McNeese St. stands in the way of LSU going 7-0

It took ninth-ranked LSU nearly half the season to look

comfortable on offense.

The timing couldn’t be worse for McNeese State head coach Matt

Viator, who figures his battered Cowboys (2-3) would have had a

tough time with LSU (6-0) even if the Tigers’ offense was still

struggling to move the ball.

”It’s a tough task for us,” Viator said. ”Anytime you go play

a good football team in a tough atmosphere and maybe minus a few of

your guys, it’s always going to be tough. But our kids are excited.

… We’ll do the best we can.”

McNeese State, which plays in the Football Championship

Subdivision, has lost leading rusher Marcus Wiltz and starting left

tackle Taylor Johnson to season-ending injuries. Meanwhile,

starting quarterback Jacob Bower has been dealing with a concussion

and Viator plans to start backup Cody Stroud, with the hope that

Bower can still dress and play as needed.

The Cowboys have long been an elite team in the FCS, having made

their 14th appearance in the national playoffs in 2009. This season

has been more of a struggle. Last weekend, they had a late lead

over Stephen F. Austin when Stroud threw a touchdown pass to Wes

Briscoe in the fourth quarter, only to lose when the Lumberjacks

rallied for a last-minute score.

Now the Cowboys head to Tiger Stadium for the first time to take

on an unbeaten LSU team coming off its most impressive victory of

the season at Florida last weekend.

For a second straight week, LSU went with a two-quarterback

system that capitalized on Jordan Jefferson’s ability to scramble

and run the option, and Jarrett Lee’s strengths as a pocket


Although LSU needed a touchdown pass from Lee to Terrence

Toliver in the final seconds to pull out the 33-29 win, the Tigers

dominated the game statistically. LSU outgained Florida in the air,

224 yards to 154, and outrushed the Gators, 181 yards to 116.

Now LSU coach Les Miles appears sold on the two-quarterback

strategy that he initially resisted while Jefferson was struggling

to move the offense through the air.

”It appeared to me that there was a little bit more swagger in

that position,” Miles said. ”They were both going in there to

play and play comfortably and make plays, which is one of the

reasons they had success.”

On the ground, LSU is averaging nearly 190 yards, led by Stevan

Ridley, who ranks second in the Southeastern Conference with an

average of 106.7 yards rushing.

Yet, despite their recent success, there remains a feeling among

the Tigers that they can do better.

”We have yet to play a complete game,” left tackle Joseph

Barksdale said. ”We have set a very high ceiling which we are

trying to reach this year. We are miles away from our best


Meanwhile, LSU continues to play dominant defense, leading the

vaunted SEC in total defense (246 yards per game) and rushing

defense (80.7 yards).

The Tigers’ defense, led by tackle Drake Nevis, linebacker

Kelvin Sheppard and cornerback Patrick Peterson, is what concerns

Viator most, particularly in light of the Cowboys’ injuries on


”They have a lot of speed and run to the ball, and like a coach

put it, they don’t play nice,” Viator said. ”They don’t line up

the same way and are constantly pressuring. I’ve never seen anybody

do what they do on defense. They continue to run good players in

down after down after down.”

Recent history runs against McNeese State. LSU is 21-0 in

regular-season, non-conference games since Miles took over in 2005.

The last time the Tigers played an FBS team, they beat Appalachian

State 41-13 to open the 2008 season.

Meanwhile, if LSU wins, they’ll be 7-0 for the first time since

opening 9-0 in 1973.

”The Florida game was a checkpoint for us. We now realize where

we are as a team,” linebacker Ryan Baker said. ”We’ve got a good

team, but there is room for improvement. Once we get all the pieces

together, we’ll be a pretty good.”