.
“I was really excited for Tyler,” said Viator. “That’s a tough situation to come into. We call a play action pass on the second play and he executed it well. He’s a great kid. We think he’s ready but you never know because he hasn’t played in college before. But it’s very encouraging to know that he can come in and get the job done.
“Jean had a good night and we need him to do well because he is our punter and our kickoff guy,” said Viator. “We felt like Bo could help us out right away. He’s fast and smart and comes from a great program. Another guy we thought played really well was Cameron Smith
(true freshman DE). He gave us some good reps. He never got any sacks but he did get some good pressures and hurries.
Viator did note that there is room for improvement.
“Obviously after the first game there’s always room for improvement. Our kick coverage and things like that. We weren’t as sound as we wanted to be.”
“If I had to grade it out, I’d give us an A-minus,” said Viator. “Heck, we beat an FBS team on the road. There’s still room for improvement so in that sense, that’s as good as it gets.”
The Cowboys return to action next Saturday when they open their home slate against McMurry who is coached by former Kentucky and Southeastern Louisiana head coach Hal Mumme.