Next 2 games the key to another SHSU unbeaten regular season

(STATS) – The biggest obstacles left in Sam Houston State’s path to two straight perfect regular seasons come in the next two weeks.

It’s easy to detect the most daunting one – next weekend on the road against 12th-ranked Central Arkansas. The other one comes Saturday night, and at first glance, it might not appear to be a major threat to the Bearkats entering the playoffs with an 11-0 record again.

After all, it’s their home opener and it comes after a bye week against a lightly regarded Nicholls program. The Colonels have lost the past 10 meetings with Sam Houston State and haven’t had a winning season since 2007.

But this isn’t the same Nicholls team that was mired in a 23-game losing streak just two years ago. Third-year coach Tim Rebowe has ignited an astonishing turnaround, and from just looking at this season’s results, it’s fair to say the Colonels have a legitimate shot against the third-ranked Bearkats at Bowers Stadium.

“Their talent is at a level where they’re good enough to beat everybody,” Sam Houston State coach K.C. Keeler said.

Nicholls got the third-most votes of those teams not making the latest STATS FCS Top 25.

“If we don’t take care of business this week against Sam Houston, then all the stuff that you’re getting and all the pats on the back, it really doesn’t mean anything,” Rebowe said.

Besides knocking off perennial Southland Conference power McNeese to open the season, Nicholls rolled past Prairie View A&M 44-13 last Saturday. That’s the same opponent Sam Houston State struggled to beat in its most recent game on Sept. 7, winning 44-31 despite being outgained 451-421. Nicholls had a 493-347 edge in total yardage versus the Panthers.

Yet, it is the Colonels’ lone loss that has left the biggest imprint. That came on the road against national power Texas A&M, a game that was tied midway through the fourth quarter before the Aggies won 24-14. Nicholls is the only one of Texas A&M’s three opponents to not allow 400 total yards, and the Colonels had four sacks that day – they’re tied for fourth in the FCS with 12.

“I have friends over at (Texas) A&M, and I’m telling you, those guys were so impressed with that defensive line,” Keeler said. “When you’re watching that game, you can just see the confidence they’re playing with. So coming here and playing in Bowers Stadium where we’ve obviously had a lot of success isn’t going to intimidate them at all, so it should be a great game.”

There might not be another one after the next two weeks in the Bearkats’ regular season.

They don’t have to face McNeese, the team picked to finish third in the Southland behind SHSU and Central Arkansas. The only game after September that originally appeared to be a challenge is an Oct. 28 trip to Southeastern Louisiana, the conference’s fourth-place pick – slightly ahead of Nicholls. However, the Lions are 0-3 after being whipped last week by Central Arkansas, which gets this week off before hosting SHSU.

“The bye week does come at a very good time for us,” Bears coach Steve Campbell admitted.

So did Sam Houston’s, providing extra time to work star defensive lineman P.J. Hall back into the mix. The reigning Southland defensive player of the year was suspended for the first two games because of an academic issue, and the Bearkats surrendered more than 1,100 yards of offense.

“P.J.’s just such a difference maker,” Keeler said. “Just the guy who can make that big play at the right time.”

Two of Hall’s 13 sacks last season and one of his three forced fumbles came in a 38-21 win at Nicholls.

“He caused fits for us last year,” Rebowe said.

The Colonels are more concerned about a Bearkats offense that has topped 40 points in both games while compiling 1,104 total yards after leading the FCS in both categories last season.

Reigning STATS FCS Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe has thrown for 703 yards and seven touchdowns. He threw for 419 yards and three scores versus Nicholls last year.

“Briscoe does a great job of distributing the ball and he is just a very, very smart football player,” Rebowe said. “We’re gonna have to find a way to keep the ball out of their hands. I know that’s the gameplan for everybody against them because they have that big-strike ability.”

The Nicholls offense isn’t nearly as potent, but it has impressed Keeler. Chase Fourcade ranks among the top 20 in the FCS in passer rating, and Damion Jeanpierre leads the country with 40.1 yards per reception.

“(Fourcade) is just really good. He’s a winner. He just has the answers to the test, as they say,” Keeler said. “And this is very unusual for me to say this, but their receivers rank right up there with our receivers.

“… When you watch (Nicholls), you just see a team that plays very clean, at a high level and believes in each other.”